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Jhva Elohim Meth (1993)

Jhva Elohim Meth... the Revival, was basically the reissue of a previous demo tape, now released on CD in a limited slimcase version by Vic Records. The material had been recorded a year prior, in the summer of 1992. At the time, this must have been quite a peculiar release. While the cover art is vague enough to have suited several different sub-genres of metal, the overall aesthetics would seem to indicate that this was meant to have some relation to the black metal scene, which was growing in popularity throughout the region. There is a pentagram in the logo, the band members have pseudonyms (Lord Seth and Blackheim), and they are photographed wearing corpse paint. Even the song titles seemed to fall in line with this manner of presentation, and it all comes off as very odd. Of course, it is all merely a minor curiosity now. However, at the time of its release, this E.P. must have confused some people. Despite this misrepresentation, this isn't a bad release of Paradise Lost-influenced doom/death.

It opens with the brief intro, "Midwinter Gates (prologue)". The acoustic guitar and keyboard effects (handled by producer, Dan Swan÷) do well to set a somber tone.

"Without God" is the first proper song. The mid-paced doom riffs are very reminiscent of Gothic-era Paradise Lost. There's also a bit of keyboards, which are louder than they need to be. This was corrected on the version that was recorded for the full-length. There is a hopeless feeling running through this, which would have been accentuated even more had the band slowed the song down a bit or done away with the more upbeat sections. This was always one of the drawbacks of early Katatonia, as the feeling wasn't always consistent. It may have been for the purpose of showing contrast between the two and making the more down-tempo riffs stand out that much more, but the execution of this idea was flawed. All in all, the song is memorable and possesses some nice riffs, but it leaves something to be desired regarding the oppressive feeling of doom that should have been the primary focus.

The next song is "Palace of Frost", and the influence of The Cure is quite evident in the first riff. It works well to create a sorrowful atmosphere, which is promptly interrupted by the riffs that follow. They're not bad, but they have no real feeling either way. Near the middle, another doom-laden riff appear, accompanied by a small touch of keyboards. There's a brief transitional riff that leads into a much more hopeless melody. Unfortunately, these moments are all too ephemeral. Where the band truly shines are the moments of despondency and utter despair. Instead of capitalizing on this, they are too quick to jump from one riff to another, losing the overall cohesion in the feeling of the song.

"The Northern Silence" is another track that could have added to the mistaken thought that this might be some black metal release, based on the title. A slow, depressive riff begins the song, before things speed up. The bass is loud in the mix, needlessly so. Again, the song goes from something with the potential to be dark and gloomy and morphs into something rather pointless. There is a dreary section where Lord Seth's raspy, near-black metal, vocals have a nice contrast with the clean singing of Dan Swan÷. Unfortunately, the song is too brief and the actual doom element is not the dominant theme.

The E.P. ends with an outro, "Crimson Tears (epilogue)". This is a decent way to end the release, similar to the way it began. Ultimately, it doesn't add a great deal to the proceedings.

Jhva Elohim Meth... the Revival is a strange release, for a number of reasons. It has potential and is enjoyable. However, it lacks focus in several key areas. The aesthetics of their presentation are reaching for a black metal audience, for some reason. The music has its moments, but fails to make the most of the true moments of darkness and misery found here. The rifs are passed over too quickly, in favour of others that are infinitely inferior and serve only to disrupt the flow. They would go on to learn from their mistakes and to come much closer to making brilliant doom/death metal on Dance of December Souls, though the same faults are found on that release as well, only somewhat contained.
(10 Mar. 2010)

Dance of December Souls (1993)

In early 1993, Katatonia entered Dan Swan÷'s Unisound Studios and began recording their first full-length album. Swan÷ handled the keyboard duties, as he did on the Jhva Elohim Meth E.P. Blakkheim and Lord J. Renkse were joined by a character who called himself Israphel Wing, on bass. But this mattered little, as the project was always the brainchild of the two main members. Rumour has it that the band had more brutal material that they intended to be a part of the album, but were convinced to stick with the slower stuff, as this was where they truly shined. By mid-December 1993, an appropriate time, Dance of December Souls was released.

I discovered Katatonia during a very dismal period of my existence, so I was immediately drawn to it. My friend had purchased one of their albums and I had ignored it when he attempted to let me check it out, since I wasn't in the right frame of mind for such things. However, a short time later I found myself looking for something to better suit my dark mood. For some reason, the stuff was difficult to obtain. In an ironic twist, I managed to track down October Tide's Rain Without End album, first. It was around this time that I was told that the early Katatonia material was very similar, so I doubled my efforts to acquire this. I was teased, by hearing the song "Gateways of Bereavement", on the 'Haunted Mansion'. I then ran across For Funerals to Come and then Brave Murder Day. Each boasted a bleak atmosphere and decent songs, but it was their debut album that I sought. Finally, two years after being introduced to the band, I found a copy of Dance of December Souls.

