Katatonia’s Sky Void of Stars marks the second album in a row to not feature songs by founding guitarist Anders Nyström – as with 2020’s City Burials, the band’s 12th long-player was helmed completely by vocalist Jonas Renske.
But when it comes to how the Swedish six-stringer interprets his bandmate’s material – via percussively progressive riffage and a foreboding miasma of ambient effects-work – the gloom veteran is anything but muted on Katatonia’s latest release.
“Just by playing the guitar – and using different guitars – you leave your signature stamp on everything,” Nyström says of his impact on Sky Void of Stars. “Things like how hard you hit the strings, where on the fretboard you pick, what kind of vibrato you put in there, how you slide and glide from note to note… it all adds up to create your [personal] touch.”
If the experimental City Burials put a greater emphasis on synths and electronic production, Sky Void of Stars runs Katatonia’s guitars back toward the red. Birds is a pulse pounder full of fervent power-chording; deceptively-titled opener Austerity buzzes out the gate with densely distorted djenting, before lead guitarist Roger Öjersson unveils a doom-dripping vibrato lead.
“There are some serious progressive moments coupled with some almost commercial pop stuff, but everything carries a deeper kind of darkness embedded within it,” Nyström suggests of the hook-loaded yet downcast drive of Sky Void of Stars.
Though Nyström and Öjersson get defiantly chunky in spots, Nyström also approaches Katatonia with an airier guitar style he calls “ventiler” (which is the Swedish word for valve). Using a heady stew of effects, the guitarist widens the scope of melancholy Katatonia rockers like Opaline with drawn-out gusts of sonic ambiance.
“The sound is made of a lot of compressed distortion, different delays, modulated reverb, flanger, pitch shifter, sustainer, and a slow gear effect to knock off the attack and make it swell in and out,” he reveals, adding of the elemental results, “It sometimes resembles a crying whale, or a wind blowing.”
While playing a more supportive role on Sky Void of Stars, Nyström says he’s still got riffs that could make Katatonia’s gloriously gloomy songbook one day. “Time shall tell if I manage to put some more flesh around those bones,” he muses, adding of a return to songwriting, “I surely miss spending time in this magic creative phase and I hope it can come back and meet me halfway in the dark, where I used to dwell.”
- Sky Void of Stars is out now via Napalm.