PICK OF THE WEEK: Katatonia chill with gloom, melancholic woes on captivating ‘Sky Void of Stars’

Photo by Mathias Blom

Those of us who swim in the seas of personal darkness easily can get swept up in those waves and have a really difficult time trying to find solace in whatever comforts we may have. Basking in it isn’t always the best course of action—though understanding those feelings can be a key to health—and the further out one gets, the harder it is to return to shore.

That feels like a pretty logical transition into “Sky Void of Stars,” the latest record from long-running melancholic doom band Katatonia that lands in our laps in the darkest period of the year. This, their 12th record and first since 2020’s “City Burials,” is 10 (or 11 depending on what version you get) tracks that were written and composed by vocalist Jonas Renkse, whose voice is one of the most identifiable in all of heavy music. And as you may have guessed, the tone here is morose, angry, painful, a collection that delves in that same pit of agony described earlier but dealt with in a productive way through this music. The rest of the band—guitarists Anders Nyström and Roger Öjersson, bassist Niklas Sandin, drummer Daniel Moilanen—continues with Renske down a less metallic path but one that swells with emotion and morbid catchiness that puts a strange energy into the middle of one’s pain. Katatonia are aging incredibly gracefully, and their stranglehold on their style is impressive.

“Austerity” is a fitting opener, a Katatonia track through and through that drives and leans heavily into gothy power, delivering a strong chorus, which is hardly a surprise. “I hear things aren’t well since you sold me out,” Renske calls, his voice as powerful as ever, cold electricity leading the way into the unforgiving night. “Colossal Shade” has bass clouding your vision, the pace getting punchier as Renske howls, “He is the voice of our demise, spitting fire like a mountain, this is us, let’s drain the source.” The darkness plods and makes your limbs heavy, keys pulse, and the emotion drains away. “Opaline” brings drizzling synth and clapped beats, elegance spreading as the temperatures get noticeably colder. The chorus is a puncher, a surge of energy out of the murk, guitars opening and embracing the sleeting. As the track goes on, heat is added to the mix creating a steam that coats your face with thick condensation. “Birds” almost seems like a band anthem considering the symbolism of the title, and it’s energetic, making its strength something with which to contend. “Shut down my mind, is the heart brave enough yet, uncover the skies and show me the birds,” Renske drives, leading a path with burning guitars and trudging power, doing its damage mentally. “Drab Moon” is moody with whirring synth and a smooth pace, Renske lamenting, “Low I go.” The keys spin and confound, the chorus pushes through walls, and the end comes suddenly and forcefully.

“Author” bathes in synth glaze and trudging guitars, adding muscle to the force, heaviness becoming a serious factor. Fiery leads cause smoke to well, and Renske wails, “A sky void of stars, touch the concrete placed on my chest,” giving us our album title. “Impermanence” features Joel Ekelöf of Soen and Willowtree, and the playing melts the ice, the keys making your brain feel like it’s spinning. “We can’t live forever, I gave you my shards of sky,” Renske calls, a strong soloing ripping into the fabric of time, fuming and creating a devastating and strange finish. ​“Sclera” has washed-out singing and an ambiance that feels like it creeps up on you, startling with a cold hand to the back. “Meet up at dusk out on the tracks, quietly stare with poisoned eyes,” Renske sings ominously, mixing moody shadows with solemnity, pulling vulnerability out into the open for all to see. “Atrium” leads with synth strikes and guitars that lap over the earth, daring you to look the storm in the eye. Keys bubble and Renske’s tone gets a little deeper, paying the emotional toll at hand, letting the sharp angles dig into the flesh. “No Beacon to Illuminate Our Fall” is your closer if you have the vinyl edition, a 6:08 power that digs into your bloodstream and threatens with edgier guitars. “I arm my dead mind with the final reason, will sell it to the lowest bidder,” Renske taunts as the playing smears, the heaviness working as a perfect companion to the foreboding dreams. “The more you hurt, the more I love you,” Renske confesses as weighty playing shakes the ground, and an icy ambiance escapes into the night. “Absconder” is a bonus track on the CD and digital formats, and it’s honestly not a throwaway piece. It’s emotional, forceful, and stormy, a strong cut that could have appeared earlier and not been out of place.

Katatonia’s work comes with some expectations, that being goth-laced heaviness, confessional bloodletting, and the feeling like emotional wounds you never considered have risen to the surface. “Sky Void of Stars” fits nicely in their career trajectory, and while their heaviest days remain in the past, they have mastered this frosty power, delivering songs that stick in your mind for days on end. Katatonia show no signs of slowing down, nor do they seem to be gaining any immunity to the pain that plagues all humans as we look despair in the face and try to make our way in defiance.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/katatonia

To buy the album (North America), go here: https://www.napalmrecordsamerica.com/katatonia

Or here (rest of the world): https://napalmrecords.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://label.napalmrecords.com/