There are some metal bands or artists that enjoy an almost supernatural love from the Greek fans. One of these bands is KATATONIA who visits Athens for the 8th time in 27th of May in Fuzz Music Club. Their last concert was fateful since it was the last concert before the world turned the upside down due to COVID-19. During those 2 years people were overwhelmed by frustration, introversion and melancholy.
This melancholy though is one of the most typical elements of KATATONIA’s music since their first single “Jhva Elohim Meth” in 1992 up until now and their last album “Sky Void Of Stars”. In order to write this article I had to listen all of their album in chronological order. The turnaround of their sound and their evolution is so obvious that some people were not really satisfied (the eternal battle between those that love only the first 2-3 albums of a band and the modern ones who prefer the present situation).
The first era of KATATONIA was, no doubt, the period between 1992-1997 when they released their first two full length albums. The “immature” “Dance Of December Soul” (1993) and the iconic “Brave Murder Day” (1996) with Mikael Akerfeldt (OPETH) in growling vocals. During that period, KATATONIA was a typical Doom Death Metal band with melodic parts and abysmal vocals that Renkse could not support due to health issues. In “Brave Murder Day” though he offers us an image of the future with the song “Day” in which we listen this amazing heartbreaking voice. Their EP “Sound Of Decay” is the last release of the early KATATONIA.
The second era we could say that is the period 1998-2005. Renkse gradually devoted himself to clean vocals and the composition of the band was constantly changing with Renkse, Nystrom (guitars, keyboard) and Fred Norman (bass) being the only standard members. The first three albums of that era depict the evolution of their sound and each one of them is a little better than the previous one. “Discouraged Ones” (1998), “Tonight’s Decision” (1999) and “Last Fair Deal Gone Down” (2001) gradually formed their music style that became their signature in the following years. Stifling atmosphere and a sometimes-sick melancholy, musically and lyrically, that touches the listeners’ soul. Maybe a little too much…this path led them to one of the best albums in the ‘00s, “Viva Emptiness” (2003) that kept all the good elements of its predecessors but added some new traits like the lighter (in terms of the atmosphere) melodies, a somewhat more rockish essence and an interesting rhyme that defined in good part what we now call Progressive Metal. Every time I get the chills when I read the lyrics of “Ghost Of The Sun”, or when I listen the refrain of “A Premonition” with the sobbing voice of Renkse dominating the air or the “Evidence” with the electronic vibes (another hint for the future).
In 2006, the third era of KATATONIA led them once more to different musical paths in their career. The album “The Great Cold Distance” combines everything but is pointing out to the future. We even listened to some old-fashioned growls. Without disclaiming their pitch black cloak of melancholy, they included in their music some new elements in an attempt to modernize their sound. This album is a favorite for the band but also for the fans and some of its songs like “July”, “My Twin” or “Deliberation” are included in every setlist. Same idea but even more progressive, “Night Is The New Day” (2009) was an album that the band cherished so much as to dedicate a whole tour for the 10th anniversary of its release. It is probably the album that I have listened to more than any other KATATONIA album and songs like “Forsaken”, “Longest Year” or “Idle Blood” definitely reach my personal Top 10. After three iconic albums, the job of “Dead End Kings” (2012) was really hard since it would be very difficult to reach the same levels of brilliance. Nevertheless, it is a really good album that keeps KATATONIA’s flag high and contains the hymn “Lethean” (my ringtone for more than a year now).
The next three album just validate their progressive turn and evolve their sound to that direction even more. With “The Fall Of Hearts” (2016) and a new line up, KATATONIA try to approach an even wider progressive audience, keeping the same lyrical content talking about grief, loss, isolation and alienation but enrich their sound with even more complex melodies. The album “City Burial” (2020) (review here!) is a very special album. At first, Renkse wanted to release it as a solo album since KATATONIA were at a hiatus at that time. Thankfully, they decided to get back together and gave us a really good album. Their ideas were not that innovative, but they remembered their harder days musically and Renkse gave us maybe their best performance of his career. A few months ago, they released their last album “Sky Void Of Stars” (2023) (review here!) which gave them the motive to go on a tour!
Whether you like it or not, KATATONIA has managed to maintain a very unique style no matter the phase of their career, either Doom Black Metal or Progressive Metal. They carry a very special sound and they create a dark, gloomy but charming atmosphere which is amazing!
Text: Kostas Boudoukos
Translation/Rendering in English: Kostas Boudoukos
Date: May 16th 2023
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