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Katatonia: Viva emptiness

31/08/11  ||  Smalley

While I’m not quite a Katatonia uberfan, these melancholic Swedes can still sometimes tickle me just right with their unique brand of melodic, beautifully depressed, not-quite-metal, not-quite-alt-rock songwriting. Still, me and them have had a bit of an up-and-down relationship over the years, and while “Viva emptiness” is a decent effort, and certainly not their nadir, it still leaves something to be desired with some flat songwriting and flirtations with nu metal elements, especially considering that the band would pull off the spot-on “The great cold distance” right after this.

Still, there remains plenty to enjoy here, even though opener “Ghost of the sun” really isn’t one of ‘em; it does have a nice overall drive to it, but still stumbles with bridges that break up the verses’ momentum, whiny, nu metal-y, stupidly-profane lyrics (“I trusted you, you lied/It’s all I hear, a fucking lie!/Don’t give a shit, it’s over now/It’s all I know, you broke the vow!”), and overly “aggro” backing vocals. Follow-up “Sleeper” is a bit of a nothing song, failing to leave a solid impression on me, and “Criminals” isn’t much better.

So far, not so good here, right? Fortunately, “A premonition” then finally hits the sweet spot with its oddly laid-out, uneasy, eerily calm main melody; you could call it “soothing”, but it’s a weird, disconcerting kind of soothing, with a constant, underlying tension to it (which is awesome). I don’t like the annoying distortion they give Renkse’s vocals later on, but oh well. “Will I arrive” is another unfortunately nu metal-y cut, but “Burn the remembrance” soon rectifies that with its gorgeous guitar interactions, brilliant, extended outro, and serene bongo-ing (bongo’d courtesy of Matthew McConaughey’s penis). If every song on VE was as good as this, we could be looking at Katatonia’s very best record right now instead of merely a decent one.

And from there, the album’s pretty evenly split between the good stuff and the indifferent; after a flat first section, “Wealth” hits just the right groove, “Complicity” is an effective dichotomy of soft/heavy transitions, and “Evidence” is a nicely powerful, emotional cut, while on the other hand, “One year from now” bores, middling instrumental “Inside the city of glass” won’t be challenging “The call of Ktulu” for dominance anytime soon, and (besides a compelling chorus) “Walking by a wire” spins its wheels, but doesn’t get much of anywhere.

Outside of just the individual songs, some of the basic aural elements on “Viva” that I like are Jonas Renkse’s melodic, quietly tortured, almost-a-confessional vocals, and the unique production job, with its excellent clean guitar sound and nicely audible bass. Although vocals-wise here, you still have those whiny nu metal moments, I don’t get the people who say Renkse’s voice will make you wanna kill yourself (he isn’t THAT depressing!), and I would’ve preferred some harsh vox alongside the clean ala what Rapture does, I still have grown to enjoy Jonas’s voice after some early indifference. As for the instrumental performances, besides some occasionally interesting drumming, there’s nothing real impressive going on here, but everyone is still competent, and well-suited to the style here.

So all in all, “Viva emptiness” is kind of an awkward middle child in-between “Last fair deal gone down” and the excellent “great cold distance”, having some excellently emotional, compelling songs, but also some duds, as well as a weird, inappropriate incorporation of wannabe-aggressive nu metal elements, even though it came out well after the initial wave of nu’s popularity. I know Katatonia had already started being influenced by alt rock prior to this, but they should’ve heard the nu metal stuff didn’t work for ‘em, and also should’ve kicked up the energy to some of the flat songs here. Still, the shit that does work here works pretty well, so I can’t say I don’t hold a positive-ish view of “emptiness” in the end, albeit one that is tempered by disappointment. Hurry up and get to recording “distance”, I say to ’03-era Katatonia.

7,5

  • Information
  • Released: 2003
  • Label: Peaceville
  • Website: katatonia.com
  • Band
  • Jonas Renkse: vocals, guitars, programming
  • Anders Nyström: guitars, keyboards, backing vocals, programming
  • Fredrik Norrman: guitars
  • Mattias Norrman: bass, slide guitar
  • Daniel Liljekvist: percussion, backing vocals
  • Tracklist
  • 01. Ghost Of The Sun
  • 02. Sleeper
  • 03. Criminals
  • 04. A Premonition
  • 05. Will I Arrive
  • 06. Burn The Remembrance
  • 07. Wealth
  • 08. One Year From Now
  • 09. Walking By A Wire
  • 10. Complicity
  • 11. Evidence
  • 12. Omerta
  • 13. Inside The City Of Glass