Katatonia – The Great Cold Distance Review

Originally written by Jason Jordan.

Perhaps the finest attribute of Katatonia is their fail-proof consistency. Before I dig into a new studio album from these Swedes, I always ask myself the following question: so just how good is this one gonna be? The Great Cold Distance, I’m proud to report, is on par with everything they’ve unleashed since 1996’s Brave Murder Day. To me, this is darker and heavier than Discouraged OnesTonight’s DecisionLast Fair Deal Gone Down, and Viva Emptiness, which says a lot about this album. Metal seems to be worming its way back into this group, and though they’re primarily a depressive rock band, Katatonia are always subtlety changing. Out of nowhere – Viva Emptiness certainly wasn’t hinting at it – they go and up the heaviness, sacrificing none of the quality songwriting and musicianship in the process. But like the post-Discouraged Ones era, there’s a trademark sound in place. In part that’s due to Jonas Renkse’s (Bloodbath) despondent vocals, Liljekvist’s tasteful-yet-remarkable drums, and the superb riffs and rhythms brought to you by the triple threat of Nystöm (guitars, Bloodbath), Norrman (guitars), and Norrman (bass). Another thing I’ve noticed about this band is their strong beginnings and endings, which are offset by weak middles. This same tendency makes an appearance on The Great Cold Distance, but to a lesser extent, so it is a fairly well-rounded recording overall.

It’s great to hear such focus on an opening such as “Leaders,” characterized by meek guitar lines and melancholic vocals. As per usual, the instrumentation pipes down during Renkse’s verses, but is in full swing during the choruses. Nevertheless, the initial crunch of “Leaders” still won’t prepare you for the outright hardness to follow. Now, songs like “Deliberation” and “Soil’s Song” are quite reminiscent of Viva Emptiness, though “My Twin” recalls older material. If you’re acquainted with any composition, then it’s probably “My Twin” – seeing as it’s the first single and video from The Great Cold Distance. Essentially, “Consternation” kicks off the slight descent into mediocre territory. However, it must be noted that it is during the middle that Katatonia are at their lowest tonality, while Liljekvist (drums) is conversely at his highest ability. His handling of the multi-legged, spider-like instrumental portions of “Follower” is nothing less than adept, as well as his expert grasp of the “less is more” philosophy. When he grafts those approaches, the result is stunning and deserving of the utmost attention. “Rusted” and “Increase” are of a similar variety, juxtaposing hard passages and soft passages all within one tune.

Somehow even a number titled “July,” a month littered with boatloads of sunlight, gobs of picnics, and tons of fireworks, is depressing when filtered through the Katatonia lens – arguably this dejected quintet are the only ones who can pull this sort of thing off. The specks of prog – or patterns that occasionally appear on progressive records – thrown in at the 3:00 minute mark are welcome, too. Unlike Opeth’s Ghost Reveries, the prog found here doesn’t notify the listener of its presence time and time again, hammering it in incessantly: “HEY, IT’S PROG! WHAT’S A GENRE HAVE TO DO TO GET A FUCKING DRINK AROUND HERE?!” I’m embellishing, though, because I only got that vibe from one snippet and one snippet only. At any rate, upon the arrival of “In the White,” the boys seemingly settle down for the night. There are a few spunky moments in “The Itch,” but seldom does the end of The Great Cold Distance offer as much energy as the beginning and middle. “Journey Through Pressure” is slower than its comrades, and functions as a sad end to an equally sad journey. Unfortunately, it’s not as memorable as “Don’t Tell a Soul” from Last Fair Deal Gone Down or “Inside the City of Glass” from Viva Emptiness, but it completes the job adequately.

So is this superior to most of their output? I can’t answer that matter-of-factly. On the one hand, there are a handful of songs (“Leaders,” “My Twin,” “July,” et cetera) that are capable of standing side by side with the best of their peers. On the other hand, in pitting one album against another, there’s no clear winner. Essentially what The Great Cold Distance is, though, is a worthy followup to its predecessors. And just like the records that have come before, this disc basically demands a spot in your CD collection. What a shock, huh?

Posted by Old Guard

The retired elite of LastRites/MetalReview.

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