"Brave Murder Day" is the 2nd full-length studio album by Swedish doom/death metal act Katatonia. The album was released through Avantgarde Music in July 1996. There have been a couple of lineup changes since the release of "Dance of December Souls (1993)", as drummer/lead vocalist Jonas Renkse has switched to clean vocals (only used sparingly on the album), and left the growling vocals to guest vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth). Bassist Israphel Wing is out of the band and the bass is therefore handled by Blackheim in addition to his guitar playing duties. Fredrik Norrman has been added to the lineup has a second guitarist. Edge of Sanity frontman Dan Swanö (here working under his pseudonym Day DiSyraah) plays all keyboards on the album. "Brave Murder Day" was also recorded at Swanö´s Unisound Studio with Swanö handling engineering.
"Brave Murder Day" was originally send to be pressed without having been mastered and it was not until the 2006 Peaceville Records re-release of the album that it was properly mastered. The Peaceville Records version includes the "Sounds of Decay (1997)" EP as a bonus. Other re-releases feature the "For Funerals to Come (1995)" EP and the Russian label Irond Records released a version were both EPs are included. As a consequence of the lack of mastering the original version of the album features some sound issues (low audio output and lack of EQ fixes), but it´s nothing too distracting and the sound production is generally well sounding and suits the music well.
Stylistically the music is doom/death metal, but ultimately quite different sounding to the doom/death metal style on "Dance of December Souls (1993)". Gone are the blackened elements (although Åkerfeldt´s vocals at times touch that territory) and the occult atmosphere of the debut album, and instead a deeply melancholic atmosphere and a dark heavy rhythmic foundation have taken their place. Some tracks have a repetitive almost ritualistic element to them but changes always happen to great effect, so repetitive sections never become tiresome. "Day" is a track which is quite different from the remaining material on the album, as it´s a quiet song with Renkse singing clean lead vocals. It´s melancholic and a bit monotone, and it´s obvious it´s an early experiement with clean vocals (which reminds me a bit of The Cure). Renkse sounds neither confident nor comfortable singing clean vocals at this point. The shoegaze influenced section on "Rainroom", which features clean vocals too, works a bit better. The growling vocals are delivered with raw power and great conviction though and Åkerfeldt deserves praise for his performance on the album.
Other than "Day", which stands out as very different from the rest of the material, the 5 remaining tracks are all doom/death metal featuring simple heavy beats (almost too simple if you ask me), heavy downtuned riffs, melancholic lead themes, and an overall epic atmosphere. The tracks feature rather unconventional structures, and while riffs and memorable hooks do return during the tracks, the tracks aren´t vers/chorus structured, and therefore a bit more adventurous than usual. "Brave" for example features three long consecutive sections, before section number one returns to close the track. Tracks like "12" and "Endtime" also feature what I would characterize as progressive structures. Both tracks are also quite dynamic with both epic heavy sections and more melancholic quiet clean/acoustic guitar sections.
While Katatonia have a pretty unique sound, I hear quite a few nods toward early Opeth and especially early Paradise Lost, which must have been a great influence on Katatonia´s music. Listen to the guitar lead theme about 1:30 minutes into "Murder", and tell me that doesn´t sound one to one like a lead theme from "Gothic (1991)" (the sophomore studio album by Paradise Lost). Katatonia even get the guitar tone right. When that is said it is seldom during the album´s playing time that the Paradise Lost influence is that blatantly displayed, and as mentioned Katatonia generally have an easily recognisable and original sound.
Upon conclusion "Brave Murder Day" is a quality sophomore studio album by Katatonia. 1996 was probably not the best year to release an album in this style, but it is often mentioned as a seminal album in the doom/death metal genre, and rightly so. Katatonia took their music to a higher level on "Brave Murder Day" and despite a few sound production issues, and a few moments where their influences shine through a bit too much, this is a quality release featuring a unique sound and style. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.