Even today, over a year and a half after I got my hands on this album, I still listen to it an unhealthy amount. Rarely does an album have such a strong effect on me or cause such an emotional attachment, yet Katatonia pressed all of the right buttons on Night Is the New Day. I stand behind my original statement that this was the best album of 2009 and I may even venture to go a bit further now, putting it as one of the top 10 albums of the last decade. That's right, I said it. Dispute it if you want! This was originally published on January 22, 2010.
In the 18 years that Katatonia have been in existence, they have undergone quite the transformation over their 8 studio albums, starting with 1993’s Dance of December Souls and leading up to their latest, Night Is the New Day. They started their career playing doomy death metal that, at times, seemed to plod along a little too slowly and didn’t really portray what the band would eventually turn into. However, mid-career the band suddenly found their formula. With 2001’s Last Fair Deal Gone Done Katatonia created a gothic metal masterpiece. Keeping the mood of their doom metal approach and infusing it with alternative and gothic metal put the band in a unique position where they could create undeniably listenable compositions, but compositions that were nonetheless some of the most heart-wrenchingly melancholic pieces of music you could listen to. Over the course of Katatonia’s next three albums, they took this magic formula and continually refined it, leading to what can be seen as the band’s crowning achievement--Night Is the New Day.
The album starts off with the oppressively heavy “Forsaker”, a track in which the band are able to attack you with thundering riffs, yet pull at your heart strings with Jonas Renkse’s otherworldly melodic vocals. Throughout the album he is able to fuse each note he sings with an air of hope slightly tinged by loss. It should not be taken as a slight to the rest of the band, but Katatonia would not be the band that they are without Renkse’s unique, haunting, and utterly beautiful vocals. But back to the song at hand, “Forsaker,” beyond showcasing Renkse, is also the culmination of Katatonia’s trademark sound. The song swings from gigantic riffs to downplayed, contemplative passages, to a combination of the two… all the while transitioning between these different elements smoothly and elegantly.
The second track, “The Longest Year,” builds on the dynamics of “Forsaker” to become the second strongest song on the album. It starts with a slow, timid, nearly hopeful passage complete with a nicely understated built up atmosphere, only to be interrupted by the explosively strong riffs of Anders Nystrom and Fredrik Norman. Combining the power of the established riffs with the song's early atmospherics, the song almost feels like it builds a mood of hope, culminating in a final plea of the chorus, before fading out with no answer.
“The Longest Year” isn’t the only song that seems to play with this “hopeful” sound, and as you may have noticed "hope" seems to be a running theme when discussing this album. Throughout this album, you will get an eerie feeling of hope fomenting underneath each song. As is the case with each Katatonia release, however, the ultimate feeling left with the listener is of a subtle expression of the beauty found in depression. On Night Is the New Day, Katatonia has found that final element that they needed to add into their already potent mix in order to take the next step needed for adding even more weight to their sound.
There are still moments of overwhelming and unfettered dread and doom, such as on the tracks “The Promise of Deceit” and “Liberation”, with each being a cry to the abyss and a call to oblivion. However, that sense of dread is so tastefully complemented by an underlying theme of dashed hope and unfulfilled wanting on nearly every other track on this album. Songs such as “Inheritance” and “Idle Blood” highlight perfectly the manner in which Katatonia craft emotionally challenging songs that appeal to both your sense of hope and your fear of unfulfillment.
Because of the new ways in which Katatonia are able to touch listeners, emotionally and audibly, this album, as mentioned before, is the shining jewel of their discography. The grandiosity of the album’s overwhelming themes of hope, and its subsequent loss, drive it into the upper echelon of doomy, depressive, gothic metal. It is because of this that I have no problem saying that Night Is the New Day was, hands down, the best album to come out of 2009.