After their 1993 was released, Katatonia struggled with their lineup and other issues, and actually ended up going on hiatus. When they reformed, Jonas Renske wasn't able to do the harsh vocals. They brought aboard Opeth's Mikael Akerfeldt for that task, with Renske handling the clean vocals and drums. The resulting album, Brave Murder Day, tops our list.
Their songwriting approach shifted from their debut album to a more minimalist style that had a lot more emotional punch and power. It's a diverse effort as well, mixing in genres like shoegaze with death and doom metal. Highlights include "Rainroom" and "Brave."
By their fifth album, Katatonia was really dialed in. The melancholy atmosphere and depressive mood adds weight to the songs without dragging them down. Last Fair Deal Gone Down builds and improves on the template laid down on Tonight's Decision.
Renske's vocal performance on this album is top-notch, and new drummer Daniel Liljekvist makes his presence felt as well. The songwriting is impressive with standout tracks like "Chrome" and "Dispossession." The only misfire is "We Must Bury You."
Katatonia's debut had Renske (known then as Lord Seth) doing all vocals and playing drums. Nystrom, aka "Blackheim" was on guitar, with Israphel Wing (Guillaume Le Huche) on bass. Their sound back then was black and death metal influenced doom. And while there were similarities to the Peaceville three, Katatonia's sound was unique.
The songwriting on Dance Of December Souls was complex and intricate. The compositions were lengthy, with two tracks clocking in at more than 13 minutes. It was a powerful debut, marking Katatonia as a musical force that would show themselves to be versatile and adaptable.
As time went on, Katatonia's sound became more and more accessible. Viva Emptiness was still dark and depressing, but not quite as melancholic as its predecessors. It has more of a rock vibe as well, with some remnants of metal still lurking. It's a streamlined effort, with most of the 13 tracks between three and four and a half minutes long.
The production on Viva Emptiness is excellent, really bringing out the depth and complexity of Katatonia's music. Some of my favorite songs on the album include "A Premonition," "One Year From Now" and "Burn The Remembrance."
The first Katatonia album I reviewed for this site, The Great Cold Distance is a sentimental favorite of mine. But in looking at it on its merits, it certainly deserves a spot among their best. Their seventh release exposed them to a wider audience. Most of their existing fan base enjoyed it, and its accessibility and melody gave them more mainstream appeal than ever.
Katatonia's songwriting continues to mature, as they find slightly different and interesting ways to convey the darkness and despair they are known for. The Great Cold Distance is painstakingly constructed and nuanced, the result of expanding and refining their trademark style. It barely edges out Night Is The New Day for the final spot in our top five.