Sunday, June 5, 2016

Katatonia - The Fall of Hearts

While I haven't encountered a bad Katatonia album yet, I can't say I awaited their latest release with any real anticipation. The band reached a second career peak with Last Fair Deal Gone Down, Viva Emptiness, and The Great Cold Distance then seemed to coast on that sound with two decent but samey follow-ups and an acoustic remake of the second that came off as a glorified bonus disc. The band must have realized a need to shake things up on their newest release, because The Fall of Hearts feels fresh and eclectic, a progression rather than a retread of what made those earlier albums great.

Takeover opens the album with a distinctly proggy feel. The rhythm guitar that kicks in over Renske's mellow vocals is a clear nod to Tool as the song ambles on for a seven minute runtime without losing focus. Not a total break from form, but far from the concise, punchy opener we're used to. They save that for the second track, Serein, which has single written all over it and one of the catchier choruses on the album with some stiff competition.

The next track, Old Heart Fails, returns to prog territory with a bassline and vocal melodies that evoke Riverside before shifting into a hard-hitting moody chorus that's become Katatonia's trademark. If The Fall of Hearts accomplishes one thing above all else, it's being moody without being monotone. Doom and gloom are still the dominant themes, but with a healthy measure of nuance, catharsis, and relief. This album is the band's longest yet, which would have been its downfall if it had stuck with the monotone soundscape of the last few Katatonia records.

Because of that length, I'll focus on what stood out instead of getting into every track. Serac serves as a thematic sequel to Serein and feels like the kind of single that would have fit right in on The Great Cold Distance and Night is the New Day. Decima through Residual have a slow-burning alternation between heavy and soft reminiscent of Soen. The number of prog bands this review has me name-dropping makes me wonder if Jonas Renske took a few lessons from his collaboration with The Pineapple Thief's Bruce Soord a few years back.

The last few tracks end the album on a somber note with some of its most touching moments. The atmospheric string passages really help shake things up and provide a nice contrast to the heavy riffs that pop up in unexpected places. Passer is the most energetic the band has sounded in years. The only downside is that there's a jarring multiple ending effect. Any one of the last four tracks would have made an effective closer and the album would have felt complete. Individually there's not a weak track to be found, but several tracks take time and multiple listens to grow on you, and even with the relative variety by Katatonia standards, it's a tough album to get through in one sitting.

Overall The Fall of Hearts isn't Katatonia's best record, but it's a big step in the right direction and a promising sign that the band is far from done.

Final Verdict:

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