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From The Vaults #15 – Katatonia | ‘Sounds Of Decay’

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

  1. Nice one. Only been listening to this again recently along with BMD. But eh, didn’t Discouraged Ones come after…

  2. NazgulBrian Says:

    On that note – the triple whammy of BMD/Sounds, Discouraged Ones and Tonights Decision all released one after another, pretty much show Katatonia’s evolution perfectly, without a dud in there between them.

  3. Brian you’re right of course. Silly brain slip by me.

    I def thought ‘Sounds’ was the end of one era and ‘Discouraged’ / ‘Tonights / ‘LFDGD’ very definitely a different era – then after that, from ‘Viva’ onwards another era still.

  4. pentecost7 Says:

    A great EP. I personally think that Dance of December souls is worth more of a mention in the vault category. That was an amazing album. Katatonias potential was etched all over that. Overall a great band

  5. Yeah the only thing about DoDS is that there is a slight hamminess to some of it.

    It doesnt have the gravitas that BMD and this one achieved, I think.

  6. fantastic EP, always loved the power in the vocals and the guitar hooks. great

  7. pentecost7 Says:

    Fair point, but Dods is 1993 and very raw while brave murder day had 3 years on it, to perfect their sound. And for the record BMD and Discouraged Ones was their finest hour for me.

  8. Paul keohane Says:

    I adore this ep,this era of Katatonia is just immense,I liked everything up to and including Viva ,but they lost me after that.

  9. nazgulbrian Says:

    Agreed Earl. Love it all to be honest. The gradual progression on those early albums is perfect and they took their time in a positive way. Discouraged introduced the clean vox, but kept the repetition/simplicity. TD then made the full turn of experimenting with structure,which set them up for all of the future turns they’d take with the music.

  10. GaryFreakFlag Says:

    That cover image is a still from Begotten which creeps me the fuck out.

  11. Sound of falling Says:

    Love this EP. I think the tracks are a step up from what was on Brave Murder Day in terms of quality and song structure wise. Would love to have heard a full album done in this style.

  12. Paul keohane Says:

    Yeah a full album would have been mind blowing!.

  13. earl grey Says:

    Apparently there was a fourth song that didnt make it on. Its on the Brave Yesterdays comp – perhaps called ‘Untrue’. I’ve never heard it, kind of dont want to.

  14. Sound of falling Says:

    I have that comp and pretty sure I heard “Untrue”, from what I remember, I was pretty disappointed…

  15. Paul keohane Says:

    I have that comp,must dig it out and take another listen.

  16. Untrue isn’t up to much. A short thing not really worth worrying about.
    Love this EP. We’re playing a song off it with the katatonik gigs next month of course….

  17. Paul keohane Says:

    Any of ye have the Katatonia tribute comp ‘December songs’ from about 10 years back?.Not bad,covers the early stuff,all underground bands I never heard of,again haven’t listened to it in Donkeys.

  18. This was a good read.
    I think Katatonia were so close to perfection on this EP and Brave Murder Day, and in fact Discouraged Ones could have the same said about it.
    Good point about the lyrics too…..I think Brave (from BMD) is lyrically one of the greatest things ever.
    Apparently they went into the studio for Brave Murder Day without any music written? Or?

  19. @ GaryFreakFlag
    didn’t know that now. will take a watch, looks odd!!

  20. These gigs should be listed under the articles

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