The album begins with the intro, "Seven Dreaming Souls". This gives a brief glimpse into the darkened abyss. You stand at the edge, looking down into the murky depths, filled with dread and morbid curiosity. You fear that, one day, you will reside there in the deepest chasm of misery and suffering. Just as you turn to walk away, there is a thunderous sound and you are dragged down into eternal torment.

"Gateways of Bereavement" strips your soul of any and all hope and optimistic foolishness. The riffs are slow and heavy, accompanied by crushing drums and somber acoustic notes. The vocals are the desperate screams of a damned soul that has known this existence of true and utter sorrow. There are some hints of keyboards, as well, though only to add to the overall effect. The guitar melodies completely annihilate your withering spirit.

"Let me die"

Jonas Renkse speaks for us all when he screams this line. Deep down, this is what we all want. It is inescapable. This horror that has been visited upon us all, known as life, is something to reject; a prison of flesh to break free of. This is why we try, in whatever feeble manner we might, to fill our lives with something, anything, to take our minds off of this one truth. The song is drenched in an epic atmosphere of everlasting sorrow and a longing for release from this cursed mortal realm. The pace never speeds up, as this is more like a funeral march. Oddly, some more uplifting melodies work their way into things, only to be stamped out. Musically, one can hear a strong influence from early Paradise Lost, and it is put to good use.

"In Silence Enshrined" takes the atmosphere down to a darker level of misery, as this conveyes a sense of grief and loss that most should be able to relate to. The riffs are even more depressive than the previous song, and the vocals seem to be weighed down with an added sense of despondency. There is a musical contrast, as Blakkheim injects these minuscule bits of positivity into the songs, only for them to be crushed and destroyed, leaving no trace. This is similar to life, as fate will occasionally toss us something good, only for it to be torn from us, leaving us in a state of despair and overwhelming darkness.

"In silence I fall through sorrows"

The pace begins to pick up, later in the song, yet it maintains the bleak atmosphere. It almost gives the impression of one attempting to escape from the depths of the abyss, only to realize that they were never out. They were always here, and forever shall remain. As this realization becomes ever clearer, the pace slows down and the desperation in the vocals echoes our own feeling, regarding this sentence that we all must serve. Yet, as we may all suffer a similar fate, it is in solitude that we must bear this agony. Whether surrounded by others or not, we face this doom alone.

The next song already appeared on the Jhva Elohim Meth E.P. The feeling is still dismal, though the subject matter is not as melancholy as the other songs. This one deals with the opposition of the fictional Judeo-Christian god, or rather the nonexistence of this mythical being. There is also some comment on the disillusionment of those who were tricked by the Great Lie, while the narrator appears quite triumphant in his rejection of this false creator.

"Elohim Meth" is an instrumental that bears a desolate feeling. As you are broken and defeated, suffering at the fathomless depths, you have time to reflect back on the wretched existence that you've led. It has all been for nothing. As you lay there, afflicted by the burning cold and the freezing darkness, you begin to realize that this is no nightmare. This is your fate, and the worst is yet to come.

The dismal journey continues with "Velvet Thorns (of Drynwhyl)", which is the longest track on here, clocking in just under fourteen minutes. There is a certain beauty in the sorrow here presented. The sound is almost eloquent in its misery. As the song progresses, the melodies seem to take you even farther down, beyond those realms of anguish that you had begun to adapt to. Immortal torment is what you have ahead of you. Your pathetic soul will be raped of all sanity, leaving you in a feeble state. After a few minutes, the song speeds up a bit and the vocals become far raspier and more shredded.

"I must Die
Through the Sky
And the Forest"

The song gets even slower and the mournful feeling increases. Near the middle of this epic journey through depression and grief, it becomes more unbearable. Left alone on a cold stone, near the raging waters, you find fragments of broken glass and see a way out. You take these jagged shards and open your veins, allowing the blood to flow freely. It appears so black in the pale light, and a sense of relief comes over you as you welcome the end. But the end will not come. You are gripped by panic, as it becomes clear that there is no escape. You can die a thousand deaths, yet here you will remain. In a frenzy of anguish and despair, you shred yourself to pieces, bleeding all over the frozen landscape. Your tears will bring no salvation. Those spirits who are drawn to you will only feed upon this monumental suffering. This is what they wanted, all along. Your whole life has been but a game to them. Whenever you reach a point where you are adjusting to the pain, you see a light at the end of the tunnel. Something good comes into your life and you feel that things will change. But this is not so. You belong to them. Soon, your source of peace and happiness will be taken away, for only through the loss of something dear to you are they able to take you down to a deeper level. The cycle is neverending.

