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Katatonia - "Dead End Kings" (CD)

Katatonia - "Dead End Kings" CD cover image

"Dead End Kings" track listing:

1. The Parting (4:52)
2. The One You Are Looking for Is Not Here (3:52)
3. Hypnone (4:07)
4. The Racing Heart (4:06)
5. Buildings (3:28)
6. Leech (4:23)
7. Ambitions (5:07)
8. Undo You (4:56)
9. Lethean (4:39)
10. First Prayer (4:28)
11. Dead Letters (4:49)

Reviewed by on August 24, 2012

"Just in time for the gloomy fall season, the album fits the bill for quiet contemplation of life, death, and loss while the leaves die and the snow starts to fall."

Over the last 20+ years, Sweden’s Katatonia has morphed from a doomy death metal outfit to a depressive rock group, and then into something that splits the difference, while still only using clean vocals. Their new album “Dead End Kings” shows that Katatonia is anything but, as it has a readily recognizable sound from the band, but still tries different things and progresses the music into a new direction. The disc has pretty much anything long-time fans would want to hear, using a layered sound that is still easy to digest and sounds as good on the first listen as on the hundredth.

The last full-length “Night is the New Day” was a seriously gloomy slab of rock/metal, and while this new album is still a downer in the thematic department, it’s not quite as downtrodden or depressing as its predecessor. The sound as a whole is quite different this time around from the last few albums, and the songs are clearly distinct from each other, which is a plus, as “The Great Cold Distance” reached a point where everything was sounding too similar. For a new twist, Silje Wergeland of The Gathering shows up for a male/female duet on “The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here.” They aren’t a prominent focus of the track though, so it doesn’t become a female-fronted, gothic metal version of Katatonia. While a welcome addition to the mix, the duet did have one unfortunate side effect, as it again brings to mind how the band could use a dose of aggressiveness by bringing on a guest growler once in a while.

One of Katatonia’s strengths is that the band’s music isn’t super technical, and a listener doesn’t have to strain to pick out each different sound. The album has an interesting quality where, even though there are strong similarities in the overall song structures, it’s still easy to listen through multiple times without ever getting bored. There is an excellent use of backing instruments to keep things interesting, adding in piano and strings to reinforce the guitars and vocals, which adds a different mood to any given song without changing the core sound or going too far into symphonic territory. A few different effects also spice up the formula from time to time, like the progressively growing sense of urgency in “Buildings” or the muffled fade-out sounds in “The Racing Heart.”

“Dead End Kings” shows that Katatonia can still create a formula that successfully blends rock and metal without going too soft. While the album doesn’t have any immediate knockout tracks like on “Viva Emptiness” or “Night is the New Day,” the full experience as a whole is immensely satisfying and another stellar edition to the band’s discography. Just in time for the gloomy fall season, the album fits the bill for quiet contemplation of life, death, and loss while the leaves die and the snow starts to fall.

Highs: Katatonia keeps up its trademark blend of depressing rock and metal, while trying a few new things.

Lows: There aren't any instantly iconic tracks, and the band really should throw some extreme vocals in again from time to time.

Bottom line: It's another thoroughly gloomtastic trek into rock/metal from the ever-impressive Katatonia, but this time with a few new twists.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)