Album: The Fall of Hearts (2016)
Genre: progressive metal
Where to buy: here
Though they began their career out of a love for death metal, Katatonia’s The Fall of Hearts is true progressive metal. The lengthy album (67 minutes, plus several bonus tracks in various international releases) features challenging and fluctuating meters, unexpected dynamic shifts, creative divisions of verses, frequent and fancy grace notes and trills to augment otherwise straightforward progressions, technical soloing: everything you expect to hear in modern prog metal. That said, The Fall of Hearts is also startlingly contemplative and melancholy. The lyrics are mournful and introspective; there are several laments to lost love, lost life, the concept of absence and oblivion in general. A few songs even make more sense when understood in the voice of an already-dead speaker, and it works. Lots of metal bands try to evoke a perspective of the dead, and it usually comes across as aspirational posturing, but Katatonia succeeds by taking a slower, more thoughtful approach.
The Fall of Hearts has a beautiful clean sound in its production. The guitars are more often warm and clear than distorted and aggressive. There are certainly overdriven metal moments and a few choruses demand them – the opening track, “Takeover,” is a complex opus of shifting musical sands driven mostly by a lone distorted guitar but buttressed by clean guitars, echoing keyboards, and chorused singing. “Sanction” relies on heavily distorted power chords to bookend its vocals and clean verses. “Serac” uses fast riffs that alternate between big distorted chords and single distorted lines as the backbone of its structure. But even these more traditionally metal songs feature soft and clean-tone guitar lines, quiet interludes, and soft and airy instrumentation to complement the vocal harmonies. These are bold decisions and would not be nearly so efficacious were the album’s thematic material less worthy.
In addition to the melody instruments, the drumming on The Fall of Hearts is fantastic. Daniel Moilanen plays so tightly that the smallest shifts in tempo would throw off the potency of nearly any of the album’s numerous counterpoints. Many of the quick guitar lines rely on his absolute precision, easily noticed by even a non-drummer. Even in less structurally adventurous songs, such as the magnificent “Last Song Before the Fade,” he adds fills and hits that supply an appropriate fullness to the song. Listen to how he keeps the melody buoyed as the the rest of the instruments drop out as singer Jonas Renske sings the title lyrics.
With The Fall of Hearts, Katatonia has created a mature metal album that pushes the boundaries of what a prog metal can be. It’s a long listen but rewards the attentive listener both musically and thematically with beautiful production of challenging songwriting.