Katatonia’s The Fall of Hearts: Like Minor-Key, Scandanavian Edwin McCain
Well, shit. If enjoying 21st century Ihsahn is reserved for weak-ass pansy lame-os (as some of our gracious comment warriors have more than suggested), then dig out the doilies, parasols and tiaras for Katatonia’s 2016 twinkfest of a “metal” record. If you expect extreme music to cause blood to spill from new-made orifices in your ragged excuse for a body, please don’t even bother suiting up to badmouth this one. Katatonia didn’t make this record for you. Accept it. Move on. Go get your Full of Hell tatt finished and forget you even saw this review.
I’ve been listening to a lot of Lord Mantis and Heathen Beast recently, and by those measures of sonic depravity, Katatonia don’t even register on the scale. But if we’re being honest, I’ve also been listening to a lot of Soen and Antimatter recently, and it’s this evolved, melancholic approach to darkness and disappointment that allows The Fall of Hearts to sit comfortably within the spectrum of high quality dark music. (Ha ha, joke’s on my Best of 2015 list – I’ve probably listened to The Judas Table more in the last six months than almost anything else from last year. I know, I know… cutting up my metal card now.)
Surely the less extreme outlets like Pitchfork or Popmatters would describe Katatonia’s latest as richly melodic and self-assured atmospheric rock meshed with subtle metallic aggression. At MetalSucks, though, that seems wrong. What the hell is “subtle metallic aggression” anyway? Seems like we should lead with Hearts’ heavy attributes and move on to its delicate emotive qualities later, and that’s a tough sell. For most of its runtime, Hearts’ only real adrenaline injection comes from the rhythm section – from the huge drum production and the growly bass attack. Not that the guitars never rev toward powerful highs. “Sanction” teems with sad, silver-screen-sized demons; “Serac” tears out a little savage groove; closing effort “Passer” shreds belligerently before, like, not anymore. Like modern Opeth records and other churning rock-edged compositions by refined old men, Hearts sounds like music by guys who found metal a long time ago, who have been at the guitar-centric game as long as they can remember and are working hard to keep an ankle hooked ‘round those roots while writing music that is a more honest representation of their current station in life.
Nobody should overlook Hearts based on this description. The album is full of passionate pleas, the driving need for redemption, gorgeous instrumental tones, undeniably affecting performances and extremely cool sonic accents. Not being a studio nerd – and I use that phrase with the utmost respect and love; studio nerds have made my life immeasurably more enjoyable – I can’t begin to tell you what some of those accents are, but the color added by piano/organ/other helps make Hearts a worthwhile experience. The success of songs like these leans heavily on the gut impact of the melodies; Katatonia’s melodies tend toward the proggy rather than the poppy, so while I find them momentarily satisfying, they tend not to lodge in the brain and demand that I hear them again. Your personal preferences in this matter will determine how Katatonia’s new batch lands with you.
Fifteen years ago, Southern-satyr-turned-wedding-crooner Edwin McCain recorded a song called “When Hearts Fall.” If a fan of McCain’s temperate guitar pop was ever to get a hankering for the spirited minor-key sound of a Scandinavian spring, the album to grab is The Fall of Hearts.