Katatonia were creatively spent as they entered 2018, and for the first time since forming in Stockholm in 1991, they knew they had to put the band on pause.
While on hiatus, vocalist Jonas Renske and guitarist Anders Nyström channeled their energies into a brutal death metal LP with side-project Bloodbath; Renske had also started writing songs on his own, some with a more electronic edge.
But just as he was set to enter the studio with a new team of collaborators, he pumped the brakes on what was meant to be his solo debut and brought the tracks back to musical life-partner Nyström. The result is City Burials, Katatonia’s latest formula-defying studio album.
Nyström says that adapting Renske’s solo material for Katatonia also meant that the guitarist didn’t contribute any tunes of his own for the group’s 11th album. “Did it feel weird for me for the first time ever to see none of my songs on the album? Yes. Did it matter? Not really.”
In light of 2017’s prog-geared The Fall of Hearts, City Burials’ guitar motifs play especially spacious. Most noticeably, first single Lacquer scales back on the band’s usual riff-reliant guitar structures to instead prop up digital drum production and sorrowful symphony strings.
While electronic pulses are plentiful, Nyström and fellow guitarist Roger Öjersson do manage get down and dirty throughout these Burials – whether delivering chunky fretboard crawls on death waltz Heart Set to Divide, Southern gothic pull-offs on City Glaciers or, in Öjersson’s case, rip-snorting into a vintage pair of sweep-heavy solos on Behind the Blood.
“The idea was to cover the time spans [of] when different guitar players influenced me, starting out in the '70s in the first solo, and ending up in the '80s in the second one,” Öjersson says of adding hairspray-era divebombs into his present-day arsenal, “I can’t even remember when I last touched a whammy bar before that second solo on Behind the Blood.”
On Lacquer, Renske sings that “the road to the grave is straight as an arrow,” a de facto battle cry for Katatonia, who, 30 years into their career, are still looking to subvert expectations.
Though Nyström is quick to note that Katatonia haven’t gone EDM — Dead Air, a more recent livestream LP recorded during lockdown, seamlessly blended City Burials standouts with the band’s brooding back catalog – the group are happily walking off the beaten path by adding those kinds of textures.
“The whole electronic genre is kind of controversial and almost seems like a forbidden area with the metal purists, but so what?” Nyström says. “If you deny beauty just because there’s no guitar present, you’re checking out the wrong band.”
- City Burials is out now via Peaceville.