Thursday, September 13, 2012

Katatonia - Dead End Kings (2012)

Initially, I felt similar to many people concerning this newest effort from Swedish melodic depressive doom titans Katatonia, essentially a sense of disappointment in the initial shape of songs themselves, but repeated listens has all but disintegrated that perspective. There is undoubtedly a dearth of the immediate hooks that have been so prevalent and satisfying within the recent history of Katatonia, so much of the confusion, in both you and I, can be chalked up to expectation. However, what people do not seem to grasp, is a crucial element that becomes clear with repeated exposures: Dead End Kings is a challenging record.

This is without compare the most mature, intelligent Katatonia release to date, and that perceived disappointment over the lack of aforementioned hooks and immediate gratification is more than made up for by the layers of intellect and delicious atmosphere that permeates Dead End Kings. After so many attempts, you will find you have broken through the surface, and as you come to know the songs more instinctively and intrinsically, you will come to appreciate the immense quality in both the structuring and subtlety exponentially.

As one would expect, there is a heavy focus on distinct melodies, but they swirl about each other in a way unseen from Katatonia, delicious layers of sound that wrap the delicate core in sweet obscurity. Opener The Parting has a strange rhythmic infatuation to it's lock-step riffing, offset by sweet warm bass tones and typically resplendent, interpretive lyrics, aspects that are prevalent throughout the album. The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here is calm and overtly sad, a depressive duet in ode to spiritual obscurity. Hypnone and The Racing Heart blend into each other like lovers, with hints of aggression poking through the bright, cold guitar lines and unforgettable choruses. Buildings emanates resigned frustration, veritably breathing wispy darkness with each uttered syllable, with waves of fluttering synths adding to the atmospheric bliss.

I've read a lot of criticism concerning the supposed addition of fluff, as if the second half the album is composed primarily of filler. While it admittedly doesn't resonate with me quite as much as the first 5, immaculate songs, they still radiate a crisp, cold charm. Leech is similar to The Parting in its odd, off-kilter rhythmic choruses, but lacks nothing in poignancy. The wispy melodies of Ambitions glide along like sorrowful apparitions, breathing frosty, minimalistic leads, and is spiritually akin to its successor, Undo You, another calm, dense assertion of failed individualism. The closing trio of Lethean, First Prayer, and the astounding Dead Letters pick things up again slightly, casting subtle rays of hope through the thick, downcast melodies to purvey the essence of the descriptor 'bittersweet'. Lethean's chorus in particular is heartbreaking, though I'd be hard pressed to leave any of them off a playlist of Katatonia's strongest tracks.

As for the prevalent assertion that this is one of Katatonia's heavier releases, in a sense I disagree. Indeed, it depends on your definition of 'heavy', in this instance. Certainly these compositions contain a nearly spiritual weight to them, but it's a clinging, intangible aura that can be attributed to natural, compositional density rather than something as basic as guitar tone. It's dark, dense, and nearly suffocating at times, though the pace is more often relaxed than it is hurried, if you catch my meaning.

To be honest, I sort of dismissed Dead End Kings upon the first few journeys through it. However, if you stick around and put in a bit of effort, you'll notice that it requires patience to reap its rewards and secrets, a virtue that, judging by the vague criticisms I have perused, have largely escaped some of their 'fans'. It is a record full of character and depth, and I must reiterate, is their most mature work. However, I must draw a line with the attribution of such a distinction. Does a high level of musical and lyrical maturity translate to being their best work overall? To be fair, I don't know. I think not, as I'm still drawn to the stunning immediacy of the choruses in Viva Emptiness and The Great Cold Distance, both masterstrokes and the undeniable pinnacle of the band's work to date, but I think it is a spectacularly unintelligent action to disregard Dead End Kings because it doesn't immediately please you, or even more puzzling, because it's 'familiar', perhaps the most laughable criticism of all. Yes, Katatonia have continued to grow the sound they have been cultivating of late, and it undeniably still sounds like Katatonia. Shame on them! Morons.

Have patience, people. The hooks may not sink in at first, but as it grows on you, the entirety of the composition becomes the hook, and as you peel away these layers, each delicious detail yields incremental satisfaction. If you sow a wind now, you will reap a storm. This is a rich album which you have barely begun to truly listen to. Keep it in your pants. So far, this is one of very best albums of 2012, and certainly one of my most listened to, as they provide a misty, obscure sense of longing and desperate satisfaction unlike the capabilities of any other band. Dead End Kings is a savage and resplendent ode to the beauty of melancholy, another stroke of brilliant artistry from one of the most unique and inspired musical entities within not only the realm of heavy metal, but music itself. As for immortality, or its place among its brethren albums, well, only time will tell.

9 / 10 - You Saw Me Sliding Away From The Sun