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Kings of Sadness

Sometime in August, a couple of days after release, I found the new Katatonia album “Dead End Kings” for sale on the iTunes store. I spent about 15 minutes listening to the samples before I purchased the record. Not that it mattered. Still, nothing could have prepared me for this record.

This is extraordinary music.

“The Parting” swirls like a gale in winter, with keyboards that increase in volume before the rest of the band joins in. Jonas Renske starts it off with some soft yet urgent singing. At the chorus, he had me hanging on his every word. It’s a triumph - a band at the top of their game. Each song flows into the next and I couldn’t tear myself away from it. Almost two months later, I still can’t.

The music is so evocative that it seems as though the moments I recall as I listen were made for these songs. My thoughts provide a connection to the songs that I can almost touch. After 55 minutes, I calmly laid my headphones on the edge of the table - astonished. What just happened. I’ve heard Katatonia before, I know their music - but what is this?

The record still hasn’t left my playlist. Katatonia’s music has always been cryptic. With every listen, the layers give way and I discover something new. In “The One You Are Looking For”, Jonas sings what seems to be almost a lullaby mourning his own death. “Hypnone” is more tense, and talks about someone who finds comfort in being alone. To this person, freedom to control their own thoughts is to be away from everything they love.

The line must be kept so thin
To live near life
Not within

A lot of metal is physical music. In one sense, it’s kinetic and demanding to perform. While some genres place extraordinary emphasis on mood over muscle, others such as grindcore are fully dedicated to hitting you with a ton of bricks. Either way, there’s a lot of energy - observable or otherwise.

Katatonia is different. It may not sound like it, but this is incredibly busy music. It is also intensely emotional. You observe this in what you hear and what you don’t. When Jonas Renske sings “Who will come and put their hand over mine”, he is not looking for help. And how would you begin to help someone living “near life, but not within”?

“Ambitions” is one of my favorites. Over the course of the song, the singer - who presumably cared deeply for someone - slowly loses all hope of that person ever coming back. It starts with what looks like a rather straightforward tale of unrequited love, but changes as the song progresses. Jonas Renske takes the role of a protagonist who seems increasingly deluded. He sees his life unravel in pieces. First, he starts having conversations with himself. He then apologizes to this person for giving up hope. This decision is viewed as a flaw in his own character.

Constant noise behind the overcoming
I had no choice but to rearrange
The scars open
I am not allowed to understand
I take it as you are not coming back

The end result is an overwhelming feeling of sadness and despair - a heartfelt admission of inadequacy. I’m sorry I changed my mind and was never good enough for you. Have you felt your heart clench up when listening to a song? This one is a good candidate.

Of course, much if not all of this is based on my own interpretation of the music and lyrics. As is typical of Katatonia, many things are left unsaid and up to the listener. I must also mention “Lethean”. The band is in great shape yet again, producing a song that’s catchy as hell à-la “Burn The Remembrance” and “Evidence”. The chorus is a work of art.

To run along the freeway
To weigh one’s heart against the oncoming dark
You left me with the pills
We had plans but you couldn’t make it
Through the trees
What took you so long
The high grass
What took you so long

The simplicity and honesty in the lyrics really help the emotional weight of the subject matter here. Before long, you will be thinking of someone you have lost in your life. Katatonia are the kings of sadness.

My first Katatonia album was “Viva Emptiness” and I’ve been following them religiously ever since. I love the band. “Dance of December Souls” was an incredibly important record in all of metal. This album shows a band that remains as relevant and important as they have ever been. With Dead End Kings, Katatonia hone their melodic style further. There are no dead ends here. This is truly remarkable music.