I was perplexed the first time I heard this album. Katatonia has been favorite band for over 10 years, but “The Fall of Hearts” just didn’t click. Opener “Takeover” presented vocal lines that felt almost forcibly awkward, as well as an equally strange song structure. The “Forsaker”-like heavy chorus in “Old Heart Falls” felt anything but “Forsaker”-like in terms of impact. “Serein”, the second lyric video released after “Old Heart Falls”, also left me very cold.
For a while, the only songs that felt interesting were dynamic, Opeth-inspired “Serac” and post-rock closer “Passer”. Since I was in a similar struggle to understand Deftones schizophrenic new “Gore” album at the same time, it was a frustrating time as a music listener. I mean, this was the period where two of my favorite bands were supposed to cement themselves in the top of my 2016 list. However, after twenty spins or so, the album started clicking.
I suppose two reasons made the album such a grower. Reason one is that Jonas Renkse certainly tried to make the vocal lines more twisted, something that feels like a concious decision. We are rarely treated with the radio rock simplicity found in “My Twin”, “Teargas” and “The Longest Year” on this album. It’s very awarding to finally get a song like the dwelling, moody “Residual” in my head; a place where it certainly wasn’t during my first twenty spins.
“The Fall of Hearts” also has a very long running time: 67 minutes without the three bonus tracks. The calmer songs like “Pale Flag” and “Decima” really made it drag, since the heavier songs on here aren’t exactly extreme. It’s definitely a less intense album compared to “Dead End Kings”, which had a few driving numbers like “Buildings” and “Lethean”. The focal point here is mood and atmosphere, even more so than on previous Katatonia albums.
What I was describing earlier about “Residual” is an overall factor that I now enjoy a lot about “The Fall of Hearts”. Most songs are moody both lyrically and musically, which allows for more unexpected turns compared to the last two albums. For instance, closer “Passer” goes from a cold, bitter first verse to a bursting post rock ending, and manages to squeeze in a lot of instrumental dynamics on the way as well. “Sanction” combines warm summer longing in the verses with a heavy Tool-inspired chorus where Jonas really gets to exercise his vocal chords properly.
There are some more conventional Katatonia cuts on here as well. “Old Heart Falls” is deservingly the main single, as it has every ingredience: the signature sorrowful lyrics, goth metal atmospherics and a big chorus. “Shifts” is the best calm song on the album, and recently got rewarded with a complimenting music video. Jonas delivers some chilling lower vocals in it that displays his ongoing growth as a singer.
Speaking of Jonas; he sings flat out amazing on this album. It seems that he gets more present and daring with every new Katatonia release. Age only seems to do him well, as he often goes for a lower register that sounds more comfortable. In terms of guitars, this is what we’ve come to expect from Katatonia: the distorted parts are often similar to other prog giants like Opeth and Tool, and there are plenty of clean and acoustic sections with great tone and emotional impact. The rhythm section is busy, especially in the heavier parts.
There will definitely be those claiming that “Night is the New Day”, “Dead End Kings” and “The Fall of Hearts” are essentially the same album. I claim there is a substantial shift in songwriting technique on display here. This moody version of the Katatonia sound is, in it’s increased weirdness, something that feels both confident and adventurous. This album as a whole doesn’t reach the extreme heights of their best works, but it’s certainly a great addition to their discography.