Sunday, March 13, 2011

Katatonia - The Great Cold Distance (2006)

Sweden's Katatonia is different. They simply cannot be confined to a single musical label. The material stirs such diverse emotions, often at odds with one another. How can one song be both empowering and thoroughly depressing? How can a band be so heavy and yet so sensitive at the same time? Only the members of this five piece can know for sure.

"The Great Cold Distance" doesn't wait to draw you in. "Leaders" is well placed at the top of the tracklisting, with the opening riff grabbing your attention immediately. Flawless execution, smooth transitions, and top notch production all take the fore. The melancholy, yet staggeringly powerful vocals of band frontman Jonas Renkse are offset with background screams, creating a beautiful contradiction.

"Deliberation," which served as a single from the album, starts off somewhat delicately, with splendid drum fills moving the song into the heavier chorus. Renkse's dark, somber lyrics are constantly highlighted. Each song seems to be part of a larger story, with this one begging the question; "Will you wake us up before it is time?" Seamlessly, it flows into "Soil's Song," which is a reminder that the end is always near. A smooth bassline unites drum and guitar together in a singular wave.

The albums strongest effort, "My Twin," is the song that has turned many people on to this album, and this band. As powerful as it is emotional, it will make the hair on your arm stand. Musically, the band outdo themselves. They create a haunting soundscape, providing a suitable canvas for the vocal melodies. The lyrics, telling a story of love and loss, leave you breathless. "I think of love/I let it pass/ It feels like fire/But it won't last." And as suddenly as it begins, it ends.

"Consternation,"  with it's deep guitars and strong, driving drums dries your tears and convinces you to move forward. "Follower" walks the line between heavy and beautiful with uncanny precision, even providing a "breakdown" of sorts to provide head bobbing material. "Rusted" completes the trio, with synthesizers and effects used to furnish a ghostly sense, leaving the crushing guitars to push the track forward.

Combining both the heavier side, as well as a touch of the electronic, "Increase," follows. Renkse reveals more of his seemingly tortured soul, telling us that "There won't be a time when I'm at ease." The ability to stop and start, fade in and fade out is something Katatonia has perfected. Guitars can cut, leaving a second to highlight a single word, and return to drive the point home.

A darker, heavier track, "July," leads the tail end of the album. This could be the anthem for your depressed summer months, though decidedly different from the "good weather, roll down your windows and blast it" type of music. "In The White," with a first verse akin to a lullaby you may have known, is a love song of a much different color. Gray, perhaps. Renkse croons "And now that you're here/It becomes so clear/I have waited for you always." The words of a broken man.

After traveling through an album that seems to navigate the months of the year, "The Itch" and "Journey Through Pressure" are excellent closing efforts, finishing the story.

This album is a departure from what the band had done before. It is focused, fine tuned to perfection. Maybe you can share in Jonas' woes. Maybe you can't. But you simply cannot find another band that embodies so much pain, and so much power. Katatonia is different.

"The sky moves faster at this time of year."


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