Sweden’s Katatonia have been a constant presence in the realm of blackened doom/death metal since the bands inception way back in the very early 90s, and whilst a modicum of that era is still present in the group’s sound of today, Katatonia are now a fully fledged depressive rock entity. Whilst this depressive tendency ebbs and flows throughout much of Katatonia’s work, the band lace the journey found within Dead End Kings with huge riffs, beautiful vocal lines and a majestic energy. Sadness is key here, but Katatonia don’t wallow in misery; instead they take it, twist it and use it to gain knowledge and understanding of desperate situations and fateful tragedy.
“The Parting” starts Dead End Kings with a similar feeling to the first track off their last record, Night is the New Day. It’s in the melancholy and downbeat initial steps into the light of new beginnings, the lyrics that are so personal yet speak to the masses and in the contrast of quieter passages compared to the bursts of heaviness that pepper the record with magnificent weight. Jonas Renkse’s voice envelopes with a lush and commanding power, somehow sounding gentle but all at once dominant and it’s this antithesis that gives Katatonia that bittersweet edge over other purveyors of depressive doom rock. Anathema are of course a worthwhile comparison, but where their edge comes in waves of progressive melody, Katatonia do it in a much more hardened and heavy way.
On a slight side note, it would be unfair to compare Dead End Kings to Night is the New Day too much, solely because (to this writer at least), they have different atmospheres and the feeling that runs throughout the previous record is one of immense and profound despair – the final track alone is enough to raise goose bumps even to this day. Dead End Kings has a little more in the way of hope, that lessons have been learned and that moving forward is hugely important. Certainly the mood is disparate here, but it feels different and with that in mind Dead End Kings is on a par with Night is the New Day in terms of tone and emotion no matter the differences in attitudes found within.
“The Racing Heart” switches between a fiery chorus and defiant verses, Renske showcasing aspects of his voice that cut to the very core of the soul. The closing seconds are a lesson in heartbreak and the dynamic is so pure in its sorrow that it’s difficult to not be suddenly overcome with a desire to make everything right for this lone voice. Unfortunately, Dead End Kings suffers with a similar affliction to Anathema’s Weather Systems in that the middle section is a little on the slow side. Beginning with such tone and sound, the album falls away a tad with “Buildings,” and “Leech,” but this slight is only very minor and “Ambitions” soon draws you back in, if only for the way Renkse says “...aspirations.” Oh my. But in all seriousness, “Ambitions” is a definite highlight of the record and if you ever get the chance to see this band play live, pray to your God that this track makes it into the set list.
The pace picks up with “Lethean” and scorching riff bursts through shades of night and gloom to give the track a delightful intensity which continues to thread through the final few tracks towards the closing strains of “Dead Letters.” Countering softness of voice with the harsh landscapes of life itself has always been a part of Katatonia’s appeal and Dead End Kings regales with a deft narrative thrust that most can relate to in one way or another. Beauty is often found in the most distressing moments of existence and “Dead Letters” is likely the most passionate track on the album – the tender passages that bridge chorus and verse, the extremity of the guitar and drum play, and the gorgeously full bass sound that crunches with a savage bite all imbue the song with a delicious fervour that brings Dead End Kings to close with an almost impromptu finality. Captivating.