Katatonia - Sky Void of Stars
Napalm Records
Alternative / Progressive Rock
10 songs (45:47)
Release year: 2023
Katatonia, Napalm Records
Reviewed by Goat

Perhaps acting too strongly after criticism of previous album City Burials for being sprawling and experimental with its uneasy electronic impulses, the twelfth full-length from the Swedish metal institution is far more straightforward. The strongest comparison one could make is to fellow genre-straddlers Evergrey; Katatonia are a little lighter and more gothic than their countrymen, but essentially seem to be creating the same kind of upbeat, downright danceable anthems - Birds here especially so. Is that a problem? Well, if you still expect anything as downcast as Katatonia's earlier works, you'll be disappointed, yet that will be the case for plenty of the band's more recent material. There's not so much a lowering of standards as a smoothening of them; any sharp edges or even more experimental moments like ballad Lacquer have been buffed away in favour of a generally catchy mixture of gothic, alternative and even groove metals, stirred into a cohesive set of ear-pleasing songs.

It's as though Katatonia have exchanged the vague catchiness present here on this album for anything more intriguing, which makes Sky Void of Stars seem very much like the band on autopilot on initial listens. An easy album to listen to, repeatedly even, but one that lacks memorable moments or ones that truly stand out in ways that the more diverse City Burials had in spades with its interesting (if not always successful) songwriting. Which isn't to say that the songs here are all bad or uninteresting, far from it. Austerity opens the album strongly with post-Tool riffing and typically entrancing vocal hooks from Jonas Renkse, who is probably the best aspect of the band's sound nowadays with his distinctively melancholic croon. He's balanced with the first of multiple widdly guitar solos across the album, a reminder that he's backed by a group of strong musicians, who make their presence known. And the songwriting can be solid too; Colossal Shade continues smoothly with a groovier take, Opaline a little softer and more modern prog, No Beacon to Illuminate Our Fall more gothic.

Yet as you get deeper into the tracklisting the songs become less memorable and blur together more, even with the hooks. The likes of Drab Moon, Impermanence, and Sclera feel like the band on autopilot in the worst way, overlong and meandering and entirely difficult to remember. Generally the electronic elements have been tamed, simplified, and generally pushed behind the guitars and keyboards to make them a mostly subtle element of the sound, coming to the fore a little too rarely on the likes of Opaline to good atmospheric effect, contrasted well with the more metallic Author. All in all, the various metallic shades that went into making a Katatonia album interesting have been boiled away to a uniformity, one often in danger of grey anonymity. It's hard to avoid the feeling that Sky Full of Stars has been put together by AI; vaguely pleasant to human ears but put together in an overly smooth way that triggers the uncanny valley sensor in your head to poor ends. And Katatonia, as both fans and detractors will admit, can do far, far better than this.

Killing Songs :
Austerity, Opaline, Birds
Goat quoted 60 / 100
Other albums by Katatonia that we have reviewed:
Katatonia - City Burials reviewed by Goat and quoted 70 / 100
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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