Katatonia, “The Fall of Hearts”

I’m a newcomer to Katatonia. As I mentioned in our last podcast, I’ve been listening to Anathema for a long time, and it seems that Anathema and Katatonia are often spoken of in the same breath, but I never got around to Katatonia for some reason until this year. I’m really glad I did, and it was nice to be able to approach The Fall of Hearts without preconceived ideas about what the band should be.

The Fall of Hearts is a fantastic album. Without launching into some obligatory pretentious tirade about the death of the traditional album format, I’ll just say this: The Fall of Hearts gets dang near the perfect balance that makes a stand-out album: cohesive yet diverse, true to itself, never losing focus, and lacking in filler. It seems to succeed in making a coherent statement through an even approach to production but an almost mosaic-like complexity of tones.

It causes me to reflect on Plato’s “one vs. many,” or, you know, Frasier’s apartment.

“The theory behind it is, if you have really fine pieces of furniture, it doesn’t matter if they match — they will go together.” – Frasier

So it’s not exactly the Beatles’ White Album, but that’s the basic idea. The album has a little of something for every prog metal fan – accessible hooks, wandering atmospheric sections, dense and complex passages that will take some time to unpack, and heavy riffs. Perhaps the thread that ties everything together is Jonas Renske’s world-weary vocal tone, though I’m guessing some might find it lacking in versatility or dynamics (personally I feel that too much of either of those would take away, not add to, an album like this, which needs some continuity).

“Takeover” is a subtle start to the album in a genre that favors heavy punches to the face as soon as listeners hit play. This song blossomed for me after my third listen or so, when the hooks really began to dig in. It develops into a powerful progressive epic in almost a classical prog sense (you might hear touches of A Pleasant Shade of Gray-era Fates Warning here).

The album expresses a range of affect from quiet ballads without any psych-outs (“Decima”), to cool riffs (“Shifts”), to sinister tones with a Crimson flavor (“Sanction”). I held my breath a little right around 3.30 in “Serein,” where you can find a courageous drop-out in the climax of a otherwise straightforward song. I love composers with a little subversion in their bones.

But the track that was worth the price of admission, for me, was “The Night Subscriber.” This song, in itself, has everything that a prog metal fan could want. It’s got Mellotron-sounding strings with a snappy drumbeat, power chords and riffs reminiscent of Matheos in OSI, and eerie, suspended harmonies.

There don’t seem to be any significant throwaway tracks or filler moments in The Fall of Hearts. This is the kind of deliberate prog that I can really sink my teeth into – nothing seems to exist for its own sake, and each song is structured with a telos that moves you in an intentional direction. The more accessible sections and songs give the listener an entry point to keep them close while they slowly digest the more difficult passages.

My only fear is that I love this album so much that I’ll be disappointed when I start to go back through the rest of their catalog, but this is a good problem for a band that continues to march boldly into the future.

Highly recommended.

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