A contemplative, but serene gaze out of the window, as a hazy half-smile plays on the corner of the lips. Half a memory aligns with the story that is playing in the ears, but it has its own shade and hue, something the same but different, but definitely and absolutely connected. ‘Me and Mine’, the second song in a breathy, intimate, quietly sung middle of the album causes pause to reflect. A simple song about children, how being a parent as your kids grow up can be, it’s about closeness… And it is genuine.
Emma Ruth Rundle seems to have become an artist with a licence to shift around stylistically as much as she wants while still maintaining, and continuing to build, her devoted fanbase. Last year’s revered collaboration with Thou — May Our Chambers Be Full (Sacred Bones) was dense, heavy, aggressive and complex. Whilst everything Rundle turns her hand to shares a certain delicate and fragile emotional openness, Engine Of Hell (Sargent House) in most other senses explores the opposite end of the Emma Ruth Rundle sonic spectrum.
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.
It has been a number of years since Pain Of Salvation last graced us with their brand of melancholic metallic prog. Not quite a Tool or Chinese Democracy dynasty of nothingness of course, but still a significant period without one of prog and metal’s most overlooked gems. Such a shame that their return is with a self-indulgent stop-gap.
Falling Home (InsideOut) comprises of mostly stripped down takes on songs throughout their history, a brand new song of a similar ilk and two covers reworked to fit stylistically. The reworked efforts encompass their vast history including album opener ‘Stress’ which takes from 1999’s Entropia (InsideOut) and renders it into a lounge jazz number. In some cases these reimaginings both make sense and work exceptionally well; take the heavy blues of Road Salt One (InsideOut) via ‘Linoleum’ which becomes a much softer, near-ballad which still maintains subtle, up tempo mellotron. ‘Mrs Modern Mother Mary’ similarly sees is metallic air removed entirely, showing a much more delicate side and really showcasing Daniel Gildenlow’s diverse vocal delivery.
Sadly for all its well-realized moments there are also plenty that don’t hit the mark, and even ventures towards simple novelty and becomes very hard to take seriously. The aforementioned ‘Stress’ for example sadly brings to mind comedy acts like Richard Cheese, whilst the most notable of the two covers, their lounge take on Dio’s iconic “Holy Diver” holds absolutely no musical worth and is surely included purely as a joke.
With such a rewarding catalogue at their disposal, its more than well documented at how special a group these Swedes can be, capable of absolute magic; which makes this release all the more disappointing and near aggravating. A collection that ranges from sumptuous takes on already high caliber songs to those that prove either unspectacular or even simply pointless, and a release that will only appeal to a select few uber fans, and the creators themselves.