Dead End Kings

A decade ago, Katatonia made a daring and calculated shift in their style – something that few bands have attempted and even fewer have weathered – and succeeded with their artistic vision and metal reputation intact. Over time, we’ve heard subtle shifts and additions to that evolutionary sideways leap, from the eclectic stomp of Viva Emptiness to the focused and doomy rumble of The Great Cold Distance and then to the jarring duality of Night is the New Day. And if Discouraged Ones, with its where’s-my-doom, Chameleons-like jangle, was the transitional album that bridged the first period to the second, then I think, in retrospect, that Night is another such transitional piece in their discography.

That’s not to say that Dead End Kings heralds another period in Katatonia‘s career, but I think it does build on the successes and new developments from Night is the New Day while also rectifying its mistakes. NitND made my top 10 in 2010, but only barely. Each album since Last Fair Deal Gone Down has added more lush texture to Katatonia‘s palette, but NitND really took that richness to a new level. Songs like “Onward into Battle,” “The Longest Year” or the Opeth-inspired extravagance of “Idle Blood” swirled with velvet fogs of skittering beats, tinkling keyboards and swooning strings. The layered effect was at once enveloping and ethereal, almost barely held together if not for Jonas’ haunting vocal lines or the counterweight of Nystrom’s crushing chords. And yet, there were a lot of ungainly moments as well. The monolithic hammer blows that opened “Forsaker” were successful because the rest of the song featured lovely melodies and a compelling chorus, but most of the album’s second half (basically from “Liberation” through “Inheritance”) did not. Choruses, when they offered a hook, were awkwardly paired with meandering and colorless verses. Despite all of that added richness, Night is the New Day tried so hard to be both crushing and melancholy that I think it forgot to also be enjoyable.

And that’s where Dead End Kings is a far better experience. It takes the delicate web of instrumentation, the fine-tuned dynamics and the unorthodox melody choices put forward on Night, and marries it all to songs that flow, that seduce, that transport and soothe. Sure, it’s largely the same structures and pacing – susurrant, airy verses followed by insistent and cathartic choruses. There are still heavy, distorted and lumbering guitars on some tracks like “The Parting,” “Buildings” or album closer “Dead End Letters,” but these only jar you from the album’s soft reverie because they’re meant to be heavy.

The rest is subdued and gorgeous, and even if it’s still absolutely miserable music, it’s a delicious and dreamy sort of misery, content to idly color on its wrists instead of cutting. Lovely tracks like “Hypnone,” “Undo You,” “Ambitions” and album standout “The Racing Heart” may be emotionally naked, but they’re clothed in layers of instrumentation, evoking a mood that’s both spare and sensuous. “Lethean” has a more urgent, rocking gait (and organs, my favorite), while “The One You are Looking For is Not Here” expands the band’s palette by inviting Silje Wergeland, the new vocalist for The Gathering, to duet with Jonas. Makes you wonder why we haven’t had more female vocals on Katatonia albums before.

I have to admit, Dead End Kings didn’t grab me at first. Before I had learned the songs and fallen in love with some of the melodies, it all sounded a bit familiar, as if the band were merely treading water. And yet the water was so warm, that day after day, I kept coming back. A few dozen more listens, and this may edge out The Great Cold Distance as my second favorite release of post-Brave Murder Day Katatonia (with Viva Emptiness still holding the top spot). Misery never sounded so good.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
September 24th, 2012


  1. Commented by: Andy Synn

    Interesting… I actually feel like NitND is the better work, and certainly more consistent, with stronger songs throughout and a better sense of flow and sequencing. This one gets rather forgettable after 4/5 songs, and doesn’t seem to really add much to the formula established on the previous two albums.

    BUT – I’ve also had lots of people disagree with me, and agree entirely with this review. Seems like it could be an unexpectedly divisive album!

  2. Commented by: Bast

    One of my favorite bands EVER. Nice review, can´t wait for my order…

  3. Commented by: Biff_Tannen

    Good review ! This one is definitely a grower. I’m still having trouble removing it from my car’s CD player 3 weeks after release.

  4. Commented by: Cynicgods

    I enjoy it very much but I’m worried they might be painting themselves into a corner with this album. Hope the band can keep mining their “new” sound but I think this is the furthest they can go with it. Personally, I’d like to hear a mixture of old and new on Katatonia’s next release. I think that would work wonders for them.

  5. Commented by: Cynicgods

    I was hoping the band could keep mining…

    Proof-reading while drunk is a bitch.

  6. Commented by: Apollyon

    I still think they should have taken some of those more prominent electro moments with them from the previous EP.

  7. Commented by: gabaghoul

    I wonder what a Portishead-like Katatonia album would sound like… (although it may be dated)

  8. Commented by: gordeth

    Katatonia were best at their most minimal. I would actually prefer it if they went completely goth/post-punk like they were considering early in their career. Although, I doubt they could pull that off effectively nowadays. None of the raw emotion from their early days exists in their music anymore.

  9. Commented by: Deepsend Records

    It would be nice if Jonas and company had a good long chat with Mr. Townsend on the Epic Kings & Idols Tour recently regarding producing their next album. Would love to hear what Townsend would interject into Katatonia from a proaction standpoint. This album is definitely a grower, but would be nice if Anders handled more of the writing on future albums. Jonas wrote all but 3 songs and that to me is not enough input.

  10. Commented by: Blackwater Park

    Second best album of the year, after Phantom Antichrist. Brilliant band who can do no wrong.

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