Katatonia – Dead End Kings Review

2009’s Night is the New Day was a breakthrough record for Katatonia which saw the gloomy Swedish post-metallers reach a wider audience. How do you follow such a great record? How about trying to write another one just like it.

Harry reviews Katatonia’s Dead End Kings.

Night is the New Day was one of my favourite records of 2009 and so I was very eager to hear Dead End Kings. I’ve been listening to it since the promo dropped in June. Yet I was so heavily invested in Night Is the New Day that the new album didn’t initially capture my imagination, perhaps because the opening track The Parting – though good – doesn’t have the impact of NITND’s Forsaker.

Forget that quibble though, the second track on the album – The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here – is an absolute belter thanks in no small part to The Gathering vocalist Silje Wergeland joining Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse on lead vocals. The resultant doom-bathed duet is a beautiful lament and a song I keep coming back to for more.

As the album progresses the traditional elements of Katatonia’s sound are all present and correct. Jonas’s melancholy effect laden vocals, the dynamic shifts between ethereal atmospherics and crunching guitars and the evocation of bleak lonely landscapes. Shut your eyes and you could be marooned on a rain-swept Swedish sand dune.

Halfway through Dead End Kings we reach Buildings which is one of the album’s heavier moments and shifts the pace up a gear. The segue into the piano-focussed Leech is delicious. And while both songs show completely different sides of the band they both feature excellent guitar work, the former with heavy crunching guitars, that latter with a beautiful lead line. The production of Dead End Kings allows the crunchier guitar moments more space than Night Is the New Day. So while not really a guitar-led record the guitars feel like an equal partner in the mix.

There’s not a bad track on the album. Yet I did find myself occasionally getting lost on the journey from the excellent Leech to the equally fabulous final track Dead Letters. I think the record could have taken the less is more approach and lost one of the second half tracks Not that there’s anything wrong with any of them just that in terms of the album’s dynamic as a whole we seem to slow down a little from the mid album excellent.

This slight hiccough is soon forgotten through the pacey Lethean and it’s a smooth ride from there to the end of Dead End Kings. Katatonia has saved the best for last. Dead Letters is a cracking track, beautiful, heavy, and full of twists and turns. The keyboard melody that underpins that heavy guitars is something you’ll be humming for weeks and definitely has a Pink Floyd vibe to it.

Much of the album’s beautiful solemn atmosphere can be attributed to long-time session man Frank Default whose keyboard and sample work weave the narrative thread through the whole record without dominating proceedings. Katatonia certainly would sound very different without Default’s work.

So in closing another very strong record from Katatonia. While not as instantly memorable as the last outing I’ve a feeling that this is a collection of songs such as The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here, Leech, Buildings and Dead Letters that are going to stay with me a long time. Dead End Kings is a beautifully crafted album from a band that clearly has a lot more left to give.

Dead End Kings is released via Peaceville Records on August 27th in Europe and August 28th in the US. The band has launched a dedicated website for the album at www.deadendkings.com and you’ll find digital download details there.