KATATONIA — The Fall Of Hearts (review)

KATATONIA — The Fall Of Hearts album cover Album · 2016 · Alternative Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Necrotica
A common thread you wind up finding in every Katatonia album is that every one of them exhibits a different kind of melancholy. Each expression of that one emotion changes with each stylistic shift or altered lyrical approach, but either way, the melancholy still returns in some way. Perhaps it comes in the form of desperate wails and screams over crushing doom-laden riffs (Dance of December Souls). Maybe it can be found in gritty imagery involving the ills of crime and street life (Viva Emptiness). Alternately, the looming darkness of orchestral strings and mellotrons could seal the deal (Dead End Kings). But when it comes to The Fall of Hearts, the dreary atmosphere is expressed somewhat… differently. It might come down to a lack of metal influences this time around, but there’s an unusually surreal and dreamlike touch to the music. The songs are sad, yes, but also given a sort of levity and weightlessness by the shimmering clean guitars and light piano melodies that coil around the increasingly progressive rhythms. Jonas Renkse has channeled his sorrows through more passionate vocal passages (just listen to the chorus of “Last Song Before the Fade”!) while the music surrounding him has become more abstract compared to past efforts.

Really, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s not like this progressive influence is just out of the blue; the last few records, especially Dead End Kings, were already hinting at this bold new direction. But I suppose the fascinating thing about The Fall of Hearts is just how well they pulled off those influences. Instead of the crunchy, churning alternative metal riffs that dominated a good chunk of the band’s career, there’s now more respect and care given to the atmosphere than ever before. If you ever hear a downtuned metal riff (“Takeover,” “Passer,” “Serac,” and “Last Song Before the Fade” still bring the heaviness to a degree), you can be sure that a beautiful slow passage will be just around the corner to counteract the aggression. “Serac,” for instance, brings a fresh melding of progressive metal and soft rock that’s not too dissimilar to Opeth’s best works from the early 2000s (minus the growls, of course). Then you have “Passer,” which kicks off with a shredding guitar solo over a rapid-fire galloping snare rhythm before it almost immediately dies down to give us one of the most emotionally potent verses the band have ever concocted. It’s not that the band have lost their edge, but that they simply reserved it for the best moments this time around. And really, a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that Katatonia didn’t really subscribe to a set songwriting formula this time around. The arrangements are quite labyrinthine and unpredictable compared to what we’re used to from these guys, and the opening 7-minute track “Takeover” is an immediate example of this. This mini-epic takes you in so many directions in such little time, from a beautiful dreamlike intro/refrain to a rousing metal section to a deeply orchestral chorus to a stunning piano break. Add to that a killer guitar solo from newcomer Roger Ojersson on top of that, and you’ve got one of the best openers in recent memory.

In fact, let’s talk about those newcomers for a second. Guitarist Roger Ojersson and drummer Daniel Moilanen were a huge asset to the sound The Fall of Hearts would ultimately adopt and cultivate, as their technical proficiency allowed the band to work outside of their typical framework a bit more. The solos in “Takeover,” “Passer,” and especially the harmonized portion of “Serac” are incredible ways to build on songwriting that already takes pride in taking listeners on a real journey. Meanwhile, Daniel absolutely kills on the drumkit. His grasp of varying time signatures and subtle dynamics is just impeccable, and he can shift styles with ease to fit each mood perfectly. As for the songwriting, however, you may notice in the credits that it’s all Jonas Renkse and Anders Nystrom as usual. Maybe that’s the most fascinating thing about The Fall of Hearts, really. Just the fact that these two had it in them to make this record all along, but they simply needed the right circumstances and band members to make it happen. If you want a good marker of just how much they’ve evolved as songwriters, just take into account the fact that “Pale Flag” and “Shifts” are minimalist folk rock ballads with almost none of the band’s typical sonic trademarks present, and yet they’re not out of place in the slightest. But then again, nothing on The Fall of Hearts is out of place; it’s just the sound of a fully-evolved, fully-realized Katatonia that was always trying to break free from the mire of comfortable familiarity.
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