It’s All About Atmosphere
A major constant throughout Katatonia’s 25 years as a band has been change. Starting out as a death metal band—par for the course in the early 90s Swedish metal scene—they have since incorporated doom, goth, alternative and progressive influences into a sound that has managed to both remain cohesive and assimilate change from album to album. The Fall of Hearts is their 10th full-length release and showcases a far more progressive rock-influenced sound than any of their previous albums. However, it’s still very much a metal album and takes cues at times from some of today’s top progressive metal bands. Clean, grungy vocals are reminiscent of newer Opeth, while technical riffing recalls popular djent bands like TesseracT.
Mid-tempo melancholy guitar and moody piano parts mesh in almost every song, which occasionally causes the album to sound same-y from track to track. At its best, this helps the album sound like one cohesive whole. Heavy, distorted guitar is used very sparingly and only in short bursts, which helps these parts stand out from the rest of the album. Things don’t really get heavy until “Sanction,” the album’s fifth track, which begins with an overtly metallic riff that quickly gives way to a slow and somber vocals reminiscent of Deftones at their gloomiest.
Since much of what traditionally characterizes metal is backgrounded to build atmosphere, this album makes a great entry point for anyone unfamiliar with the genre. There’s enough that’s recognizable to fans of classic or alternative rock to make the album accessible, while maintaining a darker mood than that to which fans of these genres are accustomed. Metalheads take note: your parents might like this album.
The downside to this approach is that, to some, metal shouldn’t sound safe to parents. Fortunately, for these types of listeners, Katatonia’s early albums feature enough growling vocals even to satisfy ears jaded to sounds which are pleasing to the masses. What’s most astonishing about Katatonia is that despite their considerable growth, they still have a signature sound, present throughout their career. Whether you would call it doom metal or gloomy gothic metal, there’s a dark atmosphere that underlies pretty much everything they’ve done.
Though they haven’t reinvented the wheel, Katatonia has released an album that will appeal to a wide listenership. Occasional experiments, like tribal drumming on “Sanction” and “Serac,” or a a classical piano intro on “Last Song Before the Fade” showcase a group that, after 25 years, knows exactly what it’s doing—they can pull from disparate genres still sound not only like a metal band but like Katatonia, thanks to two and a half decades of fussing with the boundaries that characterize their signature sound. Check it out if you like progressive rock or moody, boundary-pushing metal.