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Monday, 24 October 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Katatonia (Live Review By Paul)

Katatonia: Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

In the melancholy hall of fame, few would argue that Swedes Katatonia occupy a slot in the top five. Along with bands like Paradise Lost and Anathema, the band have navigated the choppy waters of doom death metal and moved their sound toward a progressive more cultured approach which has rightly earns them many plaudits. Their last two studio albums, Dead End Kings and this year's The Fall Of Hearts cemented that reputation, but it was the chance to hear 2006’s splendid The Great Cold Distance in full at the lovely Empire in Shepherds Bush which persuaded me and the three lads to head to the Smoke.

Unfortunately we missed all but the final song of opening band Vola, an Icelandic progressive outfit who received a warm reception from the well populated venue. Fellow countrymen Agent Fresco’s (5) brand of pop fused progressive “math rock” merely confused the hell out of me. Although they too got a solid response from the audience, their schizophrenic tunes bounced off me like rain off a duck and I struggled to understand what they were all about.

No such problems with the main event. The first hour of Katatonia’s (9) two and a half hour performance consisted of The Great Cold Distance in full. An album full of contrasts, crushingly heavy, delicately light and full of top tunes. Played in order, the band arrived on stage in unassuming style, crashing into Leaders and closing with Through The Landscape. Minimum chatter from frontman Jonas Renkse who was on fine form, his voice delivering the melancholic darkness so long associated with the band. Flanking the stage on either side, guitarists Anders Nystrom and new boy Roger Ojersson wasted no time in reminding us that, despite their lighter sound on record, live Katatonia are brutally metal. Riff after riff cascading down from the stage. Drummer Daniel Moilanen looked as if he'd been behind the kit since 2006 and not 2015, blistering bass drumming combining perfectly with bassist Nicklas Sandin. Particular highlights of this first set included the magnificent My Twin, Rusted and July, a real treat tucked away at the end of the album.

After a break we were treated to a second half that contained just about everything you could want. Tracks from the entire back catalogue, Serin from the latest release, the breathtaking Dead Letters from Dead End Kings sat alongside older tracks such as Evidence, Forsaker and the set closing treat of Gateway To Bereavement, a flash back to the debut album Dance Of December Souls. Breathtakingly heavy although Renkse is no longer as comfortable with the death growls as he was way back in 1993. The band were on fire during the whole evening and whilst they are not always the most captivating to watch, their sound draws in the enthralled audience, clearly demonstrating why the band, after 25 years in the industry continue to get better at every show. The obligatory group photo signalled the end of the show and the crowd began to drift reluctantly to the exit. However, the hardcore on the floor had other ideas and a persistent chant of “one more song” was rewarded as the band returned to whip through a magical Ghost Of The Sun. A fitting end to a quite fantastic evening.

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