Katatonia recently wrapped up “The Fall Of Hearts North American Tour” here in New York City, and have now set their sights on the rest of 2017. While they were here in town, I got to sit down with guitarists Anders Nyström and Roger Öjersson to talk about their new album, upcoming tour plans, and much more. Enjoy the exclusive chat below! Continue reading
Katatonia released The Fall of Hearts earlier this year via Peaceville Records, and they’ve just announced a new North American headlining tour in support of the powerful new record. Continue reading
The old adage is that there is no true substitute for experience. While for the young and easily impressionable tend to view that sentiment as trite, it rings mightily true for Katatonia on their 10th studio album, The Fall of Hearts (Peaceville). Over twenty years of masterful work are on display over the course of 12 new compositions in which hardly a moment feels out-of-place or without purpose.
All of the familiar elements from Katatonia’s previous works are present, ranging from the doom/death of songs like ‘Serac’ and ‘Sanction’ to numbers dripping with weariness and melancholy such as in ‘Old Heart Falls.’ Take note young musicians, you don’t have to always aim to reshape the genre. Sometimes just a strongly honed craft and sound songwriting chops are all that is needed.
Need an example on how to appreciate these Swedes’ proficiency? Check out how Jonas Renkse’s dusky vocals interplay so well with the serpentine guitar work on ‘Takeover.’ And notice how said flowing guitars work their way seamlessly right into ‘Serein.’ Much praise to veteran guitarist and producer Anders Nyström and recently added Tiamat axeman Roger Öjersson for their precise and lush fretwork.
But it’s not just a guitar showcase and subtle elements such as new drummer Daniel Moilanen’s slight yet echoing cymbal and footwork add much more dimension to ‘The Night Subscriber’ and ‘Passer.’ Mixing and mastering were of course handled by veteran engineer Jens Bogren to ensure maximum aural richness and clarity.
The Fall of Hearts’ greatest strength is in its precision and economy of song. Lesser outfits would have buckled under the weight of gothic miasma or overindulgence. Author Malcolm Gladwell argues that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Katatonia have obviously put in their time.
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After an absence of nine years, Italian Doom/Death Gothsters Novembre return to active duty with new album URSA’(Peaceville). With drummer and co-founder Giuseppe Orlando deciding not to pursue his interest in the band any further, his brother Carmelo Orlando has stepped up to lead the way along with long-time member, guitarist Massimiliano Pagliuso, the line-up being completed by bassist Fabio Fraschini and drummer David Folchitto.
There’s a tendency with newly re-activated bands to play things nice and safe, returning straight away to a secure and comfortable place before moving onto newer things. And this, to all intents and purposes, is where we find Novembre in 2016.
Of course, returning to a safe space isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As a band, you want to reconnect with your fans as quickly as possible, and giving them something which feels new and shiny, but also comfortably familiar, is a perfectly reasonable way of doing this. Let’s face it. It’s a gamble either way. Some people would be more than content for an act to anchor themselves once more by revisiting past successes, while others could interpret the absence of forward momentum as a nervous band requiring a safety net, or just see it as a wasted opportunity.
As a result, ‘URSA’ could possibly fall into both camps, pleasing just as many people as it disappoints. The band head back to 2006’s ‘Materia’ (Peaceville) and 2007’s ‘The Blue’ (Peaceville) for inspiration, and as a result, the new record seems like a composite piece of those recordings, and could quite easily have been released between them.
‘URSA’s main problem is that, for all of the effort involved (and I must say, it is a good album with very good performances), everything seems a little too samey and repetitive. Also, Orlando’s clean vocals are quite nasal, and have a tendency to be delivered almost lazily, his enunciation often poor and listless. His harsh, more traditional Death Metal vocals are fairly impressive, but never really bite, his guttural growl appearing to be used more as an extra supporting instrument rather than a clear focal point.
Although downbeat and melancholic for the most part, there are moments of brightness among the bleak, grey clouds. Whether it’s by means of a chorus, a guitar solo, a bassline or drum pattern, each song possesses its own particular highlight. All too often though, they don’t last for more than a couple of minutes and you’re left with songs which sound great for a short space of time but tend to drag more often than they should.
