Katatonia may not be a huge name in the metal realms, however thanks to continual praise from the likes of Opeth’s Mikael Äkerfeldt and a discography that stretches back into the early nineties, the Swedes are finally getting the recognition they deserve. We caught up with drummer Daniel Liljekvist as they unleash their latest menagerie of melancholy with full-length ‘Dead End Kings’
In the same way Norwegian black metal and its icons are often linked and intertwined , the Swedish death metal scene finds itself sharing sounds and band members to create a selection of death metal ranging from the melody of Gothenburg to the more raw style in Stockholm. Despite reigning from the latter, the quintet definitely fit more into the calmer end of the spectrum, and after their first two albums, switched to clean vocals throughout.
It would appear that move split the fans with some claiming to only like the first albums; however this doesn’t bother the band, especially after seeing the success of seven further albums. Drummer Daniel, who has been with the band since their fourth album [‘Tonight’s Decision’] explains; “People say that they only like the two first records and the demos and that’s fine! I respect that. But when they call us sell-outs, come on! We don’t have a gold record; we don’t have millions of dollars. Fuck, we don’t even have thousands of dollars! I feel absolutely nothing about the fan splitting thing. If you like the old sound that’s fine, just don’t complain about the “new stuff”.”
Katatonia are a hard act to pigeon hole, as their death metal origins have been hidden further under layers of slowed down riffs, chugging gloom and frontman Jonas’ very emotional vocals. Many have coined the term “shoe gaze metal” for the band, due to their consistent themes of melancholy, depression and suicide but how does a band get into such a depressed mind frame?
“We’re in that state of mind 24/7”, Daniel jokes. “No, but seriously. That’s just how we want our songs to sound. It’s not like we sit in a dark room with lit candles and pictures of crying children on the walls when we create. I don’t write songs but I know how the other guys ‘[Jonas Renske, vocals/guitar, Anders Nyström guitar/vocals] work and they sit at their computers and just riff out ideas.”
2009 saw the release of Katatonia’s previous release ‘Night Is The New Day’, which was received with plenty of positivity, despite its negative concepts. The album saw the band reaching into more epic depths with symphonic sections from strings and keyboards, without losing its bite and it sounds as though ‘Dead End Kings’ is following the same idea. “There are a lot of strings, drum loops and keyboard on ‘NITND’ and on this one we added some more I guess. Also, the whole production and sound of the album is so much fatter than the last album. Maybe it’s a bit more mellow too, song ways.”
After listening to ‘Dead End Kings’, all of this is apparent after a couple of listens. The tunes are definitely a lot more layered, the orchestral moments make for an epic atmosphere and as always Renske’s vocals hypnotize. The album flows easily from start to finish however the road along the way is uncomfortable in terms of vocal themes that cause a juxtaposition on how you can enjoy this when the lyrics are so solemn.
Due to the buzz of ‘Dead End Kings’, Katatonia, have recently confirmed a European tour including UK dates in December, which has got everyone very excited to witness the new songs live. The Swedes will play venues including the Islington Academy in London, however despite upgrading in size; do not expect any theatrics to take away from the musical atmosphere. Daniel explains they may have a new stage plot and their first ever lighting director but this tour will be all about showcasing the new tracks and it is those that will cause tough choices for the band. “There are so many songs we’d like to play every night and we sometimes end up fighting over the set list. It’s hard to know what people want to hear in different countries. It would be easier if we had like four big hits to build the set list around.”
Despite a line up which has changed since the start and a separate live line up completed by Niklas Sandin on bass and Per “Sodomizer” Eriksson on guitar (who is also in Bloodbath with Jonas and Anders), Daniel believes he has no regrets during his time in Katatonia “unless he repressed it”. The link to Bloodbath may be there, but the music is kept separate from one another and is used “so that Jonas and Anders can still live out their death metal dreams”.
‘Dead End Kings’ is proof that they will continue to do what they do best and although it’s often hard to label them as metal any more, their melancholic rock will always be respected, in a similar manner to UK deathsters turn rockers Anathema. Katatonia are a band who literally live up to their name, with the Greek word meaning low tone, under tone or commonly down-tempo and despite their music coming across saddened, the band have been consistent when it comes to hard-hitting atmospheric anthems. Kings of the Swedish metal scene they are but at a dead end they most certainly are not.
Feature by Lily Randall
To be published in the September issue of Devolution Magazine