Re-working your own art is a daunting proposition. Looking at things you created, be they songs, paintings, poems or any other piece that comes from your heart, presents you with a unique challenge: can you stare yourself in the eye and be different? Can you take something that is such a big part of you and then change it? Two years ago, Katatonia answered these questions with a resounding “yes”. Their album, Dethroned & Uncrowned, re-worked an already masterful album, Dead End Kings. The result was more than anyone could have imagined. A masterpiece in its own right, Dethroned & Uncrowned is an acoustic album for the ages.
But that represented a brief glimpse, a quick look at a specific chapter of the band’s history. Could they, however, apply the same approach to the rest of their career? This is what the band set out to do with their acoustic tour, taking to several beautiful locations in England and producing the album that sits before us, Sanctitude. Recorded at the Union Chapel and containing acoustic renditions of tracks both old and young, it represents a deep, introspective re-working of this band’s masterful career. And the result? The “yes” resounds ever clearer, echoing across the cathedral.
Right from the get-go, it’s impossible to believe that this is a live album. Jonas Renkse, the band’s mythic singer, is unbelievably clear. Every word and syllable drips with emotion as if he first wrote these verses yesterday. The banter with the crowd is minimal and jovial, just as it should be. It’s quite clear he, and the rest of the band, are excited but instead of translating into embarrassing mistakes, it instead transcends the music with adolescent excitement, newly minted. For a band as veteran as Katatonia, that is no small feat. We would be incredibly remiss if we didn’t mention the backing vocals as well. Lending a much needed, deeper timbre to Renkse’s voice, they ground every passage and make it richer and fleshed out.
The instruments are just as masterful as the vocals. The acoustic guitar is obviously dominant, but the faint touches on percussion, whether electronic or very much “real”, are sprinkled across the album in a moderation that is singular. In general, moderation is the keyword for the production of this admittedly hard performance to reproduce: nothing takes precedence, the separate mingling together to create the whole. And the whole is beautiful, capturing the original orchestrations in a delightful, new way.
Lastly, the song selection is exquisite. Weight has certainly been given to Dethroned & Uncrowned, as this tour is in support of it, but plenty of the tracks represent other moments in the band’s career. Classics such as ‘Tear Gas’ and ‘One Year From Now’ represent the Last Fair Deal Gone Down and Viva Emptiness eras, respectfully. It’s amazing how fresh and vital these songs sound, still drawing every emotional response they did on release and sometimes even more so, as they now carry memories and nostalgia of when we first heard them.
Less known tracks, like ‘Gone’ from Discouraged Ones (played live for the first time ever) and ‘Idle Blood’ from Night Is The New Day serve to round off the album. Truly, Katatonia have delved the deeps of their own career and found new gems. Too easily can these sort of projects turn to narcissism and fixation, belying the failed aspiration to simply relieve glorious days. Instead, what we have is an earnest and heartfelt live performance by a veteran band that stands with several masterpieces in their past and dares to keep dreaming, keep re-working what makes them tick. For that, they deserve the fierce loyalty that fans have always felt for them. Katatonia lives and lives well.
Katatonias’s Sanctitude gets…