This isn’t always the case though, and ‘Annoluce’, with its special guest appearance from Katatonia guitarist Anders Nyström, and the almost entirely instrumental ‘Agathae’ are superb. In fact, the songs which bookend those, ‘Oceans of Afternoons’ and ‘Bremen’ make up the best section of the album by far. A sense of pace and urgency is injected, and dare I say it, the rare upbeat moment which actually makes you smile. Elsewhere ‘Australis’ is a nice opener, and ‘Easter’ sounds like Ghost and Paradise Lost had a baby.
To be honest, there aren’t actually any bad songs on ‘URSA’ (the album taking its acronymous title from ‘Union des Républiques Socialistes Animales’, the original French translation for George Orwell‘s ‘Animal Farm‘). Everything is played exceptionally well, and the production is thick and rich, the bass guitar benefiting the most as it pulses through each track with a vibrancy the rest of the instruments don’t quite match over the long haul. It’s just that although the album has a handful of really good moments, none of them are that extra special flash of brilliance required to make the album truly stand out. After a while it feels like, although the songs are enjoyable enough, that they’re bleeding anonymously into each other, leaving you wondering if you haven’t actually heard it all before.
Initially pulled together as a tour to promote Dethroned & Uncrowned (KScope), which reworked the bands 2012 album Dead End Kings (Peaceville), the Katatonia acoustic tour of 2014 took on more significance with the decisions to expand the set to a full career-retrospective, booked in cathedrals, churches and chapels, and documented via Sanctitude (KScope), a live DVD (plus audio CD version) filmed at London’s Union Chapel.
With the reverent gothic backdrop of the inside of the chapel, and accompanied on the stage only by candle light and music stands, it is not only in the re-arrangements of the music that this is a different Katatonia, with vocalist Jonas Renske and guitarist Anders “Blakkheim” Nystrom the only remaining members from the band’s “classic” line ups. Even the group for Dead End Kings has been torn apart, with Per Eriksson replaced by Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief) and Daniel Moilanen filling in on percussion, for the tour.
Unsurprisingly, the focus of the film is Renske and his world-weary croons and Nystrom’s and his reworked guitar lines. The addition of Soord is beneficial, as his supporting strums, softened backing vocals and supplementary keyboard work swell and embellish the Swedes delicate framing of a selection of their back catalogue.
With the bonus features of the DVD extending to an overlong and, sadly, boring interview only (which is a shame, as Nystrom in particular has a passion for the band that glimpses out of some of his answers that is untapped by the lack of interaction with a presenter), the focus of Sanctitude is the live performance. Unobtrusively filmed so as to feel as though the watcher was front row of the show, the band are sat throughout with Renske displaying dry self-deprecating wit during his low key exchanges with the audience.
While the minimal staging and direction match the stripped down songs, there is a nagging feeling that a shorter set would have made a more striking impact as several of the songs, shorn of their apparel and original guitar lines, sound too similar and at 80 minutes, attention does wander, particularly early on, and it is interesting that the set draws you in as it unfurls rather than impressing from the outset. Indeed, the opening five songs pass by pleasantly and prettily enough, nice renditions that blur together, until ‘One Year From Now’, the first real standout moment, is unveiled, showing just how well an acoustic Katatonia track can be done.
Other notable moments include ‘Sleeper’ and a dark, melancholic ‘Undo You’, while ‘Lethean’ spreads out into an introspective chorus as Renske’s Maynard-esque harmonies lilt and drift with the song. ‘Omerta’ carries a folky edge and ‘The One You Are Looking For’, complete with guest performance from Silje Wergeland (The Gathering), is an understated and sparse ending to the performance. However, the true show-stopping moment is a bare version of the rarely visited ‘Day’ from Brave Murder Day (Avantgarde), the track that first showcased the real template for the Katatonia sound.
Where Renske and Nystrom take the band next will be interesting to see, but one can’t help feeling Katatonia are better with some oomph to their songs. Not one for the casual observer, this is a release for the dedicated as Sanctitude draws a beautiful, if not fully encapsulating, end to another chapter of the bands career.
