Beautiful isn’t a word that gets bandied about here very often, but when the music you’re dealing with is generally cold, dark and ugly, it’s rare that an object of beauty can find a foothold.
Yet when it does, the chord it strikes is so stark that it resonates louder and shines brighter than all that surrounds it. Baroness did it a few months back with Yellow and Green and now Katatonia has delivered a prize of similar quality and scarcity in the shape of Dead End Kings.
For the band that has been on one of heavy rock’s most interesting creative arcs, this could well be the album that Katatonia was eventually hoping to make as long ago as Discouraged Ones. Every step they have taken on their career path since that time has hinted at the sweeping emotional grandeur that has been crystallised on this album. On Dead End Kings, all the elements that Katatonia has gradually introduced into their gloomy minor-key laments are pulled together into sharp focus with breathtaking song writing power. Fittingly, the album is introduced with the sad tones of a cello before the dark guitars of Anders Nyström and Per Eriksson open the door into a world of loss, despair and existential turmoil.
Where The Great Cold Distance was as icy and remote as its title, Dead End Kings is a different kind of melancholy, a haunting atmosphere of all-pervasing, genuine sorrow. Where Night is the New Day lacked scope, Dead End Kings is vast, with deeply textured layers of ambience and songs that swell with crushing riffs and pounding drums like the prog-scale mini-epic “Dead Letters” that closes the set. Elsewhere, there is Jonas Renkse’s passionate duet with The Gathering’s Silje Weergeland on the almost sinister “The One You are Looking for is Not Here” and the glittering ballad “The Racing Heart” – featuring one of Renkse’s greatest vocal performances – is immediately contrasted by the metal of “Buildings”.
Katatonia albums aren’t known for sudden dynamic shifts and for the most part Dead End Kings continues that motif, but the variations are there – “Hypnone” bristles with menace, “Lethean” has a harder edge. Synths and symphonics wash over guitars and drums, organic warmth meeting cold synthetics meeting subtle intricacies and melodic vocal hooks. Despair and gloom hasn’t had this level of replay value since Dirt. Dead End Kings is brilliant.
1. The Parting
2. The One You are Looking for is Not Here
4. The Racing Heart
8. Undo You
10. First Prayer
11. Dead Letters