Katatonia – Sky Void of Stars (Napalm Records)

Wednesday, 8th February 2023
Rating: 9 /10

The preeminent purveyors of darkness, Swedish juggernauts Katatona have returned with lucky album number 13. Coming off of a thankfully brief hiatus, the band released the acclaimed City Burials in 2020. Exclusively penned by vocalist Jonas Renske (just as this release was), that album showed us a more experimental and enigmatic side, with a dash less of the punchiness that we’ve become accustomed to. A triumph, to be sure, and now we have the next chapter in the illustriously dreary tale that is Katatonia in Sky Void of Stars.

Proceedings begin with a guitar-driven crunch that could fit right in on The Great Cold Distance with “Austerity.” This opener boasts a layered and lofty chorus, a superb guitar solo, and a general upbeat sadness (totally a Katatonia signature). “Colossal Shade” serves as a timely, mid-paced bridge to the distinctly different “Opaline.” This is one of the more offbeat tracks, starting with opulent synths that traverse in both introspective clean verses and a memorable chorus, all while building to a beautiful crescendo.

“Birds” follows, fittingly comparable to the crunchier offerings of Viva Emptiness, while maintaining a foreboding soundscape of which nobody does better. “Drab Moon” calms the pace with a simple-yet-impactful clear guitar passage that sticks, while “Author” offers an uneasy yet faint release of the tension.

Next is “Impermanence,” featuring Soen’s Joel Ekelöf’s subdued vocal stylings, pairing finely with Renske’s soothing, melancholic croon. “Sclera” features an infectious guitar lead, driving an ethereal chorus of which easily will stick in the listener’s psyche. “Atrium” is classic, late 90s/early 00s Katatonia incarnate, with a gloomy cadence that meshes with the more experimental shade of the band’s current direction. “No Beacon to Illuminate Our Fall” is the most progressive entry, featuring many changes of tempo, with equal parts forceful presence and harrowing despondence. There’s also a bonus track, “Absconder,” being akin to the band’s heavier persuasion, while featuring that offbeat and heartfelt side of the band, especially with the lyric, “All I ever wanted was to make you smile again.”

Constantly innovative and never sitting still, Katatonia crafts music that leaves lasting impacts on the listener with frightening consistency. As with all of their works, this is best taken in as a single entity – each song stands out, but together, flows to create something even greater. Sky Void of Stars is another enormous achievement of a band with a long list of enormous achievements. There will never be another band quite like Katatonia, and that suits just fine. No musical group in existence can walk this twisting path of beautiful darkness so gracefully.

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