Although the phrase 'symphonic, atmospheric doom-metal' may conjure up visions of ten minute long, utterly thankless, glum-faced instrumentals, the eighth full-length offering from Swedish doom-metallers Katatonia administer eleven shots of compact, melodic doom-metal that bucks the genre's trend for self-indulgence. Excitement and energy may be completely absent from this record (it is doom-metal, after all) but its restraint and surprising tunefulness, may just lure in a few people whose experience of doom-metal was previously limited to HIM.
'Night Is The New Day' has a very particular way of doing doom-metal: it lays down a lumbering, two tonne guitar line and shrouds it in echoes, creating a haunting sense of empty space that's guaranteed to give you the shivers. This formula is perfectly encapsulated on album-highlights 'Forsaker' and 'The Longest Year.' The first drapes its hunkering guitars in glimmery chords, tinkling pianos and gossamer female guest vocals; while on 'The Longest Year' it's lamenting strings that weave and echo around the peripheries of the song. Both tracks are straightforward, heavy and loud - three of the requirements for doom-metal - however, Katatonia's delicacy of touch mean they never once feel like cheesy, contrived, bombastic metal.
Another overriding feature of 'Night Is The New Day,' are multi-layered, scuzzed-up vocals. Although the fact that frontman Jonas Renkse doesn't have the world's strongest voice, may have something to do with the predominance of fuzzy vocals, it's an effect that plays perfectly into this album's echoey production. On 'Onwards Into Battle' Renkse's vocals perfectly compliment the distorted guitars: together, they leave the listener pleasantly disorientated. Amongst this fug, glints the occasional sharp point of a clearly-defined guitar line, and the whole thing is finished off with curiously groovy drumbeats. It's an alt-rock head-twister, with a smattering of quirky hooks that'll burrow into your long term memory. An album highlight.
On the subtly folky, metal balladry of 'Idle Blood' Renkse demonstrates his talent for pitching his vocals for maximum addictiveness, although you can't help feeling that Katatonia have missed a trick by failing to bring this song to a peak. Even Renkse's ingenious vocal twists and turns, can't save this song from trailing apologetically away into nothingness.
There's a fine line between finding what works and sticking to it, and boring the listener senseless by re-hashing the same thing over and over again. Unfortunately, this is what Katatonia do with 'Departer,' 'Inheritance,' 'Nephilim' and 'The Promise Of Deceit.'
The two biggest disappointments are 'Inheritance' and 'Departer.' The latter is a mid-paced bit of echoey metal balladry, that'd probably be engaging if 'Night Is The New Day' didn't feature more effective songs in the exact same vein. 'Inheritance' is an undemanding fug of fuzzy guitars and languidly beautiful vocals that'll steadily beat you into a state of semi-consciousness. A smattering of folky strings are the only sharp edge on this beautiful, boring thing.
Meanwhile, the choruses of 'The Promise Of Deceit' and 'Nephilim' breathe new life into the old formula, and then undo all their good work with verses that slavishly follow the doom-metal-trudging-with-echoey-effects-and-fuzzy-vocals blueprint.
When 'The Promise Of Deceit' lays on the chuggy guitars in a swaggering chorus that contains flashes of symphonic metal drama, you'll be sitting up and paying slightly more attention. However, its verses of lullaby-like vocals and trilling synths, delivered with a twisted, buzzy edge are unlikely to shiver your spine like they should, for the simple fact that you've heard it all before. The verses of 'Nephilim' are equally uninspiring, but the choruses are heavy and unsettling in equal measures, and will have you wondering why the whole of the song couldn't sound like this.
Thankfully, Katatonia redeem themselves with a trio of songs that pack some of that much-needed punch: 'Day And Then The Shade,' 'New Night' and 'Liberation.'
'New Night' lays down a backdrop of standard heavy metal chugging, and then livens it up with thin, nasty, barbed-wire guitar lines, giving an otherwise unexciting base some bite. 'Liberation' features a similar solid but unexciting chug, but intersperses it with industrial riffing and a hard-rock swagger that's refreshing after almost an entire album's worth of the softly-softly approach. 'Day And Then The Shade' has the occasional delicate touch, but it's expertly tempered by densely-packed, sputtering guitars. The perfect balancing act between subtle atmospherics and no-nonsense, heavy metal wallop.
'Night Is The New Day' is eleven track of mid-tempo doom-metal. It's refreshingly pared-down and never once flies off on a bloated, self-indulgent instrumental tangent. It also takes an unusual approach to creating a suitably gloomy atmosphere, opting for a restrained use of sound effects and echoes. However, it is guilty of recycling the same formula time and time again. Halfway through this album, and fatigue will set in. Lack of variety, ultimately makes sitting through all eleven tracks, feel like a bit of a chore.