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.