Interview with Katatonia guitarist Anders “Blakkheim” Nyström and vocalist/guitarist Jonas Renkse
By Brandon Ringo | Photo by Ester Segarra
Now, 25 years later, it is kind of mind-blowing to look at all of the great bands and subgenres that were created in 1991. Some of the most impressive came out of the scene in Stockholm, Sweden. Though most of the focus goes to death metal progenitors like Entombed, Dismember, and Grave, this fruitful period also saw the conception of the death-doom menace, Katatonia.
Known initially for their tortured mixture of both styles, their sound has since experienced perpetual progression and evolution over the years. Though their releases over the last decade or so have become more somber, the beauty of their particular brand of misery is that, despite its gorgeous exterior, its insides are still as rotten and black as ever. On their most recent LP, The Fall of Hearts—released May 20 via Peaceville Records—the band maintain their beautiful melodies, but like a deformed beast, malevolence leaks from every pore. The results are both hideous and wonderful.
While it’s easy to assume that the underlying heaviness on The Fall of Hearts was leftover aggression from vocalist and guitarist Jonas Renkse and guitarist Anders “Blakkheim” Nyström’s time touring in death metal supergroup, Bloodbath, last year, they usually try to keep the two projects completely separate. “The only thing the two bands share is the foundation and platform of metal music,” Nyström confirms. “Whereas Bloodbath sits in the brutal and aggressive corner, Katatonia is all about the heavy and atmospheric other end of metal. Recording and touring with both acts makes it less of a one-way street, or at least opens up more lanes on the highway to cruise in, and that makes you more complete and closer to your goals.”
Though touring with Bloodbath provided a different and far more diabolical musical outlet for Renkse and Nyström, their distance from Katatonia did make the heart grow fonder. “They do not influence each other musically, but, of course, I feed off the Bloodbath stuff we did,” Renkse admits. “Especially the live things we did last summer. It inspired me to focus on getting a new Katatonia underway, as we haven’t really toured for some time, and I wanted to get Katatonia back on the road.”
Typically, bands like Katatonia who stay on the road most of the year begin the writing process for new releases in the back of the bus or van, but these Swedish sons prefer to work in more comfortable surroundings. “When we’re on tour, I find it close to impossible to find the headspace and comfort that we need to sit down and devote yourself to the writing,” Nyström reveals. “Also, the days on tour are filled with so many other routines and distractions that would constantly take away your focus from your creativity and leave you frustrated, putting things constantly on halt. Katatonia’s material is very emotionally charged and driven, so there needs to be a certain ‘zone’ to enter and suitable atmosphere for it to work. This is why we write from home, where you have your own sanctuary and can easily can block out anything and anyone from the outside world.”
While The Fall of Hearts may be slightly heavier than their past few offerings, the real goal for Katatonia was to create something much more dynamic and balanced. “I think the production and the increased length of the songs kinda indicates we took the album into a more organic, progressive, and diverse direction,” Nyström confirms. “There’s such a huge variation between the songs this time. A strong contrast coming and going and sometimes meeting in the middle, still holding things together under the same umbrella. I think Jonas’ trademark vocals on top of our ambition to play with both darkness and light, [and] in both heavy and soft territories, makes the dynamic play of this variation very binding and cohesive.”