Over the last 25 years, few bands have become as revered as progressive/alt-metal merchants Katatonia. The Swedish band, who began their career as a death-doom outfit, evolved naturally into a more standard alternative metal act. Don’t let the term “standard” throw you off, though. There’s nothing basic about the way that Katatonia effortlessly shifts and tweaks their sound from album cycle to album cycle, while also maintaining a core aesthetic that also stays relevant. 10 full-length albums, there’s endless debate over what their best record is. For many, it’s Brave Murder Day, their 1996 album which was their last death metal-influenced record. 2016’s The Fall of Hearts might also qualify, as it’s a record where they really expanded their sonic palette into something melodic and emotive. An amalgamation of their last 10 years as a band, if you will.
There’s a reason Katatonia’s setlists always seem to include more songs from The Great Cold Distance than any other album, though. It has to be considered a strong contender for Katatonia’s best overall album. It’s an album that has equally strong 1st and 2nd halves, and initially it’s songs like the fan favorite “Soil’s Song” and the metal redux “Consternation”. For a band that hadn’t been truly “extreme” in a decade, tracks like this are highly engaging and can even be somewhat shocking in how well they’re written and delivered.
The Great Cold Distance is full of breathtaking moments that stir the soul and capture your attention. Take the chorus in “July”, for instance. It’s one of the best songs on the album, and also one of Jonas Renkse’s best vocal performances, period. His melancholic voice really has a way of drawing the listener in and taking them on a metaphorical adventure. This track, and really the first half of the album as a whole, has a distinct way of taking you up and down, musically and emotionally speaking. You also have to mention just how good album opener “Leaders” is, as it’s a great way to open the album with something that evolves from a mid-tempo track, to something much heavier and complex. The marriage of the guitar riffs, Jonas’ voice, and the drums are nothing short of mezmerizing.
The abrupt start-stop part of the way through “Consternation” is another one of those moments where Katatonia takes you on a left turn. Juxtaposed with Jonas Renkse’s convincing and passionate performance and sparse, minimalist lyrics, really set the tone for the expansive atmosphere that the band brings to the table. Few bands, outside of Anathema and Porcupine Tree, are as skilled as Katatonia when it comes to conveying emotion in this style.
Katatonia is a rare and unique band. Such a dramatic style shift in their career could have spelled (death) doom for their success, yet the bold step to move away from the more extreme elements revealed just how brilliant their songwriting was. While the band expanded upon this style on the excellent Night Is The New Day and subsequent albums, The Great Cold Distance is Katatonia at the peak of their powers.