Katatonia - City Burials
Peaceville Records
Dark Progressive Rock
11 songs (48:33)
Release year: 2020
Katatonia, Peaceville Records
Reviewed by Goat

After 2016's The Fall of Hearts, Katatonia took a hiatus of a couple of years based on a combination of factors, including coming off a heavy tour schedule. That makes City Burials something of a fresh start after a series of albums since 2009's Night is the New Day that haven't always been warmly received; an acoustic album and a live recording with an orchestra included. So the mixture of styles here, from more metallic fare to downright trip-hop, is interesting, not least for how well Katatonia can spread themselves across the various genres that make up their brooding sound. Describing their basic sound to newcomers is difficult; it's depressive (but not depressing) rock, with elements of Opeth and Tool instrumentally, electronics used here and there, yet also retained aspects of the doom and gothic metal that the band's roots are in. They're one of those acts that are more interesting than they sometimes sound, cuts such as Flicker here living up to its name with a pondering mid-paced softness that keeps the ear peeled but only really comes to life towards the end, after a synth-driven peak.

And as you'd expect from a band with members that spend so much time in side-projects such as Bloodbath and Lik, Katatonia are more than capable of heaviness and good at it; from the beginning of the album you could mistake this for quite a heavy metal listen, all in all! Opener Hearts Set to Divide divides up lighter sections with crushing old-Opeth-esque metal forays, squalling guitars and technical drumplay from Daniel Moilanen, and the following Behind the Blood is downright classic metal with those widdly guitars from Anders Nyström and Roger Öjersson - yet given atmospheric impact thanks to electronic-flavoured intersections and Jonas Renkse's undeniably gorgeous clean singing, which dominates the album and ties everything together well. And then, they entirely shift gears; few other bands would get away with releasing a first single like Lacquer, soft and restrained, strings and gentle beats forming the backdrop in a way that would sound like a collaboration between Ulver and Massive Attack were it not for Renkse's voice atop it!

It contributes to a feeling that City Burials is something of a sprawling mess, a collection of solid to great songs that sit together uneasily. The following doomy grandeur of Rein ups the tension immediately with the return to riffs, the drums especially giving a rumbling heaviness, and you wouldn't point to either song as a taster for the album as a whole, unlike the following more gothic/electronic rock of The Winter of Our Passing, which seems almost Katatonia by numbers in comparison. Guest female vocalist Anni Bernhard forms a pleasant duet with Renkse on Vanishers, clashing with the following Tool-flavoured City Glaciers with its more complex, proggy style, both delicately beautiful in different ways. At the album's lowest point, the brief Lachesis barely makes an impact, a piano and electronic backing never really coming to life and feeling like the first draft of a much superior song - the band are free to experiment with their sound, of course, but it makes the album feel even patchier than it is.

Which is unfortunate, because the beginning and end of City Burials are strong. Neon Epitaph brings back the Toolisms in a more strident fashion, and finale Untrodden especially leads an impact with its melodic doom build, a perfectly-placed effects-strewn guitar solo and near-symphonic outing the cherry on the cake. It would be good to hear Katatonia incorporating experiments like Lacquer more smoothly, but that being one of the album highlights alongside other, heavier material suggests the fault is more in the songwriting generally. Everyone tends to pick a favourite album from Katatonia's long career and treat everything else as inferior to it, and responses to City Burials will likely differ depending on which aspect of the band's sound you prefer - few will like everything, however. Despite that, there's more than enough quality material to make this a recommendation, and although Katatonia have been better on past albums they still have such potent strengths in Renkse's voice and their overall atmospheric touch to make City Burials worth hearing.

Killing Songs :
Hearts Set to Divide, Behind the Blood, Lacquer, Neon Epitaph, Untrodden
Goat quoted 70 / 100
Other albums by Katatonia that we have reviewed:
Katatonia - Night Is The New Day reviewed by Khelek and quoted 91 / 100
Katatonia - The Great Cold Distance reviewed by Al and quoted 93 / 100
Katatonia - Viva Emptiness reviewed by Alex and quoted 91 / 100
Katatonia - Last Fair Deal Gone Down reviewed by Danny and quoted 82 / 100
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