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Serenades of Division: KATATONIA - City Burials Review

The Swedes bring a ray of light amidst the doom and gloom of 2020.

Photo by Ester Segarra

There are a great many groups that stand tall in the metal community. There are those who dazzle and impress, some that shock and disrupt, and others who inspire and influence. Of that final category, few bands deserve such honor — save for our subject of review today: the legendary KATATONIA.

Last decade, the Swedish Death-Doom pioneers released two killers that set the bar for new doom bands attempting to reach the age of mellow glory. Dead End Kings (2012) and The Fall of Hearts (2016), both of which were stunning releases that stomped fearlessly past the standards they themselves imposed, and climbed into new territories, going as far to crowdfund their bold, and beautiful rework known as Dethroned and Uncrowned (2013). If there's one thing listeners know about the Peaceville veterans, it's that they won't be stopped; their latest opus, known simply as City Burials is no exception. Let's dig in.

Right from the start, Jonas Renkse takes audiences by the hands, luring them in with all the silky smoothness and harmonic mastery of an artist riding the waves of a glorious campaign. This intro sets up even the least-familiar fans for both an accessible, and wholly enjoyable experience in the first track, called Hearts Set To Divide. There's little division, though. Much akin to previous releases, instrumentals are walking to a different beat than the vocals, which stand as strong as any of the various instruments. Steady pulse, dancing rhythms, and verses that work as a solid movement — devoid of any unnecessary frills and standout gimmicks. It just feels good to be back with the boys.

Behind The Blood is a thump-and-groove kind of thriller that gives a taste of the classic sound, with much more control than ever before. Anders Nyström takes the wheel, spinning a solo that shows off the multi-decade talent of a guitarist who never misses a fret. It's satisfying, exciting, and reminds jaded fans that deep down they're still the same death-doom outfit that staggered the scene with Brave Murder Day. A catchy chorus, a chanting call, and an ethereal bridge with some soulful soundscapes jumps in at three-minutes, begging the question if the boys wouldn't somehow thrive as a space rock outfit. You'll feel it pierce your heart.

Lacquer. What a monster. The first single, and these cocky guys couldn't resist showing off all the new tricks they've picked up since 2016. An almost orchestral pluck sets the pace in near-silence, taunting the listener to increase their volume. It's playing possum, though. This song steps in with a woofer-cracking bass presence and an electronic soundscape that gives everyone a glimpse as the bold new world that KATATONIA has uncovered. That's right — Even as an electronic-rock outfit, they can't be stopped, and hearing this track will inspire some goosebumps that show the way to the future. What no one could tell, however, is that this song is building to something. That something is the heartfelt chorus that might be the catchiest, most quotable lyrics from this band in nearly a decade. Exploding with the intensity of some of their finest B-sides and remixes, the words come calling like a raven, a wraith, and the reaper himself.

The road to the grave is straight as an arrow.

I'm just staying around to sing your song


The road to the grave is straight as an arrow.

I'm just staying around to sing your song


It's magical, and considering the words leading into it are ‘it's all tarnished’, I can't imagine anyone saying those words about this band's legacy. Lacquer isn't just a single, it's an anthem for the decade. Metalheads everywhere could show this song to anyone and create an instant appreciation for the group. It's a fuckin' blessing.

The fifth song, The Winter Of Our Passing, is a hoppy little dance that sets up with a strutting bass, courtesy of Niklas Sandin. Trucking along one step at a time, this cadence in the deep takes two verses to reach a precipice at the two-minute marker, melting away into an electronic interlude that exhales a soft keyboard appearance. It brings back the 2016 vibes with a vengeance, and fans of TFOH will appreciate this groovy junction in their journey.

Glacial in its passing, and haunting in its presence, Vanishers is just another huge-hitter on this titanic record. It's a unique song, so slow and creeping like a wisp of smoke; it takes almost no bodily form between its measures that most of the ambient tones and minimal instrumentals that snake up at its chorus that it's easy to forget that there's a six-piece group at work here. I say six, because of the unavoidably beautiful guest vocals that grace this track from none other than Anni Bernhard. It's another prime example of the pure appeal that this band wields without having to resort of stadium rock tactics to get people on the bandwagon. It's euphoric and sacred, and a pillar of the elements that have put this band at the forefront of multiple sounds for nearly three decades now.

While shorter than TFOH, this album's time-frame lines up with others in their catalogue, clocking in at a sizable forty-eight minutes. Where it differs, however, is the sheer amount of tracks that could come across as a single. Songs like Flicker take the strength of a well-timed drum solo from Daniel Moilanen, and syncopate a clever bass and vocal pattern that crescendos up towards a fun and multi-layered chorus that is sure to please the shower-singers, and car-karaoke lovers in the crowd.

All the while, tunes like Lachesis bring a steady balance to the album, in the favor of the softer side. Illustrating a healthy respect and admiration for their classical roots, this song acts as a soothing transition near the end of the record that flows like a beam of light into a graveyard. Listeners will need the chance to catch their breath. The final two songs come careening with a sound that feels like 2009 came crashing back through the living room, and the pacing just feels right. Untrodden especially, with powerful bursts of choral chord that emanate from the axe of Roger Öjersson, it's our great fortune that we get to hear such a beautiful duality develop from start to finish from both guitarists in innovative and separate ways that show-off both their talents at different points of interest. It's what no one knew they needed, and it couldn't come at a better time.

This reviewer would be remiss to call the race this early, but this much is clear: City Burials has come to bury all of its competition. This is one for the end-of-year list that refuses to compromise on both form and grace. It's a peacock in a line-up of crows that comes at a time when there's fear and fury around every corner, but not a glimpse of beauty or somber solitude in sight. KATATONIA has risen from the depths with a record of repose in this ocean of chaos and they demand your attention. The levee's breaking, and as of right now — there may not be a better sound to bring on the end.

City Burials is out April 24th on Peaceville Records. Get it any way you can, right HERE.

Cover art by Lasse Hoile


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