Swedish metal stalwarts Katatonia have been around for twenty five years now, and in that time, the band have certainly paved the way for many of their contemporaries. On their latest release ‘The Fall of Hearts’, Katatonia has done a brilliant job in showing just why they are the leaders of the pack when it comes to their sound, why they have been around for so long, and why they will continue to remain relevant as a band for many more years to come.
The album begins with the aptly titled “Takeover”, a track that opens with a mellowed introduction that heightens the picturesque ambience of the track, all the while building up to an incredibly catchy hook which instantly captivates the listener. It’s subtle intricacies like these which litter this album and command the attention of the audience. Closing out with an incredible guitar solo is simply the icing on the cake for this song, and while I must admit that it did take me a few listens to truly appreciate the different layers here – just like the rest of this album – this is a track which is sure to grow on you. From there, the album progresses to “Serein”, which embodies everything I love about Katatonia: a nice tempo, an abstract sound which complements the vocal delivery perfectly, and seamless transitions throughout its contrasting sections. Every element in this song is beautifully placed, and that makes it instantly stand out on this album.
The already-released track “Old Heart Falls” slows the tempo and brings listeners deep in, while fitting the archetypical Katatonia sound perfectly. I must admit that on the first few listens through, I didn’t rate this song highly at all. Fortunately, as with most of the band’s catalogue, it has a tendency to grow on you the more you listen to it, and by the third or fourth time, I was beginning to appreciate the different layers here. The middle section of the album follows a similar path to the introductory section, with tracks like “Decima” slowing the pace right down and giving an intimate insight into the band’s narrative. Following this song with “Sanction” showcases the diverse range of the band (as well as some nice contrast) by employing a heavier low-key riff in the beginning, before treading into a softer, more meticulous pacing for the remainder of the song. “Residual” then immerses the listener by perfectly combining a slow-moving beat with a very intrinsic drum-and-bass line that accentuates the present harmonies and bolsters the almost spoken-word lyrical delivery.
“Serac” is engaging from the get-go, with an intriguing combination of sounds combining to create something which is so truly unique that it just works. The track begins with a more fleeting tempo than some of the others, and uses some of the most impressive guitar work on the album with possibly the greatest vocal delivery on the album to create an absolute monster of a track. “Shifts” felt like it would be more at home on a commercial radio station, with its slower tone and soothing lyrical delivery being very calming in comparison to the track before it. “The Night Subscriber” continues this tip-tac pattern of heavier and softer tracks with a more upbeat, smooth introduction before including some heavily distorted guitars before launching into Katatonia’s brand of ambience. As this song progresses, you are treated to some of the cleanest transitions between different sections, and it’s something which the band makes effortless. However, given the complexities that some of these parts hit, it’s something that just enhances the appeal of this song and the band. “Pale Flag” slows the tone down one final time, before “Passer” closes out the album by hitting the listener directly from the outset and never taking a look back. With a whirling guitar introduction that paves the way for possibly the greatest constructed track on the album, complete with a memorable and catchy chorus and including every trademark of a classic Katatonia song, “Passer” is sure to enrapture fans immediately.
I felt like the latter half of the album is where this album really took strong form, with tracks like “Serac”, “Sanction”, “Last Song before the Fade” and “Passer” all embracing a heavier, darker, more ambient side of the music that not only enveloped me as listener immediately, but also highlighted the true musical ability of each band member on this release. While I thoroughly enjoyed this album, there were a few minor issues that I felt hampered its maximum potential. Initially, for me it felt like the song placement on this album was a bit disjointed, and by this I mean that there really wasn’t a clear transition or flow between tracks. That isn’t to say that there should be on every album, but it just adds an extra element to a release when the listener can identify and follow a clear musical narrative. This method captivates the listener in the story of the music the entire way through, and so many bands this year have put out albums that have already used this method. While this album didn’t have that feel, it still stood strong as a solid collection of really good songs.
Additionally, I felt that the tempo of the album was almost too laid-back at times, with songs maintaining the relaxed tempo that they opened with, save for a few changes throughout. That’s not to say this is a bad thing, or that it doesn’t work on this album, because it’s pace certainly heightens the immersive ambient feel of most of the tracks, but it can tend to feel repetitive at times and could give some listeners a very familiar feel with some of the tracks, particularly the slower ones. Subsequent listens highlighted a much greater depth than first revealed, and eventually helped provide a greater appreciation for the layers employed across each song, so I implore anyone that has any doubts on their first listen through to give it a further chance.
Casting these really minor issues aside, you are left with a musically brilliant album that has memorable parts composed of immense musical ability and talent. Particular sections of guitar work have the ability to send chills through the listener, and some of the ambient passages stand out as immersive pieces of musical genius. Even with its flaws, this album is still brilliant, and while it may be described several ways, it is perhaps best described as ‘accessible’. Not only does ‘The Fall of Hearts’ flirt with the barriers of several genres, but it maintains a subtleness that even the most uninclined heavy music listener could appreciate, revealing the album’s true beauty.