In Katatonia‘s 21 year career, they’ve managed to avoid putting out a single subpar album; even with a slowly rotating cast of members — vocalist Jonas Renske and guitarist Anders Nyström seem to be the only permanent members. On their new Dead End Kings, they’ve even played without Fredrik and Mattias Norrman (yes, they’re brothers) for the first time in about 13 years. It would appear that the supporting cast for Renske and Nyström isn’t of much consequence, as they haven’t skipped a beat with their followup to 2009′s Night Is The New Day.
On recent albums, Katatonia developed a truly unique sound, a perfect blend of sulking heaviness and shimmering beauty. Combining the thick, heavy riffs and chords of Nyström with the clear, haunting vocals of Renske, Katatonia create deeply emotional soundscapes on just about every track of Dead End Kings. Frank Default contributes a lot to the atmospheres and textures that coat many sections of the album, adding some sparse percussion, keyboards, and strings. As on Night Is The New Day, producer David Castillo aptly handles the mixing and production of the album, and the overall sound is second to none.
Perhaps the biggest difference for Katatonia on this record is the songwriting. While the album is not at all a sonic departure, many of the songs on Dead End Kings feature elements that Katatonia have shied away from on their last few releases. The most obvious changes, as heard on the lead single “Dead Letters,” are the inclusion of more groovy riffs (likely to the extreme pleasure of Tool fans). But it’s not just heavier, groovier parts they’ve added, either (granted, it doesn’t get much more heavy and groovy than “Forsaker“). Songs such as “The Racing Heart” and “Leech” show us that Katatonia are also quite capable of moody, somber passages.
Ultimately, Katatonia aren’t adding anything particularly new to the mix, but rather are refining and perfecting what they’d already achieved on Night Is The New Day and The Great Cold Distance. In 21 years, they’ve managed to very slowly evolve into something uniquely their own in all the right ways. When you’re so far ahead of the curve, does it really matter if you’re not constantly making massively different music? I’m not so sure it does. I’ll be happy if Katatonia keep making only slight tweaks to their current formula, as they’re already in a league of their own. One listen to Dead End Kings further drives this point home.
Dead End Kings comes out at the end of August worldwide. You can grab your copy from Peaceville Records’ online shop. Get a taste of the new album below with the lead single from the album, “Dead Letters.”