Katatonia The Great Cold Distance

Dwarfing the competition without batting an eyelash and raising the bar for multiple genres at once, Swedish gloom mongers Katatonia have delivered nothing short of a masterpiece. Evidently, enduring enough line-up changes, abrupt shifts in musical approach, and lacklustre promotion to sink even the most resilient acts has only strengthened the group’s resolve, as the material presented on The Great Cold Distance is not only their strongest, but also their most dynamic, convicted and convincing work yet. The minor alterations to Katatonia’s delivery introduced on Viva Emptiness have been brought to full fruition here — increasingly frequent and pummelling double-bass, more rhythmic guitar interplay, and less of a reliance on traditional song structure. The heart-rending, infectious choruses have not disappeared, and the group still remain on the periphery of what normally constitutes as metal — there is simply more body, power and aggression to their dark, emotive hard rock than ever before. Vocalist Jonas Renske has exacted much more self-control on this release, sounding more confident and expressive than ever before, while carefully side-stepping the occasional lyrical pitfalls of Viva. Accordingly, guitarist Fredrik Nordstrom has reintroduced the haunting leads that defined the group’s mid-period albums — the group have tweaked and juggled their trademarks to the point of perfection. The production is flawless, with a pristine drum sound and a noteworthy bass presence, and layers upon layers of subtle harmonies and delicate nuances for the dedicated listener to eventually discover. A strong contender for album of the year, it’s hard to imagine anything else of this magnitude arriving anytime soon. Buy. Beg. Steal. (Peaceville)