29 July 2016

Katatonia - The Fall Of Hearts

I've been looking forward to this for a while now. It's been almost four years since this Swedish Doom Metal band's last album, Dead End Kings. Whilst that album was competent and enjoyable, it was perhaps a little lightweight in comparison to older albums. The Fall Of Hearts continues that trend but does seem to have more bite to it.
The band have changed dramatically since their Death Metal roots and it's all for the better. Jonas Renkse's decision to change from growled to clean vocals was the best he's ever made. His voice drips with sorrow and melancholy but carries with it poise and grace. It's very listenable to.

Their albums tend to be best listened to as albums rather than a selection of tracks if that makes sense? The songs tend to fade into one another and it's easy to forget which you're listening to. This is usually a bad thing but with Katatonia it isn't, it just means you ought to just listen to The Fall Of Hearts unhindered, maybe with the lights out or something. Relax yourself for an hour

The opening track, Takeover, is one of the longest on the album at just over seven minutes and it's a strange choice of opener. It's straight into the first verse, there's no intro and it starts quite restrained before the swirling guitars gradually make their presence felt. It highlights their further shift away from Death Metal, through Doom Metal and into Progressive Metal territory. It's a grand atmospheric piece that draws you in quickly and Jonas's tale of unrequited love is bittersweet without being too mawkish.

Serein was one of the pre-released tracks and is a perfect snapshot of The Fall Of Hearts, encompassing all the aspects of it within a reasonably short song. It takes a few listens for the chorus to sink in but when it does it won't be leaving. Have fun singing "Await to be slain by memories of old" to yourself all day. I googled to see what serein meant and it's either the French word for 'serene' or it's  "fine rains falling after sunset from a sky in which no clouds are visible"  Either are perfectly apt.
The third track is Old Heart Falls which is sort of the title track and the first song to have been released as a teaser for the album. It's not as immediate as Serein but I prefer it as a song, especially if you pay attention to the lyrics. It seems to be about an old man thinking about death and his wife who died years before. It's an incredibly depressing song but beautifully executed. The simple mantra of Sorrow will find you that runs through it is particularly effecting. it segues seamlessly into Decima, a mostly acoustic song that features some subtle strings that add to the atmosphere.

Sanction comes out jarringly with guitars very much at the forefront. It's much more in,line with the classic era Katatonia. it's still classy and emotional though and is inter-laden with quieter passages that make the heavier parts seem that much more heavy. With Residual we're right back into the introspective stuff. A gentle melody and melancholic, flowery lyrics it's a calming thing right up until the last minute or two when it erupts into a dramatic finalé.
Next is Serac and it serves as an excellent centrepiece for the album, It's the longest song here at just seven and a half minutes long and it's kind of a stretched out Serein in that it has all of the elements on offer on The Fall Of Hearts present within it: Hefty guitars, grandly sorrowful lyrics and soft atmospheric sections. It's an excellent song that doesn't feel half as long as it is. 

Following Serac is Last Song Before The Fade which begins with a lilting piano line before launching into a pounding riff and the first verse. It's very much harking back to older albums such as Viva Emptiness in its structure. It's also the only song on the album that features the title in the chorus and only one of two that have the title in them at all (the other being Residual). It's a catchy song that would make a good single. 
Crushingly, the next song isn't called The Fade but is instead called Shifts. It's ushered in with muted air raid sirens and an oddly jaunty piano, both of which run through the entire song and rather than cheering things up, they add an uneasy and unsettling element. It's a somber song that has an imposing sense of doom and finality about it. 

The Night Subscriber also begins with a piano, this time adding strings. It seems like it's going to be another balladic song but after almost two minutes it spews out a churning guitar riff and becomes a whole other thing. the strings and the guitars work well together and it's another album highlight. 
It gives way to some soothingly plucked acoustic guitars that herald the arrival of Pale Flag. It's almost a Trad Folk song, both in melody and lyrical content. it's a haunting track with a chorus built around the line "I am forlorn, all dreams have turned to strife". It's not a jolly song. 

The final song is one of the longer tracks on The Fall Of Hearts, Passer starts with some suitably Heavy Metal guitar soloing that last for a minute or so before dropping out briefly for the verse but are soon back. It's probably the most straightforward rock song on offer, despite its length. It's a fitting end to the album. That said, various formats of The Fall Of Hearts have bonus tracks, there are four in total: 1) Vakaren, sung completely in Swedish, it translates as The Buoy, it's a decent enough rock song. 2) Wide Awake In Quietus, another rocking song that sounds like an outtake from Tonight's Decision rather than a  new song  but is, again, decent, 3) Night Comes Down, a cover of the Judas Priest classic. It works really well as a Katatonia song, they haven't changed it much but you'd never know it was a cover if you weren't already aware, and finally 4) Sistere, another acoustic, Folk song. It's pretty good. 

If you include all four of those tracks then The Fall Of Hearts is a massive  hour and a half long! It's the bands tenth album and a welcome addition to their discography, there's no filler, each track is excellent and has its place. Yes it's another step further away from their original sound but it's always been a natural progression for Katatonia rather than a forced one, their songwriting goes from strength and The Fall Of Hearts may have been four years in the making but it was well worth waiting for.

9 out of 10 - Almost Perfect... Almost

Best track: Serac

You can listen on Spotify HERE
You can buy The Fall Of Hearts (and other stuff) HERE
Nosey at the band's website HERE

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