KATATONIA and OPETH have historically been muttered in the same breath as fellow impresarios of fugue metal, even if the former hasn't been anything remotely close to metal in quite some time. Of course, the bands shared Mikael Åkerfeldt through the Nineties, so they were bound to share the spotlight as well. Over the years, however, the two bands have become divisible even while rolling as touring mates. Since "Discouraged Ones" and "Last Fair Deal Gone Down", KATATONIA have taken ongoing steps away from a pure metal path. OPETH continues to embrace it while exploring new courses, as "Damnation" and most recently, "Heritage", have proven. In both cases, their progressive refinement is world-class.
Since their transformation that came as much out of necessity due to Jonas Renkse's battered vocals that demanded a clean-sung repertoire, KATATONIA has excavated labyrinths of atmosphere in search of an alternative and prog-grounded emotiveness. Long gone is the dusky grit from the early years when KATATONIA was the two-man operation of Renkse and Anders Nyström. As if the duo could foresee where the band has found itself on the heels of "Brave Murder Day", one of the band's last authentic metal albums. Today, KATATONIA keeps a spotless yet spacious music space, while Jonas Renkse has evolved into a beguiling, if frequently sullen vocalist.
Last year, KATATONIA took another major step away from their metal roots with "Dead End Kings", a revelatory album that stripped down even more static than ever before. "Dead End Kings" pushed out heavy tones incrementally while embracing piano, synths, strings and an overall gentler touch that nevertheless hit home.
Now this year comes "Dethroned & Uncrowned", a largely acoustic reworking of the "Dead End Kings" album for Kscope, sister label to the band's main hub, Peaceville Records. Suffice it to say, KATATONIA strips things down even further on the redux, manufacturing even more elegance out of these eleven songs. While "Dead End Kings" manages to flex stray bars of electric muscle, "Dethroned & Uncrowned" hones deeper on the six- and twelve-string dreaminess that served as the former album's epicenter, now this one's apex.
Instead of making this a pure acoustic project, KATATONIA spills extensive piano scales, chamber fugue, Mellotron, synthesized beats, brass, reed instrumentation and acoustic bass to broaden the plaintive moods of the original songs. "Dethroned & Uncrowned" is thus stunning and quixotic, even more so than "Dead End Kings". Every song in transition is a success, most notably "The Parting", "The One You Are Looking For is Not Here", "Lethean", "Hypnone" and "Dead Letters".
The near-naked character is essentially the same throughout "Dethroned & Uncrowned", which means this re-imagination is demure, seductive and inspiring, even with KATATONIA's frequent themes of dirge and despondency. The lulling melodies of "Dead Letters" is so gorgeous one could picture it accompanying a Gothic romance film. In particular is a singular acoustic twine draped across an encompassing bridge that feels both windswept and amorous. This version of "Dead Letters" is by far one of KATATONIA's most engaging and articulate productions to-date.
The breezy cello and deeper accented piano plucks on this take of "The Parting" is enthralling in its own right, while THE GATHERING vocalist Silje Wergeland's vertigo-inducing parts on "The One You are Looking for is Not Here" are pushed up towards the front of the mix this time. The strategy allows for more congruency with Jonas Renkse's fervent swooning. Together the duet sounds as captivating as the massive layers of synth, string, piano and echoing percussion heaped into this inveigling cut of the song.
There are only a couple of spots on "Dethroned & Uncrowned" where electric guitars are retained, such as "Hypnone" and "Ambitions". In turn, the distortion is struck altogether from the jazzier, piano-driven noodling on "Buildings", the one moment on "Dead End Kings" that came close to constituting actual metal attributes.
This album's version of "Ambitions" slinks on an erotic crawl via an echoing drum machine as it does with smooth syncopation and flirtatious Mellotron on "The Racing Heart" prior to. In the latter's case, Jonas Renkse pulls off a near-close imitation of Seal. "Undo You" later rides upon tertiary coatings of cello, Mellotron and piano that garnish the primary acoustic spools and Renkse's placid wheedling. Despite the deathly odes of the song, "Undo You" gains momentum on this version from its initial conveyance of desperateness, nudging out of its bleak conundrum with flowing aspiration.
While absorbing the soul-torn despair of its predecessor, "Dethroned & Uncrowned" thrusts "Dead End Kings" onto a more dignified platform where further grandeur is raided and then pampered with the deepest respect. This could've been a cheap ploy to ride the success "Dead End Kings", but it's a testament to KATATONIA's gifted ensemble they manage to far outclass its predecessor. "Dethroned & Uncrowned" mirrors OPETH's magnificent "Damnation" in certain fashions, but KATATONIA proves here they have smartly mapped out their future, one that could find them scoring a film project or gracing an orchestra hall. Without using direct metal overtures, KATATONIA has helped legitimize the genre with as much class and poise as their celebrated countrymen.