Latest release: Mnemosynean (Peaceville)

Katatonia bassist Niklas Sandin is upbeat. After releasing City Burials in April 2020, at long last the band got to perform a set in front of a live crowd recently.

“I finally did a gig with Katatonia not too long ago, in Bulgaria,” he says. “That was kind of like a vitamin for us, an injection.”

Until then, the only show they had played since 2017 was a live stream event. Like it has for most bands, the COVID-enforced pause has meant they’ve had to come up with new ways to keep creative and active. Katatonia main men Anders Nyström and Jonas Renkse have put Mnemosynean together from tracks left over from almost thirty years of recorded material.

“It’s almost become a vintage band now,” Sandin says with a chuckle, “like a suede jacket, or something!” Of the new album, he says, “It’s a good collection of rarities and some B-sides that people may have already heard on a track and also live, because we like to play b-sides for people now and then.”

Mnemosynean is a huge release, 27 tracks that include covers, remixes and other rarities that may not have seen the dark of night in this format had it not been for COVID.

“I think that, probably because we’ve been tied down and we haven’t been able to do much else, we’re looking for other ways to be creative even though we’re not writing new songs,” Sandin explains. “It was a good way to offer something for people and make something that’s fresh, but not fresh, because it’s old material. But it’s a way to make something happen for the band. We would have been on a heavy touring cycle, so this might have happened later on in the future. It’s a way to make yourself relevant and a fun way to offer something for the listeners.”

Nyström and Renkse did all the heavy lifting on the compilation, but Sandin suggests, “Even if there had been input from the rest of the band, it probably would have turned out like this.”

“Jonas and Anders, who obviously put this together because they are Katatonia, they’re the ones that have been there since day one. They put this together and it’s such a long and involved collection. I think that they wanted to include as much as they could and put it in a good order, to get a good flow and not just having songs back onto each other. There should be rhythm to the whole collection. It’s pretty much digging up highlights and most of the rarities and b-tracks.”

The rhythm and flow that Sandin speaks of is the reason many songs recorded during an album session often don’t end up being used, or turn up later on collections such as this one.

“Even though some of the B-tracks can be some of the stronger ones from an album even though they’re not on the general listing, it may be because you can’t get it to flow with the rest of the album, and that’s why they become a B-track. It’s important to have a flow on an album, it should be a whole experience, not just where you want to only listen to this song or that song. Because some tracks don’t make much sense by themselves, but between two other songs they might make more of a story, more a musical timeline. I think that’s very important. And the same thing goes for a set list at a live show, keeping the listener interested and keeping a good momentum.”

Among Mnemosynean’s tracks is the sprawling early epic Scarlet Heavens that was left off the genre-defining For Funerals to Come… EP, along with some recorded as recently as the Fall of Hearts sessions. Sandin wasn’t a member of the band when many of these tracks were recorded, but he has a few favourites.

Vakaren, the track that opens up the whole collection, and Unfurled is also a really strong one. I always have a weak spot for Ashen, which is one of those stronger songs from that song writing period, but made it onto the b-tracks which we also have played a few times. I think it was on a US tour a few years back.”

Dissolving Bonds is another one he endorses, a song he says they have introduced live with a lame dad joke no one seems to laugh for: “On tour when we played that live, we always tried to make this joke before we play it by saying the song is about two James Bonds that dissolve into thin air. No one gets it!”

Further insight into the songs comes from a booklet featuring lyrics and details into each track from Renkse and Nyström, and there’s also a detailed band bio included in the package. For fans of the band, Mnemosynean will provide a unique insight into one of the most enigmatic, influential and creative dark musical acts of the last three decades.

“I think that shows how strong the Katatonia catalogue is, that you can have almost 30 tracks of rarities and B-sides, and make a really strong album out of that,” Niklas Sandin asserts. “That shows the songwriting quality that Katatonia has. To write music that will attract other people, it’s something that needs to be from the integrity and soul from the one writing the music. I know that both Jonas and Anders have never put out something they are not 100% happy about, then it’s up to the audience to like it. But foremost they write to have their musical expression fulfilled. It’s the way to go. Like if a chef tastes his own dish and he doesn’t like it, but he knows the people in the restaurant will dig it, it becomes a lesser version of what you can be.”

All things going well, Katatonia will be on their first tour in almost five years when they head through Europe with Solstafir in early 2022. It’s a sojourn that Sandin is understandably excited for, given the band’s inability to tour at all since before City Burials came out. Next year will also mark his twelfth with the Swedish band, now the third longest serving member after Nyström and Renkse.

“It’s been going on 12 years, which for me is a little bit shocking because it doesn’t feel like that. It feels like about half that time, but time really flies when you’re having fun, and that’s what I’ve been having when I’ve been part of this band. It’s been very much like a rollercoaster ride, but in terms of being a positive rollercoaster. I’ve have so many new experiences as part of this band, as well as releasing what I think are fantastic records. It’s been a really good experience.”