I've recently had the pleasure to get to do two things with Katatonia, one of the bands I've been listening to for the longest time. Ever since high school basically, when I first started branching out from my early love of Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Dream Theater and into the broader shoals of metal music. First, I got the chance to listen to Sky Void of Stars, their album releasing today, January 20th, and realize it's one of the best Katatonia albums in years. And that's saying something, since I've absolutely adored basically every single album this band have released, and especially the last three (City Burials, The Fall of Hearts, and Dead End Kings). This release feels more energetic and progressive than the previous one, except for maybe City Burials, but still very much possessed with their core of melancholy and contemplation.
The second thing I got to do was shatter a lot of these pre-conceptions when interviewing Jonas Renkse, Katatonia's vocalist and arguably its beating heart. Renkse has been one of my favorite vocalists for years, not only on Katatonia; his guest spots on Ayreon's albums and his work with Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief) on their little-known project Wisdom of Crowds are all performances of his I cherish. So getting to talk with the man himself was something I was incredibly excited about and the conversation itself was fascinating in many ways. But one of the most interesting revelations in it was that Renkse (and Katatonia at large, it seems) don't really buy into the "era" discourse.
To be honest, many bands do not and see albums very differently to their fans. But, in this case, I felt that the distinction between the albums, the almost sheer cliff face which separates Last Fair Deal Gone Down from Viva Emptiness and then The Great Cold Distance from Night Is the New Day and then that release from Dead End Kings, had to have come from some conscious decision. But Renkse confirmed in our interview that this wasn't the case and that each Katatonia album obviously shares DNA with previous releases but also reflects different mind-sets and approaches from its predecssors.
You can definitely hear that on Sky Void of Stars. "Colossal Shade" and "Opaline", two of my favorite tracks from the album, are fantastic examples of this "repetition and difference" (if you'd allow me a philosophy pun). "Colossal Shade" and parts of "Opaline" would feel right at home in Dead End Kings, for example. Thick bass, roiling melancholy, and forlorn guitars make up the bulk of their sound, especially on the former track. But then "Opaline" also has bright, scintillating, and massive synths, coupled with a big, emotive chorus where chunkier guitar tones evoke some of the sounds on Night Is the New Day while "Colossal Shade" also has deeper and more cavenrous chords than any on the last few Katatonia albums.
During the interview, I also spoke to Renkse about how he writes for Katatonia albums and how much his music and lyrics reflect his own life. He mentioned they definitely have roots in his experience but also elements of fiction, to keep things interesting. So, which is which? When we listen to the above tracks, when are we hearing Renkse's autobiographical voice and where the changes he introduces to mix things up? Or, perhaps, like everything Katatonia, the answer is not that simple and we are hearing a more subtle and intricate mix between reality and fiction? Whichever is the answer, Sky Void of Stars is a fantastic album, continuing one of metal's more illustrious careers.
Make sure to give it a listen for yourself and scroll down below to listen to my interview with Jonas Renkse in full.
Small note: the first minute of the conversation is missing because Skype is awful. All you're missing is me embarassing myself by telling Jonas what a huge fan I am and then asking about the different eras of Katatonia. Enjoy!