In Alex’s review of “Brave Murder Day,” he says that when one thinks of the classic KATATONIA, that is the album that comes to mind. I’m going to go on the record and disagree – when I think of KATATONIA, nothing but “Dance Of December Souls” comes to mind. That said, this album really sounds nothing like “Brave Murder Day,” and absolutely nothing at all like the band’s later material from “Tonight’s Decision” onward.
Among fans of the origins of Death/Doom or Black/Doom Metal, that being the movement during the early 90’s consisting of bands such as ANATHEMA, MY DYING BRIDE, PARADISE LOST and more underground bands such as WINTER and THERGOTHON, “Dance Of December Souls” is considered a classic record and understandably so. KATATONIA shows that you do not need overblown displays of technical prowess to write beautiful melodies, a claim epitomized by the guitarwork here. The main melodies in “Gateways Of Bereavement” and “Velvet Thorns Of Drynwhyl” are some of the best to come out of that whole movement, perfectly capturing feelings of loss and sorrow on a grandiose scale. Really, it’s Blackheim’s guitar work that makes this album shine. Instead of the monotonous, repetitive riffs found on “Brave Murder Day,” here we have soaring, epics riffs that, in the context of the album, sound simply wonderful. It’s still repetitive, but moreso in a dreary, elegant way than in a hypnotic way, as on “Brave Murder Day.”
If I had a major complaint about this album, it would definitely be the vocals of Jonas Renske. He may sound okay on later releases, but on “Dance Of December Souls,” he sounds just plain bad. This is before he began singing cleanly, as he would in the band’s later material and to be quite blunt, his harsh vocals make it clear that Mr. Renske is no Mikael Åkerfeldt. The delivery is an amateurish and throaty, almost weeping Black Metal scream, which can come off as forced and over-the-top at times, especially when the lyrics are taken into consideration. The music may be wonderful, but sometimes it gets hard to bear Renske’s moaping shriek of “SOOORROOOOWWWW!!!!,” which tends to drag parts of the album down into cliché. Then again, it would be hard to imagine this album with any other vocals – I don’t really think that Mr. Åkerfeldt would fit in here. Sadly, it’s the vocals that keep this album from being a real classic in my mind.
In the KATATONIA discography, “Dance Of December Souls” stands out as a unique offering and will forever represent the band in my mind. Fans of early MY DYING BRIDE and PARADISE LOST (who are, from what I’ve read, the band’s main influence on this album) should check this out, as should curious fans of KATATONIA’s later material. Perhaps you’ll find the classic quality in this album that I’ve missed out on. (Online October 9, 2005)