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Sky Void Of Stars


Album Review: KATATONIA Sky Void of Stars

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Swedish masters of melancholy Katatonia took a bit of a break after 2016's The Fall of Hearts, but returned strong with 2020's City Burials. Since then the band has released a live album (2020's Dead Air), a compilation (2021's Mnemosynean) and a box set (2022's Melancholium). As the new year begins, the band is issuing their 12th studio album Sky Void of Stars.

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On past albums, guitarist Anders Nyström typically co-wrote a lot of the songs, but his songwriting role has diminished over the years. For the second consecutive record, vocalist Jonas Renske wrote all the songs on Sky Void of Stars, which the band describes as "a dynamic journey through vibrant darkness."

Katatonia's sound has evolved over the years, shifting from death/doom to a more varied musical palette that utilizes everything from gothic to post to prog. They have amped up the intensity a bit on Sky Void of Stars compared to their past few albums, but no matter if it's heavy or mellow, the band always delivers first-class musicianship and exquisite songwriting.

That songwriting includes a lot of dynamics, which is evident from the progressive opener "Austerity." There are plenty of heavy moments and a lengthy guitar solo along with a catchy chorus. The track also shifts tempos and has softer sections that give the aggressive parts even more impact.

"Opaline" has a very modern sound with synths and crisp drums, but its style is classic Katatonia. They pick up the tempo on the relatively straightforward "Birds" and then dial back the pace on the engaging and atmospheric "Drab Moon." In addition to playing guitar, Nyström also handles keyboard duties, which is essential in giving songs like that one and many others depth and texture.

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Those keyboards are prominent in the intro of "Author," which also features some of the album's catchiest guitar riffs. Lending his talents to "Impermanence" is Soen vocalist Joel Ekelof. He has a similar emotional delivery to Renske, and the pair really shine on the ballad.

There is no decline in quality as the album progresses, with some of the strongest songs on the record's back half. That includes "Atrium." There is a reason it was one of the singles, with a catchy chorus and a slightly more uplifting vibe than the typical Katatonia track, though lyrics like "The shutdown is complete/You turned away despite my loving" have the moroseness you'd expect.

Album closer "Absconder" is also a highlight, with notable performances by the rhythm section of bassist Niklas Sundin and drummer Daniel Moilanen. It shifts from reserved and proggy to heavy and urgent, one of Sky Void of Stars' most dynamic tracks.

Those aforementioned dynamics on the album are even more evident thanks to the production of the legendary Jacob Hansen (Volbeat, Evergrey, Amaranthe) who also mixed and mastered the album. He also mixed and mastered City Burials.

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If you evaluate each song individually on their musical merits, they are all excellent. But what Katatonia has always been able to do, and what they've done again on Sky Void of Stars, is to also build an emotional connection and resonance in their songs that has an exponential effect, making for a sum greater than its parts. That is why their fan base is so devoted, and it is bound to increase after yet another memorable and engaging album.

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