Album Review – Katatonia / City Burials (2020)

The most free-spirited of modern metal bands returns with absorbing 58 minutes of meticulously crafted melodies and inspired, idiosyncratic arrangements.

“In days and nights of black and silver, the dead end king will come. From pieces of broken mirrors there will be a crown bestowed upon his head. In reflections of shattered glass not only the seasons will turn, but also the change disguised by the lapse of time. His mind will have to come to bear the weight of everything that was left behind and forgotten. Archiving the inaccessible. Celebrating the abandoned and mourning the destroyed. The city burials.” – Anders Nyström

Revered masters of melancholy for nearly 30 years, Swedish Progressive/Alternative Rock/Metal icons Katatonia have always pursued a profound emotional connection with their music and those who listen to it. Formed in Stockholm, Sweden in 1991 by now vocalist Jonas Renkse and guitarist Anders Nyström, the most free-spirited of modern metal bands has taken a slow and steady but at the same time endless fascinating journey from primitive beginnings in the extreme music underground to their current status as darlings of both the metal world and the Progressive Rock scene. Now in 2020, after a well-deserved break taken by Jonas and Anders together with their henchmen Roger Öjersson on the guitars, Niklas Sandin on bass and Daniel Moilanen on drums since the release of their last album The Fall Of Hearts in 2016, Katatonia return in full force with City Burials, the eleventh studio album in their unique career. From its grim album art by Beech (The Pineapple Thief, Godsticks, Jen Cloher) to the very last second of the closing song, City Burials is the ultimate proof of Jonas and Anders’ enduring artistic bond throughout the album’s absorbing 58 minutes of meticulously crafted melodies and inspired, idiosyncratic arrangements, perfectly representing the band’s ever-evolving sound.

And a beyond whimsical start led by Jonas’ serene clean vocals kicks off the opening track Heart Set to Divide before his bandmates come crushing with a harmonious fusion of Progressive Metal and Alternative Rock, with the bass by Niklas bringing sheer groove to their music, whereas in Behind the Blood the flammable guitars by Anders and Roger embellish the airwaves in a lesson in modern rock and metal music that lives up to the band’s own legacy, not to mention the song’s poetic lyrics (“Rivers rush, behind the blood / The cinder skies come alive with this drop of sunset / How far can we go? Along the elusive flood / I’ve been waiting all of my life to be with you”). Then slowing things down and adding a good amount of melancholy and grief to their musicality Katatonia offer us all Lacquer, with all instruments, including the programmed drums by guest Joakim Karlsson (from Swedish Black Metal act Craft), providing all Jonas needs to shine on vocals.

A futuristic and cinematic feel permeates the air in Rein, where the minimalist guitar sounds blasted by Anders and Roger walk hand in hand with Daniel’s intricate beats, culminating in a delicate sound that will certainly please all fans of this more contemporary version of the band, followed by The Winter of Our Passing, a HIM-inspired composition showcasing beautiful passages and an ethereal vibe led by the band’s sharp guitar duo and the always groovy bass by Niklas, leaning at time towards pure Progressive Rock. After such embracing song it’s time for Vanishers, an utterly experimental and atmospheric tune by Katatonia featuring the angelic vocals by Anni Bernhard (from Swedish rock band Full Of Keys) where we’re all inspired to close our eyes and savor each note while witnessing a beautiful sunrise. And displaying nuances from the music played by rock acts like Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam without forgetting their melancholic core essence, the band offers our avid ears the also progressive and gentle City Glaciers, presenting another great job done by Anders and Roger with their crisp riffs and solos.

The last batch of songs in City Burials couldn’t have sounded more experimental and ethereal, with gentle piano notes intertwined with rumbling bass punches igniting the cryptic Flicker, where Jonas beautifully declaims the song’s words (“So cruel your desire / It pulled me under / But the drapery of my eye won’t fall / I lie in wait for the night to find you / Sephia teeth and claw”) while its modernized and atmospheric vibe penetrates deep inside your soul. Once again investing in serene and somber sounds and tones instead of the heaviness of their early days, Jonas takes the lead with his enfolding vocals in Lachesis, a too-short song that could have been a lot more detailed than its final shape and form, while in Neon Epitaph they get back to a heavier and groovier sound, with the tribal, fierce beats by Daniel and the mesmerizing riffs by Anders and Roger resulting in a lesson in modern-day Progressive Rock and Metal. Finally, intricate and progressive sounds conclude the album in Untrodden, never getting too heavy nor too mellow, but reaching a very pleasant balance exhibiting the absolute synchronicity between Jonas’ vocals and Anders’ precise riffs and solos.

In summary, the experimental and multi-layered City Burials, which you can stream in its entirety on YouTube or on Spotify, continues to pave Katatonia’s path through the more serene and melancholic lands of Progressive Rock and Metal while also presenting to the band’s longtime fans an even more alternative side of Jonas, Anders & Co., positioning them as one of the most important bands of the genre (apart from their already important role in more extreme styles decades ago). Hence, go check what they’re up to on Facebook, on Instagram and on YouTube to know more about them and of course about their music, and grab your copy of City Burials from several distinct locations by clicking HERE. I’ve recently read somewhere that City Burials is the perfect album to listen to at dawn, and after taken a few good listens at it I must agree with such beautiful comment about it. Well, I’m sure you’ll also have the same feeling while listening to it, no doubt about that.

Best moments of the album: Behind the Blood, City Glaciers and Neon Epitaph.

Worst moments of the album: Lachesis.

Released in 2020 Peaceville Records

Track listing
1. Heart Set to Divide 5:29
2. Behind the Blood 4:37
3. Lacquer 4:42
4. Rein 4:28
5. The Winter of Our Passing 3:18
6. Vanishers 5:07
7. City Glaciers 5:42
8. Flicker 4:45
9. Lachesis 1:54
10. Neon Epitaph 4:32
11. Untrodden 4:29

Limited Edition bonus tracks
12. Closing of the Sky 5:24
13. Fighters (Enter The Hunt cover) 3:38

Band members
Jonas Renkse – vocals
Anders Nyström – guitars
Roger Öjersson – guitars
Niklas Sandin – bass
Daniel Moilanen – drums

Guest musicians
Anni Bernhard – vocals on “Vanishers”
Anders Eriksson – programming
Joakim Karlsson – drum programming on “Lacquer”

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