Apr 222020


(This is Andy Synn‘s review of the new album by Sweden’s Katatonia, which is set for release on April 24th by Peaceville Records.)

It’s probably worth pointing out, right at the start, that City Burials is not – despite what you might read elsewhere – the best album of Katatonia’s career.

Neither, however, is it their worst, as some others, angry that the band haven’t produced exactly what they wanted, would have you to believe.

What it is, is an intriguing, emotive, yet oddly uneven, collection of songs which vary in tone and texture – some erring more towards the band’s classic brand of metallic melancholy, others leaning more towards gleaming, gloomy goth-pop – but which are all, ultimately, tied together by the sublime vocals of Jonas Renske, who gives what could very well be a career-best performance.



In many ways City Burials is likely to be quite a divisive record – after all, I can’t remember any other album I’ve heard recently which could potentially be criticised both for straying too far from the band’s core sound and for playing things too safe – and, as a result, is probably best approached on a song-by-song basis, rather than as a totally (and tonally) cohesive piece of work.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t a lot of great songs to be uncovered here. For example, brooding, bombastic opener “Hearts Set to Divide”, the captivating “City Glaciers”, and the punchy “Neon Epitaph” are unquestionably fantastic, delivering all the intricate instrumentation and evocative emotion which fans of the band’s post-Great Cold Distance output have come to expect (the latter in particular wouldn’t sound out of place on Night Is the New Day).

On the flip side of the coin, “Lacquer” and (to a lesser extent) “Vanishers” stray further from the band’s traditional mould, placing an overarching emphasis on shimmering, synthetic soundscapes and effervescent electronic ambience to the point where, at times, it seems like it’s only the presence of Renske’s instantly recognisable vocals which actually tie them to the Katatonia name.

Both tracks are, however, immaculately arranged and intimately moving pieces of work in their own right, and I think that once people have got past their initial surprise and/or shock (not that this is the band’s first flirtation with these particular elements, merely their most extravagant) they’ll come to embrace both these songs as two of the album’s very best.

And then, of course, there’s “The Winter of Our Passing” and “Flicker”, which sit at a nexus point between these two extremes, ably incorporating both moody synthscapes and gloomy goth-metal in a manner which brings out the best in both sides.

Of course, as some of you may have guessed, there are also a few tracks here which don’t quite hit their mark, or which, at the very least, don’t rise to the same heights as those mentioned above.

The radio-friendly “Behind the Blood”, for example, is an undeniably catchy and well-written cut, but it’s one that doesn’t really feel (or sound) like a Katatonia song, erring as it does more towards A Perfect Circle-esque Alt-Rock, while both “Rein” and “Untrodden” suffer from the exact opposite problem – they feel entirely too much like Katatonia songs you’ve heard before, albeit with a few slightly newer elements added in an attempt to conceal the more obvious similarities.

So, with all the positives and negatives, ups and downs, where exactly does that leave us, and, more importantly, where do Katatonia go from here?

Ultimately City Burials finds the band at yet another crossroads in their career, with several possible roads before them. And I think it’s this uncertainty which contributes to the album’s slightly uneven, transitional, nature. Right now the group clearly have one foot planted in their recent past, while the other is stretched out towards a potential future which will move them even further away from their roots than ever.

But I’m hopeful that, no matter what choice they make or what path they choose to take, they’ll still put all their heart and soul into it. Because while this may not be their best album, it still shows that Katatonia aren’t ready to give up, give in, or fade away any time soon.








  5 Responses to “KATATONIA: “CITY BURIALS””

  1. Nice write-up! I like that you took a thoughtful and nuanced approach to each track. I’m definitely excited for this and I think it’s important to hear the songs in the context of a full album – for example, Lacquer, to me, sounded a lot like Unfurl from the GCD rerelease, but it’s not what I want from a single. These slower, moody breather tracks are much better suited when they’re not standalone.

    I’m not sold on the Winter of our Passing, but from your review it seems like that might be a bit of an outlier.

  2. I am intrigued. I love Katatonia, but admit I have not cared as much for the last three or so albums. They just lost some of the forward progression they consistently had up to that point, which made the extreme change in styles fascinating and manageable (Jonas’ voice certainly didn’t hurt there, and neither did Anders’ stellar guitar work). This sounds like they got unstuck and are pushing some boundaries again (I know you say this is both new and safe – but I am choosing to focus on the former) – based on both the review and the clips. Makes me want to check it out. Thanks for the review.; good stuff as always.

    For such a bullshit year, 2020 had had some killer releases…

  3. Great Cold Distance is their best. But this one is really good.

  4. I don’t quite understand the mixed response that “Dead End Kings” and “The Fall of Hearts” have received from both fans and critics. Both are very solid albums in my opinion, much better than “Night Is the New Day” (which, again, seems to go against the popular opinion). Of course, neither of them reach the heights of “The Great Cold Distance”, which in my eyes (and ears) is an absolute epic.

    As for “City Burials”, I’ve heard it only twice so far, but nothing really stands out for me. There are no immediate connections with particular songs, like “The Parting” / “Buildings” / “Lethean” from “Dead End Kings” or “Old Heart Falls” from “The Fall of Hearts”. The overall vibe that I’m getting from the album is not something remember-able. In conclusion – seems like this will end up rather low on my own personal Katatonia album ranking.

  5. Katatonia is taking slower steps than usual, with little to no surprises most of time.

    Fall of Hearts and Sanctitude had their fair share of good steps (I know the later is a live album, but have a refreshing sound that was absent of City Burials), Dead End Kings could fit very well between Great Cold Distance and Night is the New Day, but isn’t neither that good/ that bad to fit anywhere else.

    To me, City Burials sounded like a studio rehearsal with no surprises, no risky steps, a little leftovers from previsous albuns. The review points a great argument in favor of Renkse’s vocals, but his vocals alone aren’t enough to deliver what the band has to offer. I felt they could have explored something more, being instruments (my fav’ points from Fall and even Viva Emptiness), moods (The Longest Year’ vocal delivery), anything else.
    They are more than able to do better.

    But despite not agreeing with the review, it is well written, Andy shows good arguments.

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