Katatonia – Sky Void Of Stars: Album Review

Katatonia continue in their mission of rearranging the order of heavy music. Seduced by more dark rituals of doubt.

Release Date: 20th January 2023

Label: Napalm Records

Format: Vinyl / CD / digital

Katatonia has always found beauty in darkness. Perhaps even more so in their more refined and stripped-back offerings. The evidence is clear for all in the candlelit Union Chapel show captured beautifully on the Sanctitude release or for more evidence, simply take a look at their album covers. The recurring theme of the black, oft silhouetted raven, in this case ravens(s) circling a sky tormented by violent rain, adds a certain presence to the whole concept.

Even in giving the new album the title of Sky Void Of Stars hints at a despondency and hopelessness; a sign of desperation that’s countered by the might of the musical contents. However, we’re not talking about celestial anomalies or acoustic imaginings here. Darkness, driven by a powerful force, is much in evidence. The visions of Jonas Renkse are delivered in devastating clarity and the trademark way he warmly rolls the words, the ‘r’s in, for example, Austerity’s “thrown by thunderrrr” or “see my scarrrs” in the more subdued Opaline which itself even contains a drop of optimism in its crescendoes.

In the dramatic opening missive that is Austerity, they may declare how “woe is always on your mind” but it’s enhanced by glorious patches of melody where Jonas Renkse’s aching vocals break through the gun metal clouds like a desperate hint of brilliant sunlight. Encapsulating the dark and light, Colossal Shade is much more stripped back. A repetitive and unforgiving marching rhythm at its core, its stabs and goads like a prize fighter.

The subtle power that comes in Birds showcases how the occasional moments dedicated to dwelling on atmosphere prove to be mere pause points as we’re never too far from an explosive surge. Echoes of the magnificent Serein from The Fall Of Hearts in the vast drama that plays out from the opening passage and lifts through a series of soaring and searing guitar parts. By contrast, a balance of ambience and space is reconciled in Drab Moon; the clouds of moody atmosphere would lend themselves beautifully to an acoustic arrangement. Likewise, Impermanence where the arrangement in the current guise swings between delicacy and stirringly intense power chording and soloing. “We’ll just live to see the essence die,” he bemoans just before the central instrumental section that possibly provides the most inspirational moment on the album.

The wonder is how Renkse manages to deliver such a constant flow of despondency, despair and desolation. The climax comes suitably with No Beacon To Illuminate Our Fall. An intrepid piece that demonstrates how Katatonia exists in bubbles of intricacy that sit side by side with the devastation that threatens to overpower and assume control only to be expertly reined in.

The title ‘masters of melancholic metal’ isn’t one bandied around lightly. Sky Void Of Stars adds its majesty to a colossal body of work. Katatonia have genuinely earned it.

Here’s Birds from the album, the track that we find ourselves returning to:

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