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Katatonia - "Tonight's Decision" (CD)

Katatonia - "Tonight's Decision" CD cover image

"Tonight's Decision" track listing:

1. For My Demons (5:47)
2. I Am Nothing (4:37)
3. In Death, a Song (4:51)
4. Had To (Leave) (6:03)
5. This Punishment (2:46)
6. Right Into the Bliss (5:04)
7. No Good Can Come of This (4:24)
8. Strained (4:15)
9. A Darkness Coming (5:01)
10. Nightmares by the Sea (Jeff Buckley cover) (4:15)
11. Black Session (7:01)
12. No Devotion (4:48)
13. Fractured (5:54)

Reviewed by on June 20, 2008

"Not quite extreme metal, but certainly heavier than pop or rock, they still managed to retain some vestiges of atmosphere and the visceral feelings of anguish and doom that permeated their early releases."

Katatonia is one of those rare bands that went through a drastic change in style and actually came out better for it. In the beginning, there was the slow and boring black metal album "Dance of December Souls," that was immediately relegated to the dreaded pile of mediocre budget CDs. Things started to look up when they signed on Mikael Akerfeldt from Opeth to perform vocals for their next two releases, "Brave Murder Day" and "Sounds of Decay." Without warning, Katatonia suddenly switched gears from sluggish, atmospheric black metal to something completely different with their album "Discouraged Ones." Not quite extreme metal, but certainly heavier than pop or rock, they still managed to retain some vestiges of atmosphere and the visceral feelings of anguish and doom that permeated their early releases.

Fast-forward one album to "Tonight's Decision." Here the sound Katatonia was grasping for previously has been refined and had a lot of the kinks worked out. The music has become more upbeat than in past offerings, but it still holds a seriously dark undertone. The production has also been ramped up a notch, having a much more clean quality. Katatonia draws influence from a wide range of musical staples, but never openly mimics any of them. They are frequently referred to as being a "gothic rock" band, but other than the bleak tone Katatonia really has no connection to goth. Anders Nystrom and Fred Norrman generally keep their guitar work mired somewhere in the drudgery of doom metal, even occasionally treading into drone territory with long and drawn out buzzing. A notable exception to the doom oriented sound is found in the song “A Darkness Coming”, which shows off a softer side of Katatonia by making use of acoustic guitar and whistling, natural sounding keyboards. The use of keyboards is sporadic and low key, and if analyzed on their own they would sound electronic and spacey, but when meshed with the music they push vocalist Jonas Renske’s signing up to the front. Swedish metal celebrity Dan Swano provides drumming that is an anomaly in metal, in that it isn’t there to pulverize the listener’s ears or blast their way to the gates of heaven and tear down the foundations of the universe, but instead simply reinforces the core sound and bonds the other instruments together.

Renske’s clean vocals are a perfect match for the consistently dreary lyrics, which are so fundamental that they can be applied personally by nearly anyone. The universal nature of each song’s subject matter means that "Tonight’s Decision" will resonate differently with each listener, depending on that person’s past experiences and outlook on life. Memories and feelings will surface unbidden as the vocals mix seamlessly with the music to create something greater than the sum of its parts. The soft vocals adequately capture the essence of sorrow without coming across as whiny or annoying, in part due to the lyrics being desolate, but not completely hopeless, and depressed, but not in absolute despair.

Moving even further away from their more extreme roots, "Tonight’s Decision" features songs such as "Right Into The Bliss" that are rock-oriented enough to almost be worthy of the label catchy, containing verse/chorus structures and slightly repetitious guitar parts. The second to last track, "Nightmares By The Sea," is actually a cover of a Jeff Buckley song, but it flows so well with the other songs that it would be nearly impossible to tell that just by listening. The reissue of "Tonight’s Decision" also sports two bonus tracks that are a little heavier than the rest of the songs on the album and make use of distorted vocals that give the impression of the vocalist being underwater, but otherwise they sound like they could have been on the album originally. Both of these songs give a good taste of how Katatonia’s music would continue to change over the course of their next few albums, so they are a great primer for those who aren’t sure if they want to continue on with Katatonia’s catalogue.

"Tonight’s Decision" is an album in transition between the music of Katatonia's past and the sounds of their future, and is highly recommended to all audiences, regardless of musical tastes.

Highs: Superb clean vocals and a bleak atmosphere that never comes across as whiny or annoying

Lows: Less heavy and more mainstream than previous releases

Bottom line: Rocky and toned down doom metal that will appeal to a wide audience

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)