REVIEWED: Katatonia - 'Dead Air'
Whatever grimly preoccupying personal neuroses might be preying on your lockdown-addled faculties right now, rest assured that these reigning kings of melancholia have the darkly cathartic balm to soothe even the most thoroughly tormented mortal soul. And be it in the blackly turbulent throes of 2003’s crushingly iconic ‘Ghost of the Sun’, the folk-drenched acoustic warmth of ‘Omerta’ or modern masterwork ‘Lacquer’s’ airy flurries of exquisitely delicate atmospherics, the past few decades have seen the Swedes conjure a truly bewildering plethora of emotions mined from the darkest corners of the troubled psyche. Conceived out of this exceptionally disquieting new decade, live album ‘Dead Air’ is as wondrously moving and rare a gift as any Katatonia fanatic could imagine. With a track-list numbering a whopping 20 songs meticulously hand-picked by their diehard global fanbase, this electrifying performance immortalises for listeners, in as authentic and complete a form as humanly possible, the incomparable experience of witnessing these gifted players in the intensely heated and spontaneous medium we all so sorely miss these days.
Make no mistake though, for all its pleasingly unmanicured live aesthetic, this tremendous compendium of classics finds these seasoned performers on impeccably tight and technically precise form, capturing, in doing so, the most subtly minute of atmospheric details. On the flipside, too, there’s sufficient grit in the mix to successfully amplify the more aggressively energised dynamics underpinning the band’s inimitably evocative sound. Note, for example, the bristling, densely sinewy aggression that abounds in darkly entrancing opener ‘Lethean’, its glimmering ambient details echoing ghoulishly into the ether as frontman Jonas Renkse’s luxurious yet grittily impassioned vocal leads lure us ever deeper into its restlessly twisting and contorting throes. From here, we’re plunged headlong into the weightily pulverising blasts and wistfully beautiful melodic sensibilities of 2001 classic ‘Teargas’, before later being enveloped in ‘Serein’s’ lustrous expanses of sleekly unfurling fretwork. And so, borne aloft on these broodingly absorbing classics, we proceed into the raging, blackly tumultuous epicentre of doom-laden 2003 classic ‘Ghost of the Sun’. With its great, hulking slabs of bass-laden ultra-violence gathering crushing momentum beneath deliciously visceral lashings of riffage, this violently energised anthem is equally awash with elegantly orchestrated fretwork, with impeccably taut control and pacing ensuring a fluid blending of its respective light and dark dynamics.
Melding sultry, darkly meditative layerings of distortion in amongst tombstone-heavy blasts of bass-laden aggression, ‘Tonight’s Music’ makes for a richly complex and intoxicating standout. But it’s the exquisitely fine, coldly glistening atmospherics of 2005 B-side ‘Unfurl’ that, through ambient movements as weightless and airy as restless spirits drifting into the beyond, see us fall instantly and irrevocably under its stirringly evocative spell. Interweaving into the mix a rich array of sleekly manipulated progressive flourishes that revel in darkly euphoric, Pink Floyd-ish majesty, Katatonia display, time and time again, an extraordinary capacity to take us places far above and beyond this wearily dour and depressive mortal realm. And in troubled times such as these, this hauntingly affecting compilation could not have landed at a more vitally timely and essential moment.
'Dead Air' is out now on Peaceville