Katatonia – Sky Void of Stars Review

Hi, I’m Angry Metal Dolph, and I want you to know that I’m mad at Katatonia. I’ve been a long-time admirer of their Swedish sadperson exports, and after putting out what stands as one of my favorite releases of the past decade, Fall of Hearts, they went and put out City Burials, which was just not good.1 2020 had a lot of lows, but that one still stings. Regardless, Katatonia, the institution of gloom they are, have remained a steady force of sullen output. As such, Renkse and co have been predictably busy distilling from tear water and stained diary pages this latest collection of twilight tunes for Sky Void of Stars. Definitive in voice but explorative in expression, can Katatonia hold stronger footing as they comb out the kinks in their ever-shifting sound?

Sky Void of Stars is comfortably Katatonia. Now, I realize I’ve made the assumption to this point that you know who Katatonia is. I do not apologize if you do not already know the once deathdoom, then goth-kissed alt-rock, then prog-leaning, and now somewhere in the middle (without the deathdoom) legends—get your learn on, ’cause this band has had an impact over the past 30 years. Specifically, over the past 10 or so years—let’s call them the post-Norrman years—Katatonia has put out both some of their best and some of their most self-plagiarizing and safe material. When you’re important to metal history in the way Katatonia is, re-inventing your sound poses risks, so that Katatonia even tries is applaudable—and often successful. So is it surprising, then, to hear tracks like “Colossal Shade” and “Author” feel like turn of the ’10s retreads? Not entirely, but that doesn’t stop Sky Void of Stars from being enjoyable.

Refreshingly, Sky Void of Stars has the energy of a band still ready to put on a show, hosting a bevy of big choruses and smart bridge builds. Rather than letting Jonas Renkse’s well-aged croon be the sole hypnotic force, Katatonia increasingly uses accentuating synth lines to highlight big tom crashes (“Opaline”) and resplendent solos (“Impermanence”) before crashing down with reprisal closes, a trick abundant but effective across the album. Driving numbers like “Birds” and “Atrium”—coincidentally both singles prior to release—feature bouncy and rock-cadenced drum patterns that are upbeat and unassuming. In a different time, Katatonia could take these jams to FM radio; this version of the typically gloomy act feels frighteningly fun. Even “Drab Moon,” the assembly most reminiscent of the low metal explorations from City Burials, displays a percussive confidence and electronic playfulness that displays Katatonia more at ease with that chosen path than before.

Of course, Sky Void of Stars wouldn’t be Katatonia without featuring jagged, gripping guitar runs against downcast incantations. While a few waning minor key lines tease about in early cuts (“Austerity,” “Birds”), it’s really mid-album stunner “Impermanence” that dims the lights to reveal the unshakeable fog that defines the Swedes’ most memorable moments. While the track doesn’t entirely need guest vocalist Joel Ekelöf (Soen) to help Renkse build to choruses of increasing magnitude, his fragile tone pairs well with the chest-tingling melody. And keeping the total runtime tight, Katatonia closes the album with “No Beacon to Illuminate Our Fall,” a gargantuan ordeal that hosts the fattest riff of the affair, a lingering toybox melody, and Roger Öjersson’s most piercing fretboard screams—it’s absolutely everything that this iteration of Katatonia has to offer.

After the last bumpier outing, Sky Void of Stars will be the Katatonia album that many fans want to hear, even if they don’t grow to love it as much as their favorite, no matter which decade it may come from. Ultimately, it’s pleasant to hear Katatonia get settled and flex their time-tested songwriting chops in this more streamlined direction. You probably won’t come back to tracks like “Author” or “Sclera” willingly, but because they don’t overstay, you’ll push through them all the same. If you procure one of the snazzy mediabook editions, you’ll even get a bonus track, “Absconder,” which really should have been part of the album proper.2 Whatever decision you make, at least, you can rest easy knowing that Katatonia hasn’t let you down with Sky Void of Stars—they did good.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: N/A | Format Reviewed: Stream Only
Label: Napalm Records
Websites: katatonia.com | katatonia.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/katatonia
Releases Worldwide: January 20th, 2023

Show 2 footnotes

  1. It was mostly good, bro. – AMG
  2. Maybe it will be out on streaming? I’m someone will put it on YouTube so check it!
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