Released: November 2, 2009
Katatonia is moody simplicity at its best. I have loved them for about four years now — this Swedish band’s dark, experimental, ever-evolving sound is something that really enhances the atmosphere of a gray, foggy day. Night is the New Day is the most recent Katatonia offering and it already has received much praise from longtime fans and from fellow musicians alike (Opeth frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt has hailed it as the best heavy record of the past decade).
Well, allow me to divulge a secret — the first few times I listened to Night is the New Day, it didn’t really click for me. Seriously. And I usually “get” Katatonia right away. Rest assured that I now find it to be rather brilliant, but Night is the New Day really dragged by during my initial spins of it, with only one song — the jaw-dropping “Idle Blood,” which I’ll get to later — standing out at first. Sometimes, there is a deeper complexity within music that takes effort to truly appreciate. No, Katatonia will not be found dishing out blazingly fast blast beats, nor are the rhythmic progressions and guitar riffs found on Night is the New Day anything speedy or explicitly challenging. Still, the mood of this record is so very dim that it takes a while to really soak in. And, wow, am I ever glad I gave the album a chance to grow on me. It’s quite a piece of work.
How does Night is the New Day compare exactly to previous Katatonia releases? I must say it is pretty different from any past entries in their discography. Viva Emptiness and The Great Cold Distance were more aggressive, yet they are not as complex or experimental as this little monster. Additionally, we can all safely assume that the sprawling, harsh doom metal of the band’s Dance of December Souls days is a thing of the past — that stuff was excellent, but by this point, the subdued, softer alternative style is what has now become characteristic of Katatonia. Night is the New Day rarely ramps up the loud guitar riffs. Instead, its accompaniment is typically minimal: a peacefully grim acoustic melody or a slithering bass line (see the industrial flavoring of “The Promise of Deceit”).
Those hungry for a slow piece of spine-tingling doom should feast well on the sinister “Nephilim,” in which Katatonia vocalist Jonas Renkse slowly intonates, “Loving mother, he has come / to take your son,” with his voice barely exceeding the strains of a mumble. Renkse’s singing throughout Night is the New Day is phenomenal, conveying emotion in the most striking of ways. “Forsaker” chunks up the guitar work, opting for some decent volume before the melancholic, sparse vocal passages, which effectively precede the towering chorus.
Remarkably suspenseful and with lyrics even more meaningful and powerful than I have come to expect from the insanely talented Renkse, “The Longest Year” begins with a withering hum, escalating into the most memorable chorus of Night is the New Day. “How cold is the flame of our uncompromising future,” Renkse laments. “How cold is the sun…”
The ballad “Idle Blood” has an exotic sway reminiscent of Damnation-style Opeth with a sprinkle of Porcupine Tree. This song, composed entirely by Katatonia guitarist Anders Nyström, is single-handedly my favorite song of 2009 — it continually blows me away. Each listen to it inches my heart a bit closer to my throat. The guitars sound so passionate and emotional. The entire arrangement is absolute perfection, and Renkse’s vocals are in top angelic form. And Night is the New Day never dulls at ANY point, really — the slow, winding, eerie-synth-laden “Onward Into Battle” is lovely, bleak and despondent as hell, even though the song title may initially seem more fitting for a silly “viking” metal band. With this song, it’s the little things that really stand out, like Renkse’s beautifully unusual pronunciation of “onward.” The album’s first single “Day And Then The Shade” teases listeners with some loud, staccato guitar riffs, the most perfect backdrop for Renkse’s emotive pleas.
If I have one complaint about Night is the New Day (well, aside from that kinda funny album title), it’s the guest vocalist in the closing track, “Departer.” I know my excessively picky nature when it comes to vocalists gets me in trouble sometimes, and this is one of those key moments: because of my dislike of this guest’s voice, I can not enjoy listening to this song in its entirety. “Departer” is a soft, gorgeous way to end the album — until Krister Linder enters during the second verse. His strange, raspy tone is certainly unwelcome here, especially when placed alongside the brilliance of Renkse.
Night is the New Day was one of the last albums I bought in 2009, and it took several weeks to fully get into. Again, I say that as a longtime Katatonia fan. For that reason, I think newcomers to Katatonia are better off going with something like Last Fair Deal Gone Down or The Great Cold Distance to get a good idea of what this band is like. Of course, listen to Night is the New Day as well — but save it for later in the Katatonia listening experience. Those who have followed the band for some years and are considering the new album, I fully recommend it and encourage a purchase of it. It may not be love at first listen, but it is outstanding, and worth every bit of the cold, dark challenge.