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A winsome collection of lilting prog and impassioned melodies, The Fall of Hearts takes us even further afield from the metal scene than usual for a latter era Katatonia effort. Relying more than ever on acoustic space and lightly amplified instrumentation, distorted guitars only occasionally pierce through the otherwise contemplative soundscape

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Album Review: KATATONIA The Fall of Hearts

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While Katatonia aren't privy to near the level of stateside adulation as superstar countrymen Opeth, that underappreciation affords them the unintended benefit of being able to experiment and reinvent themselves at will with little by way of clap back on social media. The Opeth parallels are less apparent in the actual songcraft between the two bands as they are in the restless sense of musical adventurousness the two bands share (well, that, and Opeth jefe Mikael Åkerfeldt filled in for Katatonia's own Jonas Renkse for an extended stretch of live gigs back in the 90's when the latter singer was working through a chronic vocal injury; both singers would  independently gravitate toward clean singing almost exclusively over the ensuing years).

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One area where Opeth clearly outpaces Katatonia, though, is in their prolific songwriting. Whereas Åkerfeldt seems to be constantly wearing the paint off his composer's stool, Renkse and his bandmates are just as often found retooling their existing material into new forms, a fact that may muddy the catalog a bit for casual fans, thwarting any enthusiasm that may be otherwise wavering on the fence. But, also like Opeth (or even Dream Theater),  Katatonia have amassed a large enough following to be able to comfort themselves chasing their own fleeting muse without putting their livelihoods at stake,  and that brings us to The Fall of Hearts, the first full length album of all new Katatonia material since 2012's Dead End Kings.

A winsome collection of lilting prog and impassioned melodies, The Fall of Hearts takes us even further afield from the metal scene than usual for a latter era Katatonia effort. Relying more than ever on acoustic space and lightly amplified instrumentation, distorted guitars only occasionally pierce through the otherwise contemplative soundscape ("Serac", "Sanction"). The remainder of the album is given over to Renkse's plaintive musings  on life, love and loss, with his band mates complementing his pathos with patiently gorgeous instrumental accompaniment.

Pre-release single "Serein" represents The Fall of Hearts at its most accessible, if reductionist, point of entry. While not a "pop" song by any means, it does bear the fussed over production and  meticulous sense of arrangement that often characterized the more adult-oriented end of 80's AOR. On the other end of the spectrum – and track listing – we have "The Night Subscriber", all sweeping strings and complex arrangements building up to fiery guitar pyrotechnics before returning to a sense of placid gentility.

"Passer" closes the album's 67-minute running time out with a nostalgic bit of retro-Katatonic prog bliss, a bit more amped up than the majority of the album's pleasures but nonetheless more sweeping and  ethereal than virtuosic. Aside from a few cherry picked items like "Sanction" and "Serein", The Fall of Hearts generally resists an attempted unpacking of singles or mixtape fare; the hour-long suite is thoughtfully composed all of a piece, and rewards most those that are willing to invest in it an extended attention span.

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The difficulty of picking apart a Katatonia album and isolating individual songs from the surrounding material is surely one major reason that this band often tours on the back of playing full albums live – or at least leaning heavily on a few select, mutually compatible ones – and that is probably also why these guys frequently feel the need to document those performances, even when it seems that there are far more frequent live albums and re-recordings littering their catalog than new material (another ethos they share with Dream Theater). While such a release schedule may make it proportionately  more  difficult for the neophyte to delve into their canon, such time-sensitive documents prove to be importants snapshots in time for the more fully versed among us. In either case, though, The Fall of Hearts represents both a stellar point of entry into Katatonia's craft as well as a probable centerpiece of the next several years of the band's journey.

Score9.5/10

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