Katatonia – Sky Void Of Stars (depressive prog metal)
Katatonia lost me a bit over the last decade, after they went all depressive. I know there are many who consider Dead End Kings (2012) and The Fall of Kings (2016) among their best works, but for me they lacked the energy that made their earlier releases so compelling. City Burials (2020) was a step back in the right direction but it was a bit too uneven to truly correct course.
All of this is to say that I think Sky Void of Stars is easily the best Katatonia record since Night is the New Day (2009). The band's trademark sullen, melancholic tone is still very much in play, but there's a drive and energy to this record that keeps me engaged, while my attention has tended to wane with their recent releases. It's also probably the most progressive Katatonia record since at least Dead End Kings. There's a lot more variation and experimentation on display here than there has been ever since Katatonia realy nailed their sound down in the early 2000s.
Jonas Renkse also absolutely kills it on this one. I don't know of the saying that you'd listen to someone "read the phonebook" is still a thing, since we don't really have those anymore, but "Birds" proves that him just counting off seemingly random numbers numbers is more than enough to put most vocalists to shame. I wasn't really expecting much from this one, but Sky Void Of Stars is a welcome return to form from a band who arguably never lost it in the first place.
Oak Pantheon – The Absence (extreme progressive metal)
Extreme progressive metal? Progressive extreme metal? Extremely progressive progressive extreme metal? There's so much going on on this newest release from the once distinctly blackened Oak Pantheon. One minute they're in traditional blackened folk territory, the next they're ripping shit up like they're Zao or something, the next they sound like hillbilly Mastodon and before you know it they've built to a forlorn melodeath creschendo, a la mid-period Dark Tranquility, with luscious, almost power-metal style vocals over the top of it. The Absence is a lot to take in, to say the least. What's immediately apparent, however, is just how high it's set the bar for progressive muetal in 2023, both in trems of scope and quality. Don't sleep on this one.