~reviewed by Eric Rasmussen
There are bands that depress, and bands that sing about being depressed. Katatonia is a combination of the two, writing solid music that any crestfallen individual can surely relate to and appreciate. But Viva Emptiness is also compelling enough to induce depression - mainly thanks to vocalist Jonas Renkse. His semi-alternative rock approach to goth metal is depressing as hell, even if his lyrics sometimes suffer from silliness. As far as I'm concerned, he could sing the etymology of words beginning with 'Q' and I'd be just as captivated. There's a certain honesty to his smoothly flowing vocals, and I have to wonder if he often breaks down during recording or simply doesn't get out of bed most days.
Katatonia established a solid sound on Discouraged Ones, and pretty much kept at it until this newest effort. Viva Emptiness is a much needed change of pace. Katatonia's previous composition style consisted of neatly phrased riffs with Renkse on vocals... and that was about it. Now the guitars creep in the background with haunting, reverberating arpeggios, they rage at the meaninglessness of it all with hard-edged metal grooves, and they even provide compelling lead melodies or off kilter Tool-ish riffs. Although Renkse hasn't changed his vocal approach to any great degree, he adapts well to the band's improved songwriting, and his emotionally laden crooning takes on faster rhythms or bitterly venemous shouts as necessary.
The drums and bass complete the rhythm section and add another welcome aspect to the troubled Katatonia feel. The keyboards are used more for background ambience than lead melodies or solos, but they're always tastefully played and provide another cushioned layer of sound for the listener to sink into. On Tonight's Decision and Last Fair Deal Gone Down, I enjoyed the music greatly, but rarely forgot about the fact that I was listening to songs by a band. Viva Emptiness approaches a deeper form of music with vividly painted soundscapes that you can lose yourself in.
As always, Travis Smith's artwork in the liner notes enhances the overall feel of the CD. His terrifying and barren cityscapes convey a sense of desolation and the trace lingering of violence and death. It's rare that an album has artwork so appropriate to the music, except in the case of other Travis Smith projects, but Katatonia's choice in image gives insight into the feel they're going for. If you like the depressing alternative rock side of goth metal, listen to Katatonia. And if you have yet to hear the band, you're missing out on one of goth/doom metal's most honestly dark and worthwhile acts.
Katatonia - Official Site: