Katatonia: The Fall Of Hearts (Peaceville Records)
It’s been four years since the last Katatonia studio release; the excellent Dead End Kings in 2012. Since then the band have released a stunning acoustic recording Sanctitude, captured at the Union Chapel in London and have undergone two changes in the line-up, with long time drummer Daniel Liljekvist departing to be replaced by Daniel Moilanen and guitarist Roger Ojersson joining the band. Despite these destabilising factors, Katatonia have delivered one of the albums of 2016. The Fall Of Hearts is quite simply breath-taking. Whilst fellow Swedes Opeth are finally beginning to achieve the revered status afforded to bands who are never afraid to deliver change their style and sound, their countrymen have also moved to a more progressive sound, whilst retaining the melancholic haunting echoes which strike deep. They have also reintroduced the grittiness of earlier releases which provides the steel inside the velvet glove.
Opener Take Over is case in point; a seven-minute masterpiece that contains both light and shade. The Fall Of Hearts has everything. The poppy indie feel of Serein contrasts sublimely with the baleful tones of Old Heart Falls, the band unafraid to express their music in whatever style needed. Old Heart Falls is a magnificent piece, ebbing and flowing, Jonas Renke’s vocals stunningly perfect. The guitar work of Ojersson and Anders Nystrom eerie and delicate. The album segues from piece to piece, building masterfully as the journey unwinds. Each composition as perfect as the previous one. This album requires patience and dedication but if you can stick with it the rewards are endless. An album of absolute beauty despite the clouded atmosphere.
It’s not all fragile despair though with some crushingly heavy riffs introducing Sanction and the powerful Serac which is laced with hooks and powerhouse drumming. An absolute stunner of a tune, Serac peaks and falls, Moilanen demonstrating some excellent percussion work. Last Song Before The Fade sees Katatonia in full pomp; this is the track that I’d give to anyone who wanted to know what one song encapsulated this incredible outfit. Penultimate track Passer blows any cobwebs away, demonstrating once again why this band now sit in the progressive stable with their countrymen before the synth laden Wide Awake In Quietus, delivered in their native tongue brings this beautiful release to a close.
Katatonia’s tenth release may well be their most majestic. Full of darkness and light, with the themes of loss, despair and desolation as prevalent as ever, The Fall Of Hearts moves the band to another level, and hopefully one that will expose them to a wider audience and the success they deserve. I can’t wait to see them live again. One of the year’s most impressive releases. 10/10
Gojira: Magma (Roadrunner)
It’s hard to believe that L’Enfant Sauvage is four years old. That crushing blow to the spleen remains one of the heaviest albums I’ve ever heard and as a massive fan of the band their wall of intensity combined with political and social commentary tick all my boxes.
Four years later and Gojira have released possibly my album of the year (at least until Opeth drop Sorceress). Magma is short for a Gojira album at 43 minutes with the title track the longest at just over six minutes in duration. It’s 43 minutes well spent. Similar to Mastodon’s The Hunter, Magma is simply superb, retaining all the guttural industrial aggression and technical intricacy of its five predecessors whilst being accessible to those who may have found the onslaught of previous releases a little off putting. Where to start? Well, if you want to focus on the full force of Gojira in all their majesty, go straight to The Cell or Pray. If these tracks don’t move your organs from front to back then you have none. Mario Duplantier’s drumming is just majestic in its power and intensity. Meanwhile, there is a subtle shift on the vocal delivery on opener The Shooting Star and the immense title track where Joe Duplantier echoes Gary Numan.
Low Lands, the penultimate track and second longest on the album is also one of the most interesting. The powerful undercurrent flows throughout but the pace is controlled, allowing the layered vocals to come to the fore. The natural Gojira stomp allows the track to reach a crescendo before the acoustic Liberation brings this incredible release to a fitting and controlled end. Four years it may have been, but it was so worth the wait. 10/10
Flotsam And Jetsam: Flotsam and Jetsam (AFM Records)
It’s been a long and eventful trip for Flotsam and Jetsam. Formed in 1981 in Phoenix, Arizona, and forever known as the band that gave the world Jason Newsted, this self-titled thrasher is the band’s 12th release. It’s a fine effort too with some fluid and passionate metal. Opener Seventh Seal is a runaway beast, shredding of the highest order and the vocals of remaining original member Eric AK Knutson impressive.
F&J is 55 minutes’ worth of quality thrash metal. Sticking closely to the blueprint which saw the band deliver some real classic moments in the 1980s, I’d go as far as to suggest that this album is their best since 1992’s Cuatro. Full of groove and power, Flotsam and Jetsam keep it simple. Life Is A Mess is a simple message. Although I’m not sure if there is meant to be a tribute contained in Iron Maiden, the punky feel of the first two releases from the East End’s finest permeates from every pore of this track. It’s fucking ace with rampaging guitar, galloping bass and drums and Knutson doing a damn fine Bruce imitation.
Social commentary is something that the metal fraternity does surprisingly well; Creeper provides a good dose of this with Shadows Fall drummer Jason Bittner who replaced long serving drummer Kelly Smith proving an able replacement. His performance on LOTD is exceptional. It’s 80s power and thrash at its best with some brooding undercurrent. Check out the battery on Time To Go and you get the overall vibe of this really solid release. Full kudos to a band that have never achieved the success they flirted with so long ago. Well worth checking out. Quality stuff. 8/10