Viva Emptiness
/peaceville; 2003/




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Dave Rebel once said : “Sweden is not only made of blonde porno stars and tennis players. Northern guys, you know, they are really good at playing amazing metal stuff even if it’s 30° below 0.” I knew he meant to cheer me up when he told me that but I had never met neither of those stereotypes up so far in my life so I could not skillfully embrace the meaning of his words. I had never heard about Katatonia before and I am glad that a copy of the new album arrived at the webzine's headquarters.

Katatonia (it’s K not C, like KFC) comes from Sweden and their music shall be classified as metal, even if the term is clearly reductive when listening closely to this album. My limited knowledge of metal and SEB WOOd’s constant urge for spotting references leads me to call in the names of Tool, A Perfect Circle, Smashing Pumpkins and Metallica when talking about “Viva Emptiness” because of the perfectly handed out balance between heavy music and softer (darker of course) atmospheres altogether with refined vocals. It’s sometimes a little goth, sometimes black, sometimes pop metal but in the end it is undoubtedly heavy. Don’t misread me, I am only dropping names for the sake of my job.

The quality of Katatonia’s songs is not spoiled by an excessive repetition of gimmicks, at least it is not for my novice ear. A lot of songs are build on a soft verse / heavy chorus pattern with a great variety of moods, riffs, bridges and instrumental pieces. The singer never urges into some useless gutturals even on the heaviest parts, preferring calm and almost religious voicings which gives Katatonia’s music a continuous subtle balance between heaviness and mystery throughout the record. As Dave Rebel once said :”A whisper in a girl’s ear is wiser than a fart in her bed sheets”.

‘Ghost of the Sun’ opens the album as a warm up for the rest with it’s a-maze-ing structure; it’s the clean parts in the middle of this song that makes me think of Metallica. ‘Wealth’ is my favourite on the record because it’s the perfect example of how they skilfully chain up distorted outbursts and smooth melodies. ‘One year from now’ is an uncomplicated ballad about hope and love doomed to be underground. The keyboards on some songs sometimes head towards black metal ambiances like on the beautiful instrumental ‘Inside the city of glass’. Etc…

I truly like this album but I feel obliged to point out 2 major flaws about it in order to be strictly objective. First, the poor quality of the lyrics and I mean the words, not the way they are sung. Maybe it wasn’t wise to have them all reprinted because they are sometimes really dull and shallow, falsely vindictive and full of stereotypes ( haven’t you heard the truth is untrue… look at me now they have cut my hair… they kicked me down and I could not rise…come sit with me at the bar / no one here knows my name…etc). I think the beautiful artwork would have been sufficient to fill up the booklet. Second, the song ‘Omerta’ which is an awful Nickelbackilistic folk ballad at the end of the album that violently cooled off my enthusiasm when I first listened to the album.

Eventually, the huge wave of neo-metal is starting too cool off, only a few giants and some pure metal bands will survive. Katatonia may be one of these.

As Dave Rebel once said :” Take your hand off”

-Angus Anderson

/apr 1st 2003/