Katatonia – Sky Void of Stars (2023) – Review

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It’s interesting, isn’t it? Many bands of renown never made it onto the famed RMR review pipe. One reason might be that we tend to favor the underground. Those vile creatures of the mucky metal Middle Earth, slithering around in the oily dark corners of our crusty pipeline. Just to be pulled out screaming into the light to sometimes spectacular effects.

In other words, the RMR Review Committee usually shuns the mainstream. And many of those big outfits kinda placed themselves in their most commercially viable channels. And there’s – after all – nothing wrong with this approach. Gotta buy bread and Fernet Branca1) to fuel all that creativity, right?

Now, Katatonia is one of those long-standing outfits that never quite excited us enough to be cited. Yet again, they’ve come a long way since 1991 with blackened deathly doom to today’s lightly roasted Progressive Metal musings. And indeed so, Sky Void of Stars gets us a savvy mix of alternative and subtly progressive vibes. All of that embedded in Jonas Renske‘s suave clear voice vocals. In a way, the record feels like some sort of low-level Amorphis piece that will explain the persistent feel of discrete doom and decay the record constantly disperses.

Now, some starry-eyed members of the fan community seem to think that band name and past achievements carry weight and – in turn – demand undue respect. As if some richly colored past would somehow influence the current level of quality of a record. True, merit needs recognition. But here we’re not exploring Katatonia‘s lush past and undeniable influence on metal’s history. Instead, we’re looking at Sky Void of Stars and its virtues. And that’s our main focus. In other words, how am I going to explain to today’s kids that a band with a boatload of past Extreme Metal endeavors suddenly sounds like some ethereal reincarnation of A-ha? Right, I can’t. Dinosaurs won’t suddenly garner brownie points because they got a lot of things right in the last few million years. So, we’ll focus on this clutch of tracks.

Now, this doesn’t mean that Sky Void of Stars won’t excel in additional value. Katatonia truly set up a pretty flawless production that loses nothing in the fray. You sometimes get astonishing forays in excellent guitar work with solos that would have rearranged our hairdos (Author, for instance). Boy, even the bass is always right where it needs to be. Even if the band could have let the 4-string dude off the hook a few times for more added spice. And if anything, the drummer could have moved away a bit more from the overly tedious snare/bass pattern. True, this is oversimplifying it, but you get my drift, right? Progressives need elaborative drum patterns, but here this sounds like Kamelot in a parallel universe. And those guys won’t even qualify for prog.

So, here we are. Sky Void of Stars is yet again one of those no-risk endeavors that sails slam down the middle of that vast slightly progressive metallic river. Like others before them, Katatonia deliver a record of nicely curated rock and metal that will please the metal adepts of the light. A piece that will might appeal well to long-standing fans but will not necessarily gain them a new and energetic fan crowd.

And the record is lightyears away from the excitement that outfits like Steven Wilson,2) Caligula’s Horse, Haken, or – indeed – any of the many doom outfits could muster. Instead, we found too many bits with that awful pop-fueled mainstream stench all over them (Opaline for example). Thus, Sky Void of Stars just exists in its very own rocky bubble. Slam down the middle in a somewhat tepid procession of often artfully produced songs. But then, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, either.

Even if it almost made us go catatonic after a while. Old opinions brutally confirmed.

Record Rating: 5/10 | LabelNapalm Records | Web: Official Band Site
Release Date: 20 January 2023


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