With their last proclamation Carrion Skies (Code666), British band Fen let the Black Metal flood back into their sound, releasing their strongest album to date and ultimately featuring in the Ghost Cult Magazine Top 40 Albums of 2014. In celebration of opening the sluice gates, front man The Watcher revealed the depth of his Black Metal love by unveiling his Top 5 unsung oft overlooked underground treasures
Setherial – Nord (Napalm Records – 1996)
Cold. That’s the one overriding word to sum up this furious blast of mid-nineties Swedish black metal – cold. Freezing, even. Taking its cues fairly heavily from Emperor’s seminal In the Nightside Eclipse (Candlelight) album, Nord strips backs the keyboards whilst simultaneously cranking up the intensity levels considerably. Riff after riff of freezing melody pours forth across thundering percussion, lengthy songs (the opener alone is nearly 12 minutes long) buoyed by relentless twists and turns. An exhilarating, windswept listen and serious contender for black metal’s finest hour.
Diabolical Masquerade – Nightwork (Avantgarde Music – 1998)
Anders Nystrom may be much better known for his “day job” in Katatonia but back in the mid-90s, as the mysterious Blakkheim he released four records of haunting, horror-themed black metal under the banner of Diabolical Masquerade. The pick is undoubtedly the third full-length Nightwork, a peak-laden brace of songs replete with infections fretwork, searing melody and an underlying sense of humour. This isn’t at all to detract from the ‘abandoned mansion’ atmospherics of the album and Nightwork simply oozes a convincing crepuscular ambience in amongst the riffage.
Armagedda – Ond Spiritism (Agonia – 2004)
From pure early Darkthrone worship on their debut to ‘fist-in-the face’ muscular black metal on ‘Only True Believers’ to occult-themed dungeonesque roamings, Sweden’s Armagedda explored a gamut of expressions within their short, three-album career. Swansong ‘Ond Spiritism’ is the peak – a lengthy, sprawling opus with an undeniable cloak of darkness wafting across the whole thing. Graav’s guttural croak spits venom in his native Swedish whilst the guitars and bass swirl like a thick fog. Absorbing and unsettling work from the young Swedes.
Tenebrae in Perpetuum – Antico Misticismo (Debemur Morti – 2006)
Yet another band who are no longer with us, Tenebrae in Perpetuum specialised in a particularly brittle, shrill form of frozen melodic black metal – made particularly surprising by the fact that they were actually Italian! Mainman Atratus’ guitar sound is one of the most distinctive you’ll hear – a treble-heavy, reverb soaked saw that nonetheless manages to convey the band’s excellently-developed sense of melody and song structure. All three of their full-length releases are worth tracking down so consistent is their quality but Antico Misticismo probably edges it thanks to a couple of genuinely spine-tingling moments.
Obsidian Tongue – A Nest of Ravens in the Throat of Time (Hypnotic Dirge – 2013)
The most recent release on this list and hopefully a band who won’t remain ‘hidden’ for too much longer, this US-based duo ply their trade with a particularly punishing brand of “Post” black metal. Building on the template laid down by the so-called ‘Cascadian’ sound (Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room et al), Brendan Hayter and Greg Murphy lay down a serious challenge on their sophomore effort here. Winding passaged of considered guitar, inventive percussion and a darker atmosphere than many of their peers render them a real one to watch. That they can pull it off live is just the icing on the cake.
The Watcher was speaking to STEVE TOVEY
To celebrate the release of Bloodbath‘s excellent new album Grand Morbid Funeral (Peaceville) Anders Nystrom (aka Blakkheim) talked us through his ultimate all time Top 5 Death Metal albums (and couldn’t resist sneaking in a sixth…)
Entombed – Left Hand Path (Earache) “It features the guitar tone pedal called Boss HM-2 and that’s enough said. That pedal represents the ultimate guitar tone in the world so if you want to discover where that came from then this is the album to go to.”
Morbid Angel – Altars Of Madness (Earache) “Probably the classic Death Metal album of all time; where every band, directly or indirectly, draws their influence from. It’s pretty much what started the whole thing. I’m not saying it necessarily needs to be the best in their discography but it’s definitely the essential choice.”
