Katatonia and me have a bit of an odd relationship; while I do think they’re more consistent than most other metal acts, due to their moderate (but noticeable) shifts in style, they also have somewhat of an “on-off” rhythm when it comes to their releases, putting out a good-to-great record one year, than doing a disappointing one next time ‘round. A mediocre debut preceded the classic ”Brave murder day”, the underwhelming “Discouraged ones” came before the lovely “Tonight’s decision”, the inconsistent ”Viva emptiness” came before modern classic ”The great cold distance”, and so forth. And, considering that some of the more experimental, ambient moments on 2009’s “Night is the new day” soured me slightly on that effort, I was hoping “Dead end kings” would be the home run that they were setting up for.
Alas, despite my excitement toward some of the initial singles released for “DEK”,
in the overall scheme of their discography, “kings” is ultimately one those “Just another _____ album” albums; you know, records that, while good, don’t excel by the band’s typical standards, and don’t do much to shake up their established style, so anyone who didn’t like them group before won’t be converted, and those who already dug ‘em will have the new effort go down smoothly for them. A very simple division. No doubt, it’s still a good thing when you get a good new record from a band you like, especially when you think of all the ways they could’ve fucked it up, but when you get a good Just Another Katatonia Album from a band that you know is capable of great, you can’t help but feel a little let down.
Just a little bit though, as there’s plenty of expected-but-still-pleasing Katat signatures for the us to enjoy: Jonas Renkse’s pained, intimate, passionate vocals, an overall highly emotional, confessional mood, atmospheric keyboarding (along with various other sound effects), and that classic Katatonia atmosphere of heavy, melodic depression, with nice, catchy usage of triumphant melodies, choppy riffs, and hard/soft dynamics. It’s a formula that results in a few great cuts here, but mostly just par for the course for them. Still, Katatonia is consistent, so it’s a good par, no doubt. There’s also the occasional special touch here, like pretty sounds from a strings symphony on one song, a nice vocal cameo from Silje Wergeland of The Gathering on another, a creepy, off-kilter piano on the intro of yet another, and so on.
The problem with these touches is, they’re ultimately just one-track-only flourishes that are immediately gone the next song, so they fail to establish any consistent new direction for the band. It’s them taking their default style and fucking with it a little bit by adding temporary touches, sort of like putting different hats on the same basic outfit; there are no real major, recurring shifts in the core songwriting. Some of the Opeth-ier moments from the previous effort are gone, but most of the other elements here come from their past works, so, the songwriting here does feel a bit predictable if you’re familiar with Katatonia.
Still, the songs here are pleasing, and though they do feel familiar, they don’t get as bad on that front as to feel like self-plagiarization. “Dead end kings” is tender, evocative music, I am happy to get a good album, and if you like Katatonia, you WILL like this album. It’s as simple as that. Just maybe don’t expect to hear the best thing of their career here, and you should have a few less misgivings than I did about “kings”. Still, good is good, and this is a good ‘un, so I’m more pleased with this than anything else. So yeah.