Album Review: Katatonia – City Burials


It is a testament to the brilliance of Katatonia as a group of artists, that the least immediately gratifying album thus far in their career is still one of the most impressive things released in these nascent months of heavily plagued 2020.

Over the years, Katatonia has become synonymous with the sort of melancholic alt-prog, but fans with a cursory knowledge of the band’s music should know that was only a facet of their art. Their doom-laden tunes went to Dance of December Souls and Brave Murder Day. Their love for more refined doom metal with alternative rock thrown in the mix manifested themselves on releases such Discouraged Ones, Tonight’s Decision, Last Fair Deal Gone Down and Viva Emptiness, and The Great Cold Distance and Night is the New Day channeled the sense of balance between angst and melancholy in several shades. For any of the material that fell in-between these lines, releases like Dead End Kings and The Fall of Hearts were perfect. An audience’s preconceptions and expectations can make shifting sounds a tricky thing; this is something that Jonas Renkse’s pal Mikael Åkerfeldt might have taken into account years ago when Opeth released Heritage.

With City Burials, the group’s eleventh studio full-length, Katatonia has let their love of progressive rock guide their approach, but also pulling in sounds from every corner of the band’s art. It is not to imply that City Burials is a repeat of 2016’s The Fall of Hearts—quite opposite actually—but the band has embraced the term ‘evolution’ and sense of progression by creating a release that in a grandiose way refines their rich body of work. Katatonia‘s strength on the album relies on the beautiful ways they add depth to the songs. Over the course of the album, there are musical sounds extracted from a multitude of different sonic portions. There are plenty of melodic and atmospheric outbursts throughout the album’s 11 songs, but to top it off City Burials features arguably the best solo work from guitarists Anders Nyström and—the most recent addition to the line-up—Roger Öjersson to date on a Katatonia album. One of many refreshing moments on the record is “Behind the Blood,” where the band takes upon classic heavy metal influences—most dominantly Judas Priest—and round them up through layers of distinctive Katatonia vibes.

Song after song, City Burials reveals vibrancy and variety as its two major takeaways. The ease of switching from the pounding, already mentioned, “Behind the Blood” to emotion-filled lead single “Lacqer,” to colossal “Rein” and extraordinarily vivid “Flicker” speaks volumes of band’s ability to navigate through a kaleidoscope of both intense and soothing deliveries. With the majority of music and lyrics written by Renkse, one could agree that this is the most personal release for the Stockholm-born songwriter. Sparked by the experience of dwelling through streets of Sweden’s capital where he grew up, City Burials is Renkse’s reflection of events-turned-memories. In his own words: “Every memory is a loss, in a way, because it’s something you can’t grab anymore.

Halfway into “Vanishers,” which features singer Anni Bernhard contrasting Renkse, the atmosphere switches from tension to tenderness. Bernhard and Renkse hauntingly sing, “We’re dead now, affinity has been found below the ground…

The essential beauty of art and music is that it allows people to share their emotional experience, conveying the hidden depths of themselves to another person they have probably never met before. Humans feel more isolated than ever, and none moreso than in cities. The kind of feeling a group like Katatonia brings to their music has never been more important than now. For that City Burials feels resonant and powerful.

City Burials is out on April 24th via Peaceville Records.

Katatonia - City Burials review

Cover photo by Ester Segarra

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

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