On their new album, City Burials, out now on Peaceville, regal Swedish gloom metal merchants Katatonia weave another captivating spell filled with atmosphere and emotion. Powered by the expressive vocals of lead singer Jonas Renske, their 11th album is another feather in the band’s ever-crowded cap.
And it almost didn’t happen.
After the tour cycle for their previous album, The Fall Of Hearts, they decided it was time to take a little time away from the grind and each other.
“It was a basically a time-out,” guitarist Anders Nyström explains. “We needed to get everyone attentive to the issues we weren’t happy with and also get enough time to reflect on future direction.”
That would mean for the first time in their nearly-30-year career, they would be taking a hiatus. But, as fate would have it, their break didn’t last too long. In fact, they got back together to celebrate the anniversary of very special album in their discography.
“Well, if it hadn’t been for the Night Is The New Day anniversary, I’m not really sure when the next crucial motivation would have given us that much needed push,” Nyström says. “We were really eager to celebrate that album that the anniversary shows worked as a stepping stone back to the stage.”
This would eventually lead as the impetus to get the band, which also features guitarist Roger Öjersson, bassist Niklas Sandin, and drummer Daniel Moilanen, to get back in studio and commence work on City Burials.
But, there was one more twist to this story, as Nyström explains.
“Well, to tell you the truth, City Burials was originally supposed to become a Jonas solo album, which he was working on together with Anders Eriksson (aka Frank Default) on guest keyboards in the mean time of the Katatonia hiatus,” Nyström says.
“However, he changed his mind at the very last stage, just before hitting the studio with other musicians. Jonas rather wanted it to become a Katatonia album, so he played me all the songs, and since he writes just as much music for Katatonia as I do (or in fact even more these days), the Katatonia connection was already there in most of the material with a fairly easy transition to apply.
“So, we decided re-arrange some of the songs, hit the studio, and co-produce it together. Did it feel weird for me for the first time ever to see none of my songs on the album? Yes. Did it matter? Not really. The album passed far above the ‘quality control,’ and that’s what counts.”
Once it was decided the new album would be a Katatonia one. They went about the process of putting it together, making sure that everything lived up to their exacting standards.
“We spent a lot of time with instruments, gear, hardware, and software, picking out what worked best for the album,” Nyström says. “A good example would be when recording the vocals, we used a specific microphone and a pre-amp that perfectly fitted Jonas’ voice and captured his full range, which resulted in a way more dynamic and professional end mix. Same with guitars and drums, we made sure to record them well and the benefits showed in the mix.
“It’s all part of the chain while looking at the big picture; you need to keep a full perspective at all stages. We put a lot of faith in Jacob Hansen, and he honestly exceeded our expectations. It was the smoothest and quickest mix we’ve ever been involved in; everything just clicked from the get go! This Danish fella was very efficient and easy to work with, a brilliant engineer.”
In addition, the new album’s evocative title has a deeper meaning.
“It’s all connected by metaphors inside the Katatonia universe that circle our discography,” Nyström says.
Speaking of their discography, their sound has changed and evolved over their lengthy career.
Nyström breaks it down.
“I see Katatonia going through three shifts out of which the two first took us through a major stylistic change,” Nyström says. “1991 to 1996 was our developing extreme metal phase, where our first and second albums still sound quite different. 1997 to 2002 was our alternative and experimental metal phase, where all our non-metal influences exclusively came into the picture, and finally, everything since 2003 up till today is what people recognize as our current sound and what has become the trademark of the band. That spans everything from progressive metal, classic rock, folk music, and even traces of jazz.”
What’s even more amazing is that through all the shifts and changes in sound, with band members coming and going, the driving, creative forces have always been Nyström and Renske. It’s a partnership that has lasted the test of time.
Nyström has one simple reason for this longevity.
“We shared a vision, went for it, and never looked back,” he says. “I think the reason why we’ve lasted this long comes down to more than one reason. We, early on, realized music and being part of the scene is our way of life. Katatonia became a part of our identity and has now been with us day and night for three decades. This decision taken by a couple of hungry teenagers is still sustained by a couple of middle-aged farts.
“Throughout this entire time, we also got used getting by from day to day. Our dreams have been big, but our expectations have been low. We basically have been living on a minimum wage our entire lives. Just to be able to do this, which is something most (if not all) normal people would have rejected at an early stage.
“Elderly people used to tell us youngsters ‘go get a haircut and get yourselves a job’—how about we tell them to fuck right off? How about combining your job and passion, and being ready to sacrifice everything while finding ourselves riding the waves of uncertainty? Because, at the end of the day, we know we followed our hearts; we had fun spending our youth, our 20s and even 30s, doing exactly what other people will never experience in life.
“Regarding that haircut, age eventually took care of that, as there’s hardly any left!”
Photo Credit: Ester Segarra