ALBUM REVIEW: Katatonia – Mnemosynean

It has been thirty years since drummer / vocalist Jonas Renske and Anders “Blackheim” Nyström began a musical journey that would see them evolve from a studio-only project exploring their darker musical tastes to becoming one of the most respected purveyors of melancholic and post-Gothic music; always evolving with each album, embracing Gothic and progressive metal, and always distinctively Katatonia.

It has been a career that the duo, supported for a large swathe of it by Fredrik and Mattias Norrman (guitars / bass) and Daniel Liljekvist (drums), and more recently underpinned by Niklas Sandin (bass), with Daneil Moilanen (drums) and Roger Öjersson (guitars) joining for 2016.

And it is with this line-up, and the recording sessions for the luxuriant, Progressive Rock-laden The Fall of Hearts, that Mnemosynean (Peaceville) – a collection of memories, those songs that graced singles, EP’s and bonus versions of their respective albums and a story of the band told, Memento style, present(ish) to past – begins.


‘Vakaren’ is a layered, understated opener in the band’s native tongue, accompanied by ‘Sistere’ introspective acoustic and melancholic, tugging at the emotions. ‘Wide Awake In Quietus’ announces itself in a more uptempo and distorted manner, before a genuinely excellent sombre reworking of Judas Priest’s classic ‘Night Comes Down’, the song transformed into one of their own. Dead End Kings is represented by the reflective ‘Second’ and the whimsical ‘The Act of Darkening’, which sees Nyström experimenting with folkier inflections.


‘Ashen’ and ‘Sold Heart’ (from the Night Is The New Day period) are lush, excogitative trademark Katatonia, before ‘Displaced’ (from the My Twin single) snaps you to attention, with harsher guitar tones reminiscent of a heavier time in the Swedes catalogue. ‘Unclean’ follows (from the Kocytean record day release / Great Cold Distance reissue), with a slow, sleazy electronic beat and a sombre swirl; a truly great understated song, before it’s couple, ‘Code Against The Code’ uses a simple underpinning motif to great effect.


The second disk reminds us straight away of the rougher edges of earlier Katatonia, as we have now travelled back nearly twenty years to ‘Wait Outside’ from the Viva Emptiness sessions, before the Teargas single brings us ‘Sulfur’, which begins as a lilting acoustic song and unveils great harmonies before hitting a driving, melancholic punch that is pure first-half of their career Katatonia. The latter part of the song sees Renske trying out some vocal melodies and ideas that would surface and be perfected as time and tide would unfurl.


We visit the lighter pair of ‘O, How I Enjoy The Light’ (originally by Will Oldham) and ‘Help Me Disappear’ from Last Fair Deal Gone Down times, while both ‘Fractured’ and the overdriven and discordant ‘No Devotion’ could have stood proudly on parent album Tonight’s Decision (all Peaceville).


As ground-breaking, if naive and flawed, as Dance of December Souls (No Fashion) was, and excellent as For Funerals To Come and, particularly the iconic Brave Murder Day were, the true Katatonia sound really began in earnest with the departure of Mikael Åkerfeldt and Renske exploring the scope of his clean vocal abilities on the Saw You Drown EP and Discouraged Ones album in 1998 (all Avantgarde), a period represented by ‘Quiet World’, a delicate and shimmering partner and precursor to the ten minute rarity (though not for those of us who bought – and still own – the 10” split with Primordial on release – ahem!) Death Rock / Goth(ic) classic ‘Scarlet Heavens’, the track that closes out the reverse chronological spiral through days gone.


Our second disk then jumps back forwards, and showcases a handful of remixed tracks, where delicacy and understatement ensure they fit the feeling of the overall release, and with the Frank Deafult remix of ‘Day And Then The Shade’ in particular a graceful and intriguing take.


To trace their journey from where they are today, back to the moments when they were establishing themselves as a powerful outfit in their own right – and everything in between – through the medium of a series of songs that didn’t make it onto albums is an interesting and effective approach; to note the distinctive sounds and trademarks of each of those distinct respective periods brings a happy, reflective smile.


With effort put into the packaging – Mnemosynean is available on double CD and differing triple vinyl formats – this is no thrown-together ‘b-sides and rarities’ filler, receiving the treatment and respect such a representation deserves. See, while Katatonia’s additional songs may, whether by design or consequence I don’t know, tend to reflect the more contemplative side of the band, don’t be fooled, dear reader, into thinking they are any less worthy, realised, dynamic or of any diminished standard. The only slight negative is, these songs are, generally, quite freely available elsewhere. Although not in one collection, and probably not in the collection of those who are not truly devout followers.

These songs are not after-thoughts or off-cuts. With perhaps a couple of exceptions only, these songs are as strong and are as fleshed out, produced and developed as their brethren that made it onto the final full-lengths, and that this double album runs so strong, so deep back into memory’s garden is testament to the quality and consistency of a lynchpin band. We may be drinking from the stream of their memories through a collection of artefacts lesser known and lesser celebrated, but isn’t that just apt and typical of a rather special thirty-year old band.

Buy the album here:

8 / 10