Album: The Fall of Hearts
Some 4 years have passed since the release of Katatonia’s last full-length album, Dead End Kings (2012). The band has mainly remained in people’s consciousness with various other releases, such as live DVDs and remixes of previous albums. However, now the time has come for new, original songs from the Swedish purveyors of melancholy, as The Fall of Hearts has finally hit record store shelves.
Dead End Kings ended up becoming my second favorite Katatonia album, right behind 1996’s classic Brave Murder Day, and it felt like the band had perfected the sound they’d been developing since The Great Cold Distance (2006). Therefore it was interesting to see where they’d go next – would Katatonia fall into the same trap as Amorphis had until last year’s Under the Red Cloud, releasing decent but rather unsurprising albums in the same vein as before, or experiment with something new? Luckily the Swedes have avoided stagnation by taking the latter path.
Album now available on Spotify:
The Fall of Hearts dives full-on into the world of progressive rock and metal that Katatonia has flirted with on its previous albums. A few of the songs are the band’s longest in 20 years and even slightly reminiscent of the debut album, Dance of December Souls (1993), in the way they’ve been structured. The record takes the extremes in Katatonia’s music further apart than ever before: the heavier songs are more technical and complex, while the mellow songs are more subdued. Though Jonas Renkse and Anders Nyström still write the material, some of this pushing of boundaries can probably be attributed to the band’s recent line-up changes, as well as the acoustic experimentation of Dethroned and Uncrowned (2013) and the tour that followed it. New drummer Daniel Moilanen’s playing ranges from the aggressive double kicks of “The Night Subscriber” to the subtlety of “Residual,” while the other newcomer, Roger Öjersson, lets his fingers dance on the fretboard in form of three solos. Katatonia has never exactly been a guitar solo band, but his contributions work well in the context of the songs and the new sound.
Though The Fall of Hearts is a step in a new direction, it’s also a natural follow-up to Dead End Kings. The aforementioned solos are a continuation of the shred of “Lethean,” and the piano melodies on “Last Song Before the Fade” and “Shifts” have the same jazzy feel as “Leech” did. Overall, the album is slightly more guitar-driven and includes less keyboards and electronics than the last two records, probably due to the absence of collaborator Frank Default. Jonas Renkse has also gone outside his lyrical comfort zone, offering some of his most striking lines ever in songs like “Sanction”: “There’s a flight to Medellin / 12 hours of drinking gin.” My personal favorite songs on the album are the Opeth-y and epic “Serac” and the up-tempo “The Night Subscriber.” Other songs worth a mention are the folky ballad “Pale Flag” and “Passer,” which includes creepy piano sounds that would make Trent Reznor smile.
Unfortunately change also comes with sacrifice, and what Katatonia has gained in variety and freshness, it has lost in memorability. Even after multiple listens it’s difficult to remember the melodies and riffs of some songs, and only the choruses of “Old Heart Falls” and “Last Song Before the Fade” match the catchiness of earlier songs like “The Racing Heart” and “Deliberation.” On top of that, the album feels a little overwhelming because of its 70-minute length and suffers from some pacing problems. “Takeover” is a good song, but doesn’t really feel like an opener, and “Decima” is a bit of a buzzkill as a ballad coming off the heels of “Old Heart Falls,” which isn’t that heavy of a song either. I would’ve made “Passer” the opening track, because its intro solo would give the album an exploding start, and “Serac” rises to such heights in its ending that it would make a great closer. However, one has to admit that some good tracklist choices have been made, and at times the flow is great: for example, the transition from “The Night Subscriber” to “Pale Flag” is virtually seamless and works perfectly.
The Fall of Hearts is an intriguing and enjoyable album that has all the required ingredients to become a Katatonia classic, but it’s a little too angular and introverted for its own good. The album is like that mysterious acquaintance at school or work that you get along with well, but never get to know on a deeper level despite your best efforts, because they prefer to keep their distance. Perhaps late spring simply isn’t the best time for listening to Katatonia and the album will open up more easily in the fall – only time will tell…
Rating: 7/10, 3½ stars
03. Old Heart Falls
09. Last Song Before the Fade
11. The Night Subscriber
12. Pale Flag
Text: Ville Karttunen | Ed: Amy Wiseman