There are times when one of your favorite bands simply put out a release that you cannot get into, no matter how many times you listen to it. In my case, that is the situation with Katatonia’s The Fall of Hearts. Katatonia has long been one of my most influential artists as each of their releases has helped define an era of my life. However, their ninth full-length, The Fall of Hearts, does not resonate with me on a personal level at all. Objectively, it is a well-composed and intricate album that demonstrates growth in the band instrumentally, yet it misses that little something that evokes feeling within me. Or, is this sentiment simply a reflection of my current state of mind that, perhaps, is not at present compatible with this album? Maybe it will one day click, as many albums in the past have.
The Fall of Hearts sees Katatonia take their sound back a few albums to a sound and atmosphere closer to that of their album, The Great Cold Distance, but take a different subsequent fork in the road. This road leads them to a proggier direction—proggier in the sense of longer and intricate songs with more sections—much like what was presaged in Dead End Kings’ closer Dead Letters. The Fall of Hearts retains the melancholic atmosphere and crunchy guitars of the last few albums, while establishing a particular dull, gray atmosphere unique to this album. The Fall of Hearts may be an example of a band settling into a sound; the last few albums share a similar sound, in contrast to the more substantial differences that differentiated the releases prior to The Great Cold Distance.
What is immediately apparent with The Fall of Hearts is the emphasis on crunchier guitar riffs with substantially more chord changes and variation. Takeover starts off immediately with Tool-ish riffs, ala Dead Letters, and various heavier sections contrasted with mellower parts, to capture the scope of contemporary Katatonia’s sound. The same goes with Serac, which opens with a flurry of drums, crunchy Tool-like guitar riffs, and continues with an uptempo pace with occasional quieter, subdued moments. This very much is the essence of The Fall of Hearts—longer songs with more sections that generally do not push Katatonia into new directions, other than more intricate guitar riffs.
Although song structure and guitar riffs are more complex on this release, the core sound of the album continues to span the scope explored over the past decade. Songs, such as Old Heart Falls, with its powerful chorus, Residual, with its graceful ebb and flow between subdued sections and heavier choruses, or The Night Subscriber and Passer, with their heavier outbursts, are songs that would not be out of place on Dead End Kings or The Great Cold Distance. Yet there are songs, such as Decima and the majestic Pale Flag that emphasize acoustic guitar, which is something that Katatonia has not often explored, save for a few tracks and a reinterpretation of Dead End Kings. There may be heavier moments, more atmospheric moments, and moments in between, yet all within the confines that Katatonia has explored in the past.
So, what is it that is missing from The Fall of Hearts? While I listen to it, I enjoy the more diverse song structures, the more intricate guitar riffs, and the atmosphere, but after each listen I come away empty. This album simply does not resonate with me on a personal level—something that Katatonia has always been able to do. This may just be an album that caters more to those that focus on instrumentation rather than feeling. Jonas Renkse has always been among my favorite vocalists and lyricists, yet this time, his performance falls flat. Lyrically, none of the songs spoke to me; none gave me goosebumps; none made me recall an earlier time in my life, or applied to my present. The vocals often felt drowned out by the music making it difficult to get into the lyrics. The album also feels a little long and drags on, perhaps benefiting if it were a song or two shorter. Despite this, The Fall of Hearts sees Katatonia push their boundaries with regard to compositional complexity, structure, and instrumentation, while staying within the confines of the sound they have established since 2006’s The Great Cold Distance. Musically, The Fall of Hearts is a very good album; however, for an album to be great, it needs to resonate on a personal level in some way, and in my particular case it fails to do that. Hopefully, it does for you.
Genre: Metal, Atmospheric Metal
Label: Peaceville Records
Release: May 20, 2016
3. Old Heart Falls
8. Last Song Before the Fade
10. The Night Subscriber
11. Pale Flag