Katatonia – City Burials (Peaceville)Wednesday, 22nd April 2020
Coming off of The Fall of Hearts back in 2016, Katatonia sent some ripples through the metal community when the noted that the band was going to be taking a break. Some certainly wondered if the band was done for good, but now in 2020, the band has not only announced their return, but have also delivered a new album in the form of City Burials. Perhaps a break was what was needed, as City Burials soars with some of the strongest Katatonia releases in their extensive catalog – but it won’t necessarily be an album for everyone.
Indeed, there’s both highly familiar elements as well as a ton of experimentation on the band’s part with City Burials. Opener “Heart Set to Divide” positions itself as a tried-and-true Katatonia track, with gloomy riffs, subtle electronics, and Jonas Renkse’s instantly recognizable vocals setting the charge with shifts between heavy and soft segments. “The Winter of Our Passing” also feels like another Katatonia triumph, with poignant emotions carrying it along while driving riffs in the chorus pick up momentum and urgency. That said, much of the album wants to linger in the vibe more than simply stand out. It’s a pretty ‘chill’ album overall – something that the single “Lacquer” already gave advance notice of, with its minimal arrangements, electronic components, and focus on Renkse’s vocals, which are given due time in the spotlight with its impressive chorus. “Vanishers” follows this same lead, and features a beautiful vocal accompaniment from Anni Bernhard (Full of Keys) as the track moves through atmospheric, sullen waters.
There’s also some more rock-based influences that become apparent as well. “Behind the Blood” makes for a surprising shift from the opener with an instant break into a solo and immediate hook-based riffs. The song feels as close to modern rock as the band has ever dabbled in, but it does tend to grow on the listener. “Neon Epitaph” has a groovy, almost bouncy vibe at its onset, even if it does swirl into a more melancholic direction. “Rein” switches up between moments of tension and release with explosive dynamics and swirling guitar lines. Overall, there’s an emphasis on more vibrant solos as well. Most tracks display them with more assertiveness and flash than past efforts. Lastly, the track “Flicker” stands out as possibly the album’s strongest moment. A track that fuses some gentle, proggy moments, electronic flourishes, and a vibrant chorus into an absolute showstopper.
Katatonia has always been a band to wear their emotions on their sleeves, and City Burials feels like a truly personal album. It lingers in that gloomy, with a glimmer of sunlight breaking through, atmosphere that the band has championed for close to 30 years while introducing new elements to invigorate their sound. A reflective and expressive album that shows them in their best form.