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KATATONIA The Fall Of Hearts

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Thursday, August 11, 2016 @ 2:42 PM

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The Fall Of Hearts

Peaceville Records

Swedish progressive/dark metal stalwarts KATATONIA spent the last couple of years doing mostly, and uncharacteristically, acoustic work. The band reworked 2012's already somewhat tame Dead End Kings for 2013's Dethroned And Uncrowned and then recording the “unplugged” live album/DVD Sanctitude a year later.

But with its 10th and latest studio album, The Fall Of Hearts, KATATONIA gets its “prog” on again in a big way while also bringing back some welcome oomph. The album harkens back to 2009's Night Is The New Day in its comparative heaviness while building on the adventurousness of the band's more recent work and the progressive spirit that has guided the shape-shifting quintet since it left its doom/death roots behind in the late '90s - when founding vocalist Jonas Renkse's throat problems left him unable to sustain the necessary screams and growls.

The Fall Of Hearts recalls the Ghost Reveries/Watershed era of OPETH – whose mainman Mikael Åkerfeldt shares some history with KATATONIA – or PORCUPINE TREE in its blend of supple melody, ethereal grace, epic scale, occasional fits of raw power and a sense of melancholia that permeates throughout despite Renkse's often soothing vocals. It certainly is among the quintet’s more ambitious works – and definitely its most sprawling, clocking in at 67 minutes, about 15 minutes longer than any of its previous albums.

And it does seem a bit “long”, dragging for a bit during especially sedate and Spartan stretches. But it starts and finishes in flourish, and ambles off on some intriguing, deceptively complex tangents along the way, so a little patience will be rewarded.

“Takeover” offers a slow simmer at the outset, with its lush wash of keyboards, but builds on Anders Nyström's riffy bursts and new drummer Daniel Moilanen's ever-more expressive beats and fills. The crunch is especially pronounced on “Serein” where the hooks are in greater abundance and Renkse's more buoyant vocals drive the album's catchiest chorus.

Things grow rather somber, though, quickly thereafter, as Renske sings that “sorrow will find you” on “Old Heart Falls” over a thin shimmer of guitar and languid tempo. That sentiment carries over on the mostly acoustic “Decima” and Resnke's longing vocals: “Darling, you had me here for a while. It breaks my heart to see you cry. In the wake of incomplete time. Darkness overthrows!”

“Sanction” delivers some big, meaty riffs, and mixes in some cool, if rather gentle, Caribbean-flavored percussion, but in fits and starts contrasted by serene passages of electric piano and an undercoating of guitar jangle. “Residual” offers much the same approach, but with less heft when the volume increases.

The very OPETH-y “Serac” shakes things loose with the rousing sweep of its riffs, atmospheric grandeur and ample mellotron sheen. It's the most luxuriously epic tune here for sure, and downright trippy when the mellotron chimes in. “Last Song Before The Fade” is less audacious but more bombastic and its surging rhythm seems downright feisty. “Shifts”, not so ironically, shifts gears back to the desolate sadness of “Decima”, as Renske notes “I had to go where you couldn't follow. In my weariness I still hear you singing in my mind.” His evocative lyrics are a real highlight here, haunting and forlorn though they may be.

But The Fall Of Hearts goes out with a bit of bang, as the glorious “The Night Subscriber” and “Passer” – sandwiched around the understated “Pale Flag” – are punctuated by the album's mightiest riffs and Moilanen's intermittently and impressively athletic drumming. Wish there had been a bit more of this sort of thing here, but it's more than Kings had to offer, so glass half-full.

And The Fall Of Hearts is more about the journey anyway, one that is meant to be taken as whole, as opposed to providing instant gratification. It is not so much a concept album as it is a seemingly connected series of unfortunate events were connections can never quite be made, hopes are there to be dashed and joy is always just achingly out of reach. And not to be a spoiler, but there are no happy ending's as Renkse concedes in album closer “Passer” “You took your gear and hit the trail, I was there by the runway. Above spires and buildings now, you have passed the horizon.”

The recent acoustic experimentation seems to have served its purpose, expanding KATATONIA's sonic palette and broadening its reach. Thus The Fall Of Hearts sees a veteran band not only still discovering new territory, but conquering it on its way.

4.5 Out Of 5.0

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