2012 seems to be the year of follow-ups for me. From IHSAHN, MESHUGGAH, PARADISE LOST, TESTAMENT, NACHTMYSTIUM, and GOD FORBID, to up-coming albums from CONVERGE, ENSLAVED, DEVIN TOWNSEND, DOWN and PIG DESTROYER, few weeks have passed this year without the release of, or at least an announcement regarding a follow-up to some of my favourite albums of recent times. One such release, and certainly not the least anticipated, is KATATONIA’s “Dead End Kings," the successor to their phenomenal 2009 record “Night Is The New Day." Unfortunately, after about 10 or so listens, I find myself unsatisfied by it.
Opting to tone down the heavy guitars and electronic effects that characterised their last two records, “Dead End Kings” is instead an album that has much more in common with the band’s more melodic middle period, except that it is barely guitar-driven, focusing primarily on soft piano sections complimented by a suitable but unexciting rhythm section. The magnificent Jonas Renkse’s vocals are sublime as always, but without the powerful riffs to back him up, most of his impact is lost amidst what are not off-putting but hardly stimulating, bordering on mundane, compositions.
There are a few moments littered throughout the album that hint at some sort of resonance of their (until now) faultless track record. “Racing Heart” is a decent song that sees Renske at his best and “Ambitions” seems to have a lot going for it but without ever reaching anything truly remarkable. A lot of what brings down “Dead End Kings” is that it’s a total bummer. The album is so wrapped up in its harrowing sense of despair that it struggles to find purchase on emotions other than those that invoke hopelessness and sorrow. When the guitars or otherwise heavier moments do appear it is not to offer cathartic juxtaposition, or to tip the emotional scales into that overwash of anti-euphoria invoked by bands like PINK FLOYD or, more recently, PALLBEARER. Rather they simply add to the gloom of the thing; moments such as the almost Nu-Metal beginning of “Buildings” or the more Rock-minded “Lethen,” are few and far between, and, given what occupies their negative space, much looked-for.
I’m aware that there are many listeners out there who will be far more receptive to the style of “Dead End Kings” than I, but for once I feel I have stumbled across an album that, rather than being an enjoyable listen but rather is lacking in depth (as is usually the case), is full of integrity yet fails to excite on a superficial level. KATATONIA have always been a band that progress with each album and I was far from expecting “Night Is The New Day 2: Night Harder," in fact “Dead End Kings” really isn’t that far removed from anything the band has done before. However, the compositional departure and concentration of elements is such that by the time the somewhat cathartic “First Prayer” and the more hard-hitting “Dead Letters” roll around – and even then the payoff is minimal - I’ve been all but worn out by an album that grants little reward from its soft-spoken aesthetic of despair and even less relief.
(Online August 22, 2012)