Every time KATATONIA has graced us with one of their more recent albums, we've all gushed about how it's the most lush and realized version yet of their bleak, lonely vision, and how it's going to be so impossible to top it next time they drag their maundering carcasses back into the studio. You'd think we'd have learned by now.
"Night Is the New Day" starts out with a big, booming guitar that portends a part of what KATATONIA is up to circa 2009. The heavy parts are big, expansive open chords ringing and lead-heavy tones tolling — but they're interspersed with quiet, somber electronics, and unobtrusive acoustic guitar accents, all in service of the epic vocal lines, which carry most of the weight of providing hooks and heart to the songs. Put it all together, as on the plaintive chorus to "The Longest Year", and it's a densely-layered groundswell of melancholia, plain-spoken, heart-rending and fairly creaking under the weight of its own hurt and weary longing.
Elsewhere, the atmosphere opens up slightly, without the heavy guitars, for a sound that recalls PORCUPINE TREE to an extent (see "Idle Blood" and vulnerable album closer "Departer"). Elsewhere, on "Liberation", the heavy guitars come back in, but not in an obvious, verse-chorus-verse way — there's a repeating guitar hook that makes the song, as much as the actual sung chorus does, and helps build things to a glum, cathartic climax. "Nephilim", arguably the album's best song, brings together a somewhat dissonant, minor-chord chorus that sounds more like a sardonic funeral chant, with a plodding beat and an oppressive atmosphere, alongside a soothing, almost pretty verse with lilting female backing vocals.
It's these juxtapositions, sometimes in unexpected places, that keep KATATONIA from sinking under the weight of their admittedly dour worldview into maudlin parody. The sound of "Night Is the New Day" won't seem foreign to anyone who's been following the band, but the confidence they show in creating an ambient, echo-laden track like "Inheritance", or the aforementioned "Nephilim", shows a band gradually, almost glacially expanding their palette without ever losing sight of their despairing Muse. Depending on your point of entry into the catalog, you could voice minor quibbles about wanting more driving, "Tonight's Decision"-era guitar, or more of the heavier bent shown on 2006's "The Great Cold Distance" more often. But soon, as it always happens, the opaque fog of KATATONIA's depressive aura blankets dissent, then reason, and the listener is bent to the band's will and taken on the journey — uncomfortably numb, but we'd want it no other way.