"Tomb of Insomnia" begins with another dejected riff, joined by tortured screams. This song is nearly as long as its predecessor. At this point, you are torn between madness and despair. The utter horror of existence is not something with which the normal human mind can truly come to grips. The slow, funeral march of guitar riffs continues on, and the raspy vocals echo your own internal screams. There is no sleep, no waking, no relief... the nightmare is reality. An added sense of doom is produced from the bass lines, joining the clean guitars, which build the tension. You can feel it in your bones... this isn't the end, or the beginning of the end. It is merely the end of the beginning. All the suffering and torment that you have ever known is but a mere shadow of true pain. This word is misused by so many who would cower before the true face of pain and eternal misery. It is something that resides beyond the comprehension of average mortal intellect. However, once you manage to get a glimpse of this, you will be forever scarred and soon to go mad, as you are slowly drained. This is the fate that awaits each of us.

"Tomb spirits marching in the fields of eternity"

By the middle of the song, there is still some tiny bit of hope remaining, soon to be extinguished and forgotten. With each cycling of the mournful riff and crashing of thunderous drums, you are taken deeper down into the abysmal realm of melancholy. Again, your eyes are filled with a small glimmer of hope, as an almost peaceful melody passes through, joined by clean guitars and keyboards. This is the highest peak that you can expect to see. Just when you think, once again, that you might escape this hell... the gate is closed before you. Around the 11:00 mark, it truly begins. The single most sorrowful melody on the entire album, rips into your chest and annihilates your heart, once and for all. It was all for nothing. Your trust in hope has failed you, and you have failed yourself and all those around you. None will even mourn your passing.

"Purest sorrow, embrace my soul"

The album ends with "Dancing December". This instrumental maintains the hopeless feeling from the last song. Imagine yourself in this abyss of suffering and despair, as viewed by a camera. It is during this song that it pulls back, farther and farther, leaving you to your damnation. Finally, it returns to the surface, showing that the world will, indeed, continue on without you. No one will even so much as notice that you are gone and the few that were unfortunate enough to have known you will be oblivious to your fate and probably wouldn't care either way. Life is pain. Your purpose is to suffer. Nothing more. Embrace the end.
(9 Aug. 2009)

For Funerals To Come (1995)

For Funerals to Come is the third release from Swedish doom metal band, Katatonia. This album is the last to feature the harsh vocals of Jonas Renkse. It is said that after this EP, and then October Tide's Rain Without End album, his throat was too damaged to continue with this style.

The album begins, abruptly, with the song "Funeral Wedding". The melancholy guitars and tortured vocals immediately reach into your chest, like an icy hand, to tear and claw at your heart. The melodies are down-tempo and somber, yet there are many changes throughout the course of the song. There are, somewhat, hopeful-sounding riffs that emerge from the bleak clouds if only to lull you into a false sense of optimism, before sending you crashing back into the jagged ice. After a sorrowful lead, there is a section of mostly bass that precedes even more tormented vocals. It might be more pleasing if there were less riff changes and if the mood was more consistent (as on Rain Without End) but these odd moments of uplifting riffs may be similar to when some ephemeral peace comes into one's life. The dark forces that feed on our suffering need more than that which we can give. We all get used to the misery, at some point or another. It becomes a part of us or we simply become empty, thus dulling the effect. These dismal shadows become displeased with this. They must provide some impetus that will allow us to begin to feel again, for the sole purpose of sending us crashing back down so that the misery and pain is fresh, once more. As this depressive opus nears its conclusion, the screams are beyond agonizing, as those of one who is torn from his comfortable grave and thrust back into the abysmal torment of eternity. His throat sounds absolutely shredded, as one who has gone into a suicidal frenzy and taken a razor to their neck.

"Shades of Emerald Fields" is less epic than the previous song. As it begins, it is really nothing so special. A couple minutes in, there is a nice tremolo riff that gets far too little time to grow. About midway through, the atmosphere of despair returns to strangle you. It gets very silent, with but a soft guitar and the appearance of bleak and dismal clean vocals, sounding like one who has almost no energy left to continue living.

"For Funerals To Come" features a very mournful guitar melody. This is, quite possibly, the darkest piece of the whole EP. The atmosphere is gloomy and hopeless. You are laying on the cold ground, weak and dying. A bloody blade is there next to you. Your flesh is mutilated beyond repair, and your crimson life has flowed freely. You then hear the nightmarish chanting...

