The Fall of Hearts Album Review
  • 5/5
Reviewed by Jordan Blum

Twenty-five years into its career, Katatonia still offers fans an aural journey unlike any other, and ‘The Fall of Hearts’ is as strong an example of that as anything that preceded it.

As any fan will tell you, Sweden is one of the most fruitful places for modern progressive music. After all, the country spawned several of the genre’s best acts—including Opeth, Anekdoten, Beardfish, Pain of Salvation, Meshuggah, and Änglagård—over the last thirty years alone. Of course, Stockholm quintet Katatonia also deserves as spot at the top of that list, having crafted roughly a dozen praiseworthy full-lengths between 1993 and 2015. Distinguished for its blend of gothic sentiments, angelic vocals, and luscious yet bleak instrumentation, the band never fails to captivate with its characteristic style. Katatonia may be celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary this year, but it hasn’t lost a shred of what makes it special, as its tenth studio album, The Fall of Hearts, is every bit as graceful, tragic, and exceptional as its predecessors. 

The group was formed in 1991 by vocalist Jonas Renkse and guitarist Anders Nyström, and it’s endured several line-up changes in the subsequent years (including the departures of both drummer Daniel Liljekvist and guitarist Per Eriksson in 2014). As a result, The Fall of Hearts is the first studio album with their replacements, drummer Daniel Moilanen and guitarist Roger Öjersson. Fortunately, both do outstanding work alongside Renkse, Nyström, and bassist Niklas Sandin.

Mastered by renowned producer/engineer Jens Bogren, the record follows 2013’s Dethroned & Uncrowned (itself a reimagining of 2012’s Dead End Kings) and 2015’s live outing, Sanctitude, both of which helped exemplify “the band’s journey toward this, their current, more progressive sound.” Thematically, it provides another “immersive and frequently disarming journey through the bleakest of metaphysical winters . . . Katatonia continue[s] to wring life-giving drops of hope from the fabric of our collective downfall.” Assessing the newest incarnation and output of Katatonia, Nyström comments, “there’s nothing hold[ing] back or limiting Katatonia’s potential, neither in the studio nor on stage.” Indeed, The Fall of Hearts is easily among the band’s most confident, consistent, and cherishable sequences.

As usual, the collection begins with one of its strongest pieces, “Takeover.” Rather than feature a proper instrumental lead-in, the track incorporates vocals and music almost simultaneously. Renkse layers his gentle delivery over calming rhythms and guitar arpeggios, yielding a blend that’s pure Katatonia. Naturally, the arrangement becomes extra aggressive as it goes, with heavy riffs and syncopation cascading around impassioned singing. Renkse conveys as much soothing conviction as ever, proving once again why he’s such an idiosyncratic and alluring vocalist, and like the entire record, the song’s overarching synthesis of beauty and brutality is excellent.

“Serein” follows with a hypnotic central guitar lead that, despite eventually becoming buried beneath opaque collages, never loses its appeal. Near the end, a serene passage appears, allowing for some delicate piano work underneath soaring guitar notes and pounding percussion before the main section is reprised. Once again, Katatonia handles dynamic shifts expertly. Afterward, both “Old Heart Falls” and “Decima” bring heightened ethereal and somber coatings, with many lovely timbres dispersed within the mix, while “Sanction” balances fierce riffs and drums with wonderful harmonies and peaceful transitions; in a way, it’s like a divine fusion of Metallica and Camel. “Residual” rounds out the first half of The Fall of Hearts with some of the LP’s strongest motifs and variations in intensity.

A clear highlight of the second half is “Last Song Before the Fade,” as it begins with charming stillness before erupting into heated antagonism. On the other hand, “Shifts” mixes mild piano notes with relaxing arpeggios and melodies throughout, and this fusion, coupled with some of Renkse’s most striking harmonies ever, makes it shine. “The Night Subscriber” comes next and includes some of the full-length’s most destructive moments (although it still houses many blissful elements, too), while “Pale Flag” stands out due to its emphasis on tribal percussion and acoustic guitar work. Lastly, “Passer” concludes the collection with more dynamic alterations, so it follows a similar path as some of the aforementioned pieces, yet what sets it apart is the amount of subtle effects going on behind the scenes. It’s not the most distinctive song here, but it nevertheless delivers an empowering finale.

The Fall of Hearts doesn’t add anything noticeably new to the Katatonia formula, but with such a distinguishing and treasurable method already in place, it doesn’t need to. Instead, the band’s tenth studio outing solidifies even further its place among the top progressive metal acts of its era. Just as all of the aforementioned genre darlings provide exclusive listening experiences, Katatonia strikes an unmatched chemistry with its tender, dense, and dejected instrumentation, vocals, and lyricism, oscillating constantly between enmity and tranquility with exceptional wisdom and skill. Twenty-five years into its career, Katatonia still offers fans an aural journey unlike any other, and The Fall of Hearts is as strong an example of that as anything that preceded it.


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