Album Review: Katatonia - Sky Void of Stars
Reviewed by Paul Hutchings
Few artists continue to evolve in the manner of Swedes Katatonia. Over the past 30 years, they have honed and crafted their music, maintaining a melancholy that haunts in a beautiful manner from start to finish. They rode out the pandemic with their live streams, maintaining a contact with their fans which has been gratefully received. They return with their first studio album since 2020’s epic ‘City Burials’, and their 12th overall.
‘Sky Void of Stars’ presents us with 11 new songs, all written and composed by singer Jonas Renkse. It opens with a crash, the up-tempo power of ‘Austerity’ not only an aptly named song but a strong, memorable start. The inevitable darkness that the band cast broken by the guitarwork of Anders Nyström and Roger Öjersson which penetrates the gloom. Renkse is in imperious form here and throughout the album, his vocals as good as ever, switching from the slight narrative style on ‘Colossal Shade’ through to his soaring trademark sound elsewhere.
As always, Katatonia mask a steely metal side beneath their more melodic flavours but make no mistake, there is still a heaviness that lurks below the surface. There are down tempo songs like ‘Opaline’, with it’s more gentle opening passages abruptly challenged by some thumping riffs before it returns to a more sedate and compelling pace. In complete contrast, the explosive nature of ‘Birds’ reminds us, if we needed reminding, that Katatonia can kick out the jams with the best. A combination of huge drums and hard-edged guitars bring a vibrant, yet reminiscent feel to the song. It could sit on many Katatonia albums of the past yet retains its contemporary vibe. It’ll be one to get venues bouncing should they select it on their forthcoming tour with Solstafir.
One of the main attractions of Katatonia is that although they have a signature sound, it’s impossible to place them in one genre. They refuse to be pigeon-holed. The stunning fragility of ‘Impermanence’ allows one to drift, lost in the music that wraps its aural tendrils tight. It’s an epic and mountainous song that ebbs and flows, flashes of light emerging at times whilst the darkness that forever permeates Katatonia’s music remains at the borders, patiently waiting for an opportunity. There’s some superb guitar work on ‘Impermanence’ which will take your breath away as well. It’s in sharp contrast to the higher energy of ‘Atrium’, another of the more powerfully delivered songs.
Katatonia have the capability to weave their sound in an intoxicating, manner. Their ability to impart memorable hooks through their almost cinematic soundscapes is unrivalled in the world of metal. Their finale here, the six-minute ‘No Beacon to Illuminate our Fall’ and the haunting overtures of ‘Absconder’ (Bonus Track) aptly demonstrate all that is good about this band.
It may be early in the year, but the music that is being released is already top drawer. It would however, be a somewhat remarkable year if come December, ‘Sky Void of Stars’ isn’t nestled firmly in those end of year top lists. A band that never rest, their 12th album confirms their position as one of the most compelling bands around today.