Katatonia - Dance of December Souls review

Katatonia

Origin: Sweden
Active since: 1991
Label: Peaceville Records
Genre(s): Death/doom metal, progressive metal, progressive rock
For fans of: October Tide, Anathema, Paradise Lost

This review is also available at rateyourmusic.com

Tracklist

1. Seven Dreaming Souls (Intro)
2. Gateways of Bereavement
3. In Silence Enshrined
4. Without God
5. Elohim Meth
6. Velvet Thorns (of Drynwhyl)
7. Tomb of Insomnia
8. Dancing December

“Dance of December Souls”

Katatonia is my favorite band and it’s always fun to examine their releases in depth. 1993’s “Dance of December Souls” is the band’s debut, a raw piece of music somewhere between death/doom metal and black/doom metal. It’s a highly regarded and influential album in both subgenres.

At this point, Katatonia was a band that relied a lot on its youthful vigor and passion. The sorrow on “Dance of December Souls” is extremely apparent in every aspect, from the heartwrenching guitar melodies to Jonas Renkse’s tortured screams. Masterminds Jonas and Anders were not even in their 20’s at this point and do their best to create a dismal feeling of sorrow.

And Katatonia certainly succeeds. After a short intro, the album opens up with “Gateways of Bereavement”, which goes for the throat right away. Slow, brooding power chords linger and support the vocals. Jonas screams his guts out, and with this approach it’s not surprising that his voice couldn’t take extreme vocals in the long run. Much of the music is what became Scandinavian extreme doom metal; a mix of early melodic death metal sounds and the heaviness from traditional-sounding doom metal.

The Scandinavian scene was arguably at its most creative at this point, forming genre blueprints still valid to this day. “Dance of December Souls” is extremely important in that sense. Just like 1996’s “Brave Murder Day”, this laid down many foundations for future death/doom metal bands. I believe this album was also very instrumental in shaping the more depressive forms of black metal. The way Jonas spews out the lyric lines on this album reminds me quite a lot of what was to come in the more negative forms of black metal.

The Katatonia guitar style is already present

But beyond its importance, how does this fit into the Katatonia discography? Well, it certainly has many recognizable traits. A Katatonia trademark already present on “Dance of December Souls” are the guitar melodies. Just like on most of their material, there are many guitar moves that are as memorable and emotional as they are simple. “Without God” and “In Silence Enshrined” have especially brilliant lines.

It really is the guitars that drive everything on this album. The mood and execution of the guitars range from darkly nihilistic to absolutely dreamy. The strong shoegaze influences hadn’t quite become a part of their sound yet, but there are some very moody acoustic and clean guitar sections on here. Frontman Jonas Renkse plays the drums, and as a result the beats are extremely simple and mere support to the guitars.

Massive, inconsistent compositions

However, an album as youthful and passionate is almost bound to have its downsides. And it does. Some of the compositions are massive and not that fluently written. There are many epic sections and shifts between distorted and clean guitars. Some of the transitions are not particularly smooth. The shorter songs, like “Without God”, feel more fluent and compact. It stands in strong contrast to Katatonia’s clean vocal material where the songwriting is central and absolutely meticulous.

There are also some stylistic jumps that don’t mold all too well. The album has traces of death metal, black metal, doom metal and even traditional metal. Sometimes it sounds angry, sometimes dreamy, sometimes almost triumphant. There’s not really enough consistency, beyond the main objective of being very depressive. I think the ambitions were simply set a bit too high, considering how new Katatonia was at the time.

“Without God” YouTube cover

I’ll smack in some self-promotion in this review as well; please check out my “Without God” cover if you’re a fan of the song.

Undeniably important for the music style

Despite its flaws, it’s hard to overstate how important this album is for the extreme side of the doom metal genre. It paved the way for death/doom and later developments like depressive black metal and blackgaze. It’s my least favorite full-length from my favorite band, but still a damn solid piece of early death/doom metal. I am very impressed by how they could achieve something like this so early. You can already tell that Katatonia was going places.

Soliloquium Swedish doom metal on Bandcamp

Read more:

“Brave Murder Day” review ->
“Sounds of Decay” review ->
Katatonia albums ranked from worst to best ->
Full guide to doom metal and its subgenres ->
10 essential death/doom metal albums ->
Soliloquium, Swedish death/doom metal ->


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