Lords of somber, gloom filled metal Katatonia have made the most of their return from their self-imposed hiatus in 2018 with a pair of emotional gut-punch records in 2020's City Burials and their all new collection of dread-anthems Sky Void of Stars.
Sitting down with Metal Injection, founding member, frontman/guitarist Jonas Renkse (who pulls double-duty with Swedish death metal supergroup Bloodbath), dove deep into the new album, and how 2023 could be one of their busiest years to date.
"We're doing stuff with Bloodbath, our other band sort of which, I mean, it hasn't got the same emotional investment as Katatonia. And as you say, when I'm doing so much with Katatonia of late, of course it gets very dear to you. And it's like nurturing a baby just before it's learning to walk or something. You know, you have to sort of make sure everything is as good as possible. And so definitely, yeah, it's a lot of feelings," Renkse begins, delving into his contrasting roles in both bands.
"I mean, I love writing for both, but as I said earlier, Katatonia, it's what's close to my heart. And yeah, it's almost like a lifestyle, you know, it's something that I've been doing for so long. And with Bloodbath, we started off just paying tribute to a music style that we loved and that we grew up with and we sort of tried to mimic what was the standard procedure of those bands and the topics of the lyrics and everything.
"It's very different, but I love both because to take time off the whole Katatonia thing and do Bloodbath, it's very nice because I don't have to think too hard about stuff, especially lyrically. It's much more easy and it's more fun in a way as well. So it's definitely different from each other, but it seems I need both of them in my life at the moment."
Sky Void of Stars, as Chad Bowar notes in our recent review, holds an impressive "emotional connection and resonance in their songs," due in no small part to Renkse's close to the vest lyrical approach that cuts deep into the listener, which was perhaps indirectly impacted by the ongoing pandemic.
"I think for me, this record and the writing process of it was, you know, my way of handling the whole pandemic and the way that it affected the industry and everything," he admits. "I can't really say if the pandemic itself has influenced my writing, but once we sort of realized that this thing is serious and it's going to affect our careers at this moment, to me that was like a sign to start writing music again, even though we had just released a new album at the start of the pandemic in April 2020.
"So I just thought maybe I should just concentrate on what I like to do and what I think I do best. So it definitely helped me through. If I was just to sit around on a couch and waiting for things to happen, I would be probably much more mentally unstable than what I am now because I think the writing was something that I could rely on and sort of turn to on a daily basis to just keep myself sane."
Forging ahead while reserving a nod and a wink to the past, Katatonia celebrates the 30th anniversary of their genre-bending debut album Dance of December Souls, a record Renkse acknowledges – while a world different from the music the band produces today – still holds merit given the heart and passion of all hands involved.
"If I listen to it now I can hear a young band that's aiming to do something that's well thought out. I mean, I'm not saying it's performed exactly the way maybe we were hoping for, but you also have to think about the fact that a lot of the songs on that album were written when we were like 17 or 18 years old. I can hear a vision, a strong vision, which I still admire because it's also the foundation of what we're doing today," Renkse shares.
"I mean, mine and Anders' vision that we had back then is something that we still build on. So we do owe a lot to our younger selves for being visionaries in our own kind, I would say that. It's fun to listen back to it. It's not something I do a lot. But it happens that I hear a song somewhere here and there and it doesn't bother me at all. I can still hear exactly what we wanted to do. I can still sort of remember the thoughts we had when we were writing the music. So it's nice to have it there, but it's, of course, vastly different from what we're doing now."
"A lot of things are happening, but I mean it's pretty much what we wanted when we were just sitting around during the pandemic. And you know, I always say this … we're not getting younger. So I feel like I'd rather be busy now than in five years getting a lot of gig offers and I have to say no because I feel like, well, I'm not fit to do it, I'm feeling too old. So it's a good thing to be back both on the road with the pandemic restrictions lifted, but also having two albums with my bands that I love to be part of. It's a good seat for me right now. I'm very grateful."