Latest release: City Burials (Peaceville)
Katatonia has always revelled in gloom. All of their work has explored dark places, dark times and dark souls, and right now could be one of those times. Except, of course, City Burials was completed long before the world was shut down by the most fearsome worldwide pandemic for a century.
“We totally didn’t plan it that way!” bassist Niklas Sandin says with a laugh, acknowledging the coincidental timing of his band’s latest release. “But you could, in many ways, see it as something of a soundtrack for coronavirus!”
City Burials marks a further shift back to a more metal sound for Katatonia, a direction prefaced by their previous album The Fall of Hearts. While still mired in the melancholy and dark ambience the band has long exhibited, the new album features fuller-bodied metal riffs and guitar explorations returning too: “It’s a more straightforward, rock-oriented album,” Sandin says, “and quite heavy.”
Katatonia’s creative process this time was the same as it has always been, the bassist explains, with creative core Jonas Renkse and Anders Nyström sending material to the other members to add their own contributions and ideas ahead of the entire band convening in the studio.
“That’s pretty much a very easy going process that goes on in the background of every Katatonia record,” he continues. “You get the template of the song and the way that Jonas or Anders wants it, and what type of feel or mood they want to portray, and then you have it at home and you can listen to it digest it in your own place, on your own sofa and practise it and contribute your own things. So for me that would be basslines, and maybe following the drums in some other way, so I sit and work that out in my own space, and then present that to them either before or when we get in the studio. For me it makes for a very easy and laidback formula than standing in a loud environment like the rehearsal room and trying to make out what turn this song will take. There’s so many elements that need to fall into place. You’re not handed what you need to specifically do, but you know the general formula.”
While central to the creative process, Renkse and Nyström trust their bandmates to craft their ideas into complete compositions. Sandin has been a member of Katatonia now for a decade, coming on board after 2009’s stand-out Night is the New Day.
“When I was contributing my own playing to Dead End Kings, they were very keen to hear what I could bring to the table. It’s not about rearranging my bass parts but if I want to do something else, I present it to them and we discuss it or come up with something new together. It’s rewarding to have that kind of freedom, and to have that kind of trust.”
Their lingering, brooding Gothic doom is laced with creeping electronics and Renske’s yearning croon, this time augmented by heavier riffing, bursts of speed and some slinky guitar soloing. While thematically recalling Dead End Kings, the heavier angle Katatonia has taken this time carries on from the previous The Fall of Hearts.
“I think every Katatonia album is a continuation of every album in the discography, there are just different guises that we present,” Sandin explains. “There is always something new, whether it’s a very bold take, or a very minor take, it’s always something new. It’s not driven in a way that it’s a concept behind how our albums should sound, it’s more about a feeling of how our albums should sound at the moment, and the inspiration of the time.”
City Burials’ first two singles were Lacquer and Behind the Blood, tracks that show very different sides of the band.
“They are quite different; Behind the Blood sounds like Katatonia, but with a fresh new take on it, without going too far from what we are. There’s still the ambience in the background and the melancholy.” He laughs. “You can hear what our weather is like most of the year in our music!”
Like every band on the planet now, Katatonia’s biggest challenge is putting their music in front of their audience. Stage performances and international travel being banned everywhere for the foreseeable future, every artist is seeking to find a way to play their music. Katatonia is no different.
“It’s a scenario you’ve never been in before. Like as if you’ve released something so bad that everything has been cancelled, although I hope that’s not the case here!” Sandin laughs again. “It’s a weird time, because we are a band that very, very much enjoys going out and playing live. When we are recording an album, it’s always in the back of our head how will this song sound live, and how will this be taken by the audience and how can we present this in a good way when we play live when we set up our backing tracks and lighting. So it’s always in the back of our heads, and it’s always something that motivates you, that you go out and play live, and now that’s something that’s been taken from you by something that you can’t even see, which is so bizarre and abstract. It’s very hard.”
The atmospheric gloom of City Burials is very much in tune with the global zeitgeist of uncertainty, depression and fear. Like all of their music, it is catharsis for those who need reassurance they are not alone in times of bleakness and despair.
It’s almost like therapy, sometimes, a Katatonia show,” Niklas Sandin suggests. “Because it really helps people. I know how much music can help people. Personally, I haven’t been helped much by the lyrics in music, but just listening to music, I know how calming and relieving it can be. Seeing that live, and being in that moment, being in the audience and feeling like being part of that community is very important to some people and I hope that can be revived again as soon as this corona shit is over, so we can focus on the good Corona and do some drinking!”