Katatonia
Sky Void of Stars

For a band known more for it’s morose atmospheres, downtempo paces and overall depressive tones, Katatonia sure has a way of getting albums off to a quick and, at least in my case, startling beginning. I swear, it’s like the band is fucking with me, or at the very least trying to catch us all off guard and immediately put us in a bit of a disoriented state.  There was “Forsaker” from Night is the New Day which came out of the gate with a surprisingly crushing start you’d be forgiven for not expecting, and then there’s that thing they’ve done on their last three albums on “Takeover,” “The Parting” and “Heart Set to Divide” where, in like two seconds, Jonas Renkse is already getting into his vocals before you’re really ready for it, like “OH. Fuck, ok I guess we’re doing this.”

And on Sky Void of Stars, as I’m sure you’ve probably assumed at this point, Katatonia has done it again, this time mixing both strategies. Renske’s voice is the first thing you immediately hear as you press play, followed shortly by a surprisingly chunky, heavy riff and pounding drums that slap you across the face before you’ve even had a second to sit back and settle into Sky Void of Stars.  STOP DOING THIS. I’M GONNA HAVE A HEART ATTACK.

The difference this time around, perhaps, is that not only does “Austerity” get off to an unsettlingly hot start, but the energy is maintained throughout the track to create what is, far and away, the band’s most urgent and focused opening to a record they’ve had in some time. Even “Forsaker,” as heavy as that opening riff was, settled into that familiar Katatonia pit despair pretty quickly. Led by Daniel Moilanen’s instantly recognizable, unique rhythms and some really inspired riffing and solos from Anders Nyström and Roger Öjersson, the band storms ahead and delivers one of their strongest tracks in recent memory, utilizing the catchiness we all know Katatonia is capable of, but adding a bit more bite to the overall tone, adding a little more meat to the bone than I think I was really expecting.

But where the band might bring the energy levels back down to the mean on prior efforts, second track “Colossal Shade” instead squashes those expectations – hitting first with a somewhat uncharacteristically cock-sure, strutting riff that hits with more bravado than you might have imagined the band would deploy, and after presenting listeners with an huge earworm of a chorus, the band doubles down and goes super heavy – unleashing a crushing, doomy breakdown layered with trademark Katatonia dissonance and atmosphere that makes it as complex and intricate as it is earth-shaking. This really was not the experience I’d prepared for in my head leading up to Sky Void of Stars, but gosh dang if I’m not loving the band’s newfound vigor!

But before anyone gets the wrong idea that the band might be losing its identity, Katatonia still know where their bread and butter lies, and while the more spirited performance is certainly grabbing my attention, it’s the band’s indelible ability to create melodies that stick with you long after putting the headphones down that carries the day. “Opaline,” once again made stronger by Moilanen’s brilliant choices behind the kit, features a hook that has been swimming around at the forefront of my mind since first listen, and the vocal performances on tracks like “Author” and “No Beacon to Illuminate our Fall” continue to prove Renske’s brilliant understanding of how to use his own voice which, on it’s own is wonderful, but is made so much better through his use of clever, staccato vocal lines that make them all the more interesting and dynamic. And the band is still utilizing that trademark, haunting keyboard tone that, to anyone who knows the band at all, already knows what I’m talking about. It continues to weave itself into the fabric of Katatonia‘s sound like a warm blanket that should give longtime fans that sense of comfort and familiarity, even when the band’s pulse is resting a little higher than per usual.

With winter truly settling in, I figured Sky Void of Stars may be unleashed into the world at the perfect time – and that’s still true! The emotional lows and melancholic feelings so closely associated with the band are still rightfully on full display, but this time Katatonia are delivering an album I’m pretty certain I’ll be spinning long after the snow and ice thaws. Sky Void of Stars is, put simply, the most complete and thoroughly enjoyable record the band have released since probably Viva Emptiness two decades ago. It’s beautifully paced, never lingering too long on the lows before you’re hit with another shot of emotionally charged adrenaline. It’s not rewriting the book on the sounds and tones you’d associate with modern Katatonia, it just showcases a sense of confidence and balance that recent albums just haven’t quite hit the mark on.

It’s early in the year, I know. And I know well enough that every January, I hear a record that I think will be a “best of” candidate at the end of the year, only to have it overshadowed by a slew of releases as the year goes on. But Sky Void of Stars, right now, just feels special, and if this is indeed another example of me getting too hyped too quickly, then I truly can’t wait to see what else is on deck in 2023, because this is one hell of an effort by a band that doesn’t really have anything to prove at this point.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
January 16th, 2023

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