Autopsy – Mental Funeral (Peaceville) “It represents a very morbid side of death metal; it’s sludgy, rotten to the bone and very dark. It also shows it’s not just about production values, you can also create magic with Death Metal by going more primitive and having imperfection as your guide.”
Dismember- Like An Ever Flowing Stream (Nuclear Blast) “This is pretty much up there with Left Hand Path. It’s a little bit more underrated, they always came under the shadow of Entombed, but the song writing on that album is amazing and the production is at its peak and represents Sunlight Studio in Stockholm at its very best. The whole album is very much worth buying just for the opening riff of the first track ‘Override Of The Overture’ that riff is one of my all-time favourites. If you could just bring one Death Metal riff into space for an alien to discover it would be that one.”
Deicide – Deicide (Roadrunner) “At this stage, there was no band as outrageous and controversial, they were outspoken Satanists and this album really shows it. It wasn’t just talk, they were living it. It’s a demonic album, it’s a very violent death metal album and it’s also representative of the whole Florida scene.”
Obituary – Slowly We Rot (Roadrunner) “This comes down as well to Obituary, again an album that is almost loose in a way, it also has a hilarious lack of lyrical tendency! A lot of the growls on this album are made up of just sounds, which was an insane idea to start with. It has a really big Celtic Frost influence, so is good for people to go back with.”
It has been a most eventful year in the Bloodbath camp, with a brand new album in Grand Morbid Funeral (Peaceville) and the shocking and welcome news of Nick Holmes taking the chalice left by Mikael Akerfeldt and returning to his Death Metal roots. In the first of a two part feature, Anders Nystrom chatted to Ghost Cult about how the new album came together…
“It’s basically an impossible task to get all the members of the band together, that’s probably why it is six years between the last release and this one. Just scheduling, booking studio time, and getting everyone together is one crazy mission. Even though one member may be available another won’t be, and when he is available the first one isn’t and it’s just a never ending cycle, an impossible journey.
“Bloodbath has never been the kind of band that needs to be a collective unit with the same spark to write because we always divided the composition individually between us anyway. The way things work is we make a conscious effort to have group sitting down first and deciding what the vibe is going to be, making sure everyone is on the same page, and once we are we can pretty much fuck off you know?”
Despite the immense difficulty in finding moments of writing, the process itself was relatively quick once the foundations had been made.
“Real writing started January this year, and I think I heard demos from everyone within a few weeks. So, yeah, it took a month, but it’s something we had been planning since six years ago, like lyrical ideas, conceptual ideas that sort of thing, but the actual songs weren’t until January this year.”
Grand Morbid Funeral shows a departure from their previous album…
“There were certain elements we wanted to pursue, like a certain approach on the album we hadn’t done fully on an earlier album which was basically to make it way more organic, way more raw, stop overdoing things, stop editing things to death and just go old school. That also involved taking things down a notch. I think the more sludgy, doomier and heavier approach of death metal goes better hand in hand with that kind of sound. Also the last album was a pretty technical affair and we wanted to do something different opposed to that as well.
“We are like a chameleon in a sense, we can change on each album and do something that we like that reflects different kinds of death metal, so no I was never really worried but I kind of expected a bacjlash to happen but it doesn’t bother me, I am so proud and so excited about the album that I can’t be bothered about it”.
How do you feel the fans have taken to a Bloodbath without Mikael?
“I think some of the more conservative fans, they would have just preferred Mike to stay, but you can’t force someone to be a part of a band who has altogether lost his interest for death metal. When that interest decays you have to be true to yourself, otherwise you’re going to be a fraud, a hypocrite. It’s not fair to yourself, it’s not fair to the band and it’s not fair to the fans, if you’re doing something where your heart isn’t in it anymore.”
Words by CHRIS TIPPELL
As far as supergroups go, few come more awesome than Stockholm’s Bloodbath. Formed as a hobby by Katatonia members Anders Nystrom and Jonas Renske along with Opeth mainman Mikael Akerfeldt and producer extraordinaire Dan Swano back in 1998 with the simple desire to pump out some filthy old school death metal, it’s unlikely they ever would have expected to become one of the biggest and most well respected bands in the scene, although given their combined status the result was pretty much a foregone conclusion.