"Through the bleak window of my soul
In marble halls of falling snow
Winter touch the Earth undone
Embittered, we embrace the funerals to come"

"Epistel" is a brief outro of screeching noises, perhaps to represent the sounds of your spirit being torn out of your body and transcending to a realm beyond, where what we know as pain is but a mere shadow and true suffering awaits all, for ever.
(1 Feb. 2009)


Brave Murder Day is the second full-length from Katatonia, released in November 1996. Recorded in Swan÷'s Unisound Studio, this album demonstrates a rather significant stylistic change from the previous record. In the time that had passed, the band had apparently broken up for a while, which was the impetus behind the creation of October Tide. By the time the decision was made to resurrect Katatonia, Jonas had destroyed his throat and a new vocalist had to be recruited. Along with the new guitarist and additional musical inspirations, the stage was set for the band to enter a new phase of its existence.

Upon first listen, it would seem that Brave Murder Day has little in common with Katatonia's earlier material. Particularly if you are one to get a CD and to check out the first few seconds of each song, it's likely that you'd end up writing this one off. The down-picked riffs that dominate much of the album represent quite a change from the monumental Death/Doom of Dance of December Souls. Unfortunately, there are no epic tracks like "Gateways of Bereavement" and "In Silence Enshrined" to be found here. It could be said that the rather powerless strumming of the guitars accentuates the overall atmosphere of the album, as it is done in such a lifeless and miserable way. The monotonous rhythms seep into your mind and begin to wear you down so that, by the time the heavier doom riffs are unleashed, you're simply crushed without resistance. In some instances, the downpicking is combined with haunting melodies that work together in creating a truly miserable and hopeless feeling, such as in "Rainroom". Furthermore, buried in between these sections are slower riffs and melodies that hearken back to the band's earlier work. Around the 1:50 mark of "Brave", things slow down and the melancholic guitars don't sound too far from the middle part of "Tomb of Insomnia", for example.

New guitarist Fredrik Norrman fit the band like a glove, at the time. One has to wonder if his contributions to the band had anything to do with the more coherent songwriting, as the For Funerals to Come mCD, and even parts of the debut album, suffered from poor arrangements and a sense of inconsistency. One can definitely hear influences here from his collaboration with Renkse on Rain Without End. In fact, perhaps the October Tide full-length should be considered the direct predecessor to this album. The guitar tone, in general, has a lot more in common with that record than with the earlier Katatonia releases. As for the actual compositions, there are a lot of similarities between Rain Without End and Brave Murder Day. The slower part of "Murder", for example, is somewhat reminiscent of "12 Days of Rain", while "Rainroom" and "Blue Gallery" feature comparable melodies. It would be difficult to deny that the odd interlude "Losing Tomorrow", with its clean gothic vocals and programmed drums, was not the model for the terrible abomination titled "Day". The main difference being that the latter is more clear and far less effective. Another resemblance would be the use of clean guitar bits throughout the album, such as in "Brave" and "Endtime". Indeed, the latter would absolutely have fit on Rain Without End, right alongside "Infinite Submission". Even the vocal style is rather similar. Though Mikael ┼kerfeldt handled the vocals on Brave Murder Day, he seems to have modeled his performance on Renkse's deeper vocals from Rain Without End, for the most part. Still, there are times when he also utilizes a few higher-pitched growls that are reminiscent of "Funeral Wedding".

Though this album does well to create an atmosphere of gloom and depression, it is not without its faults. Sadly, Jonas refused to be left out of vocal aspect of the album, feeling the need to soil a few of the tracks with his new-found clean singing voice. Not only was this record stained by the lackluster and pathetic track, "Day", but he nearly ruined "Endtime" and (to a more severe extent) "Rainroom" with such weak passages of quiet music joined by his whining. Speaking of weak, the original CD was sent off to the pressing plant without being mastered in any way, which apparently accounted for how quiet the CD was and the overall weak feeling of the music. While writing this, I became aware that the 2006 re-release on Peaceville has been mastered, thus giving it a louder and fuller sound.

Katatonia may have become better at composing their songs by the time of Brave Murder Day, but some of the choices that they made resulted in an inferior outcome. Its flaws as well as the various changes that had occurred since 1993, leave this record simply unable to match the quality of Dance of December Souls. As a matter of fact, all things told, Katatonia's second offering is not even as solid as the first October Tide L.P. Nevertheless, it's not a bad album, and if you are less picky and don't mind the clean vocals (especially if you're a fan of the albums that followed this one), it is worth checking out. With a bleak and oppressive atmosphere of melancholy and despair, this record might serve as good background music while you write out your suicide note.
(9 Feb. 2016)

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