Often, when you look back at things, two phenomena which seemed unconnected were actually just two instances of a third, unknown actor. Thus, even if they seemed to be related or following on each other’s footsteps, we couldn’t know at the time that something more was beneath the surface, a direction or reason guiding their disparate trajectories. With the release of Katatonia‘s latest album, The Fall of Hearts, it has become apparent that this was the case with their previous two releases. While Dead End Kings and Dethroned & Uncrowned were obviously connected, the second being an acoustic rendition of the first, it appears that their relationship is much more than just causal. The Fall of Hearts consolidates these two releases into a new chapter in the life of Katatonia, coalescing the styles found on both into an album.
You see, Dethroned & Uncrowned was much more than just an acoustic covers album, or so we have been saying for a while now. The fact that a lot of the instruments and vocals were re-recorded, the differences in composition and the complete feeling that the album had, led us to view it as a separate release. The Fall of Hearts confirms that, as it blends the style heard on that album with the one of its progenitor. Thus, it is an album which continues to dig into the acoustic elements of Katatonia’s dark themes while incorporating plenty of heavy moments. This makes The Fall of Hearts an outstandingly complex and subtle album, one which requires multiple listens before you can crack its bleeding, aching heart. In the stead of the more straightforward approach that once informed Katatonia albums, this one ducks and weaves, fades and returns, runs and then is still.
Take a look for example at the trio of tracks which close the album off. “The Night Subscriber” is one of the best Katatonia tracks in recent memory: its opening guitar lines and the way it blends with weird synths belongs right in Dead End Kings. However, the more prominent places these synths take and the intricacy of their composition is unheard of on that album. accompanying them, Jonas Renkse is Jonas Renkse in all his unbridled glory, albeit somewhat changed; his voice on this album is sometimes even more morose than usual, dripping with dejection and misplacement. However, near the two minute track, a heavy riff is introduced which brings us back to the realms of classic Katatonia. You see? Intricacy: instead of regulating a more atmospheric track, where complex synths can live in their own, fenced off place, The Fall of Hearts brings the two sounds together within one track.
And as if this one track is not enough to send our brow furrowing in the efforts of active listening, we must remember that this is a trio we are talking about. “Pale Flag” is Dethroned & Uncrowned meets Sanctitude, that amazing live DVD. You can hear it in the drums which punctuate the background of this heart breaking track. It drips with the atmosphere and piercing guitar work of Dethroned & Uncrowned but, once again, the synths have been brought to the fore. It’s really hard to overstate how great the synth work on the album is, how much it takes the separate parts of two (and maybe three, or even four if you’d like) albums and gives them a shared blood, a shared vein through which to speak. “Pale Flag” then is a creeping, desolate fog, Katatonia in all their depressing might.
Which leads us to “Passer”. Say, have you been missing Opeth‘s harder edge? Well, this isn’t exactly that but it’s going to scratch a lot of those Ghost Reveries itches: it opens with an incredibly groovy riff which is also the heaviest on the album. It continues along those lines, before turning the fast paced riff inside out, again with the help of the synths. They slow it down when needed, surround it with their own energies. However, the heaviness is not afraid to return in several places on this, one of the most fantastic closing tracks Katatonia have composed. And that’s saying something, since they have a talent for those. “Passer” is the perfect bracket to this album, an album which had started with “Takeover”, an ethereal and emotion laden track. “Passer” and its sudden ending let us look back at what we have heard and realize the distance we traveled, just how many by-roads, stops and digressions this album has taken us on.
This trio of tracks proves to us that Katatonia are far from full, far from satiated with their undoubtedly grand place within their genre. They aren’t settled, stagnant or calcified. On the contrary, they keep moving forward, keep moving past what it was that used to make them what they were. They are intent on redefining what their albums mean: dicing and slicing their past, they subtly and expertly weave it into something new but still recognizable to the fans. As a result, and this is a personal note here, The Fall of Hearts is a complex album which took this reviewer a lot of time to get a handle on. We suspect that’s what it will do to you as well. It contains within it all sorts of Katatonia, different versions and mirror reflections of the band which coalesce into another, brilliant, brave and convincing album. Undoubtedly their most progressive album, The Fall of Hearts shows us Katatonia stretching their talents as far as they will go and then some.