After releasing three blood-splattered and evil sounding albums but having to deal with the departure of Akerfeldt and Swano, some might have expected these veterans to stop playing with the corpse and allow it to rot in peace. However the desire to riff fast and ugly is a strong one and a new vocalist has been found in Paradise Lost frontman Nick Holmes whose new role is elementary (I can’t believe you just did that – Ed [and I can’t believe you wrote an ‘Ed insert’ for me – Dep Ed]) given his growling performance on PL’s classic debut record Lost Paradise (Peaceville).
But is Old Nick’s presence behind the mike enough to ensure Bloodbath remain deadly in a scene rife with sharp-eyed competition? One listen to Grand Morbid Funeral (Peaceville) proves the answer is an emphatic, bellowed yes!
As the serrated riffs of opening track ‘Let the Stillborn Come to Me’ tear out of the speakers like an escaped serial killer on his way to a nearby summer camp, the primal fury of Death Metal is fully revealed in full-blooded, hate-filled form and as the track settles into a disgusting Dismember-esque groove, you’re reminded just how much this music kicks ass and lops off heads with abandon. The buzzsaw guitar sound, as much a part of the Swe-death scene as any notable record you could care to mention, is heavily evident in the marching attack of ‘Total Death Exhumed’ which also features some suitably gloomy lead-work, while the ramshackle chugging of ‘Anne’ evokes images of a demented butcher manically hacking apart corpses in some benighted slaughterhouse.
Bloodbath records have always relied on frantic pace and aggression to get their gruesome message across and while they may lack the precision of Cannibal Corpse or the bad-time grooves of latter day Entombed, their modus operandi is built on a basis of seeing how many people they can kill in the room with a rusty chainsaw before the police take them down, rather than methodically picking off victims. It’s a messy approach, aided by a suitably grimy production but which gives proceedings a rabid and unclean feel, and when they do slow things down slightly such as on the gut-wrenching crawl of ‘Church of Vastitas’ and the grotesque melodies of the title track, the atmosphere drops to especially ghastly levels of hopelessness.
Nystrom and fellow axeman Per Eriksson focus more on tearing our minds apart with a seemingly endless selection of slashing riffs, gloomy melodies and frantic solos while drummer Martin Axenrot flays the skins with an unfussy, methodical determination. Holmes may not have the deepest growl and he is buried too deep in the mix to have a massive impact but his sinister tones give the music a depraved grandeur and when all of these elements combine like on the unrestrained ferocity of ‘Famine of God’s World’ and the monstrous ‘Beyond Cremation’ you’ll be wishing that all the members quit their day jobs and focus on pumping out more of this filth every other year.
There’s enough elements of the US death metal scene to ensure that this isn’t just a caricature of the Stockholm sound, but it’s undeniable that Bloodbath are to all intents and purposes a nostalgia act and a way for a bunch of blokes nearing their 40s to act like they were teenagers again. But some of the best death metal albums were made by whippersnappers so as long as this bunch of morbid Swedes and one ghoulish Brit keep failing to act their age, the world of extreme metal will stay suitably macabre.
Swedish death metallers, Bloodbath, is releasing the title track from their forthcoming fourth album Grand Morbid Funeral (out November 18th via Peaceville) for Record Store Day/Black Friday 2014. Stream the song here.
Grand Morbid Funeral was recorded and mixed at Ghost Ward Studios and the City of Glass Studios in Stockholm, Sweden by David Castillo. Chris Reifert and Eric Cutler of Autopsy have guest appearances on the record.
The present Bloodbath lineup is:
Jonas Renkse – Bass
Anders “Blakkheim” Nyström – Guitar, Vocals
Martin Axenrot – Drums
Per “Sodomizer” Eriksson – Guitar
Nick Holmes – Vocals
The track listing for Grand Morbid Funeral is as follows:
01. Let the Stillborn Come to Me
02. Total Death Exhumed
04. Church of Vastitas
05. Famine of God`s Word
06. Mental Abortion
07. Beyond Cremation
08. His Infernal Necropsy
09. Unite in Pain
10. My Torturer
11. Grand Morbid Funeral
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