Every single time I play this EP, I ask myself: ‘is it perfect?’
And every single time, I think it is.
It might be only three tracks long, but contained within its short span is the quintessence of a band doing their absolute best work, feeling and living their music. The power and melancholy in it are incredible.
Released in 1997, it remains a high water mark in the underground.
But let’s go back to 1996, when Katatonia had just put out ‘Brave Murder Day’ – the album where they truly arrived. Though it was far from their debut, it might has well have been.
No band before them had recalled Paradise Lost’s vintage tones so faithfully, while their repetitious, simple and hypnotic insistence were a decidedly new approach. The plaintive, miserable tracks were written brilliantly: and the vocals of Mikael Akerfeldt, himself still riding high on the critcial acclaim of Opeth’s ‘Morningrise’, were haunting.
The three tracks on ‘Sounds Of Decay’ continued to mix those same ingredients, to remarkable effect.
Everything Decays In Me
Its opening is one that still sends sparkles down the spine.
Every time you put it on, you anticipate what’s coming, and you are rewarded. Here’s how it goes.
A quick drum fill, before the most woebegone leadline that is itself pure Katatonia, hitting some ‘wrong notes’ in their own inimitable way. Well, Gregor Mackintosh’s too.
Then a feedback howl and the pace picks up, before Akerfeldt’s charcoal roar –
Everything decays in me / I fail to commit my useless days
It is one of those moments in metal that is burnt into you. Once heard it is never forgotten.
Katatonia were always good with lyrics, and this song, ‘Nowhere’, is among their greatest. Two thirds through, the plucked guitar comes in adding distance and ghostliness, but allowing the stomped guitar chords to boom over them.
It picks up pace for one last run, allowing that wraith-like roar of Akerfeldt’s to coarse through.
Redemption In The Gloom
Before Katatonia got a lot more interested in groove over the last decade, they were always known for their repetitious 4/4 drive.
Nowehere is it more forceful than ‘At Last’, with it’s strident, leaned-in charge. Once again, the plaintive metal gives way to those ethereal plucked clean guitars that almost, but not quite, offer some redemption from the gloom.
Again, Akerfeldt’s roar, with some nice delayed echo here and there, gives a wrought-iron grey texture to the music.
When the ‘So forget me… lyrics finishes and that main guitar lick comes in again, the feel of somehow restrainedpower is incredible. And yet again, those lyrics – ‘All my flowers withered today… – are wonderfully penned.
Then the closer, ‘Inside The Fall’, is a bit different. It’s less straight, and less predictable.
After an ascent of dual guitar harmonizing, it all stops to let a singular, guitar pluck repeatedly in an absolutely satanic sounding, diabolous in musica lick. This is one of the EP’s best moments, as the pulsing bass underneath does its work.
It all ends on a resolutely unfinished note – unresolved and unloved.
Drunk And Disorderly
So. Three brief songs, and yet it’s something of a masterpiece. How?
It’s story is an odd one. The band had gone into the studio in 1997 drunk, and laid a version of it that was so bad they had to do it again.
Apologizing to the label, they re-recorded with just Jonas Renkse and Blackheim doing all the music, along with Akerfeldt’s vocals. Their bassist, Fred Norrman, wasn’t even told about the mishap until afterwards.
One can only wonder what could, or more likely couldn’t, have been. This little EP might just have sounded a lot different. In a way the underground is lucky for the mishap, because whatever focused Renkse and Blackheim’s minds clearly worked.
It’s also worth remembering that Mikael Akerfeldt and Jonas Renkse actually lived together at around this time as well. Broke, but both determined to craft their different musical visions, this record marks the intermingling of Opeth and Katatonia’s high styles from around this era.
It was gothic without being gothic at all. Yet at the same time, unalterable metal in its purest form.
It was also, I feel, one of the last records of a very real and meaningful underground. Where dark emotion and haunted sentiment really made it into albums and EPs untained by commercialism and banalities. It is an outstanding example of the sound of a real, genuine underground.
That it came out on the much missed Avantgarde records speaks to that.
It would also mark the end of old Katatonia and the beginning of something new – for after it came ‘Discouraged Ones’, a markedly different record and one that would set the tone for their next decade’s work.
Listening to it brings back that time. Cold, pewter guitar sounds and a voice that almost came from some spirit world – if you dont own this, you really should.
–Earl Grey ::: 06/06/15