Katatonia have been a personal favourite ever since ‘Brave Murder Day’ came out. It just stood apart at that time (and spawned many clones) but more importantly, it’s how the band evolved from there that was truly remarkable. ‘Saw You Drown’ and ‘Discouraged Ones’ were phenomenal and paved the way for the band’s current sound. Every album saw a bit of improvement, a progression, whether you like it or not, and they’ve largely been consistent since. Their newest album ‘The Fall of Hearts’ is an emotive masterpiece; it’s everything you’ve come to expect from Katatonia and more – superbly nuanced, perfectly balanced, atmospheric and melancholy-drenched. Moreover, it doesn’t warrant attention only from the extreme metal community, and that prompted Moni Jha to conduct this interview (and I couldn’t resist adding a few questions of my own). Daniel ‘Mojjo’ Moilanen’s answers are deep and effective, just like Katatonia’s music. – Kunal Choksi, Editor
Transcending Obscurity (Moni): You guys have been playing since 1991. What was the most enriching part of being in the band?
Katatonia (Daniel ‘Mojjo’ Moilanen): The most enriching part for me is being able to work with very talented and intelligent people who also happen to be amazing musicians and song writers. Also, enjoying Katatonia‘s music on a personal level obviously makes it tremendously fun playing the songs.
TO (Moni): How do you go about your songwriting process? What influences Katatonia?
Katatonia: The song writing process is very individual. Both Jonas and Anders write on their own until having spawned the skeleton that would be the final track at which point ideas might start merging. I think what influences the song writing is what influences our performing as well. Life and death. The cracks within what we call humanity.
TO (Moni): Do your dark lyrics pertaining mostly to death, despair and loss inspire the songwriting or are the lyrics added later in a way that they fit the songs?
Katatonia: I think that goes both ways. Some lyrical themes can inspire a specific soundscape and vice versa. I think the beauty in the lyrics is that they are as interpretative as the music. It might be pitch black but it’s not just soul-crushingly heavy. It’s not that simple.
TO (Kunal): Your artwork is vaguely reminiscent of ‘Brave Murder Day’, in that, the crow makes an appearance again albeit in a more elegant manner this time around. Is this reference partly deliberate? Also, what are your thoughts on that album (probably my favourite along with ‘Discouraged Ones’) which distinctly stood out from the rest in terms of style?
Katatonia: I don’t think it’s deliberate other than the bird having followed the band around through all these years. For me it is natural to have the bird on the cover of ‘The Fall of Hearts’ as this album is a perfect compendium of the different stages of Katatonia‘s career, musically. So to connect back to ‘Brave Murder Day’ doesn’t feel particularly odd. I personally love the album. A perfect and natural transition between genres.
TO (Moni): Do you have a personal favourite from your discography? Can you explain the reasons behind that?
Katatonia: It would be impossible to only pick one as the band has travelled through a vast field of sounds and genres but, with a gun to my head, I would tie between the first and the last. ‘Dance of December Souls’ was very important to me as a kid. I was already very attracted to the darker side of metal, so when I came across an album integrating the darkness I sought with a romantic kind of emotiveness not found in black metal I was hooked. And as for the new album – it’s basically the best album the band has ever made.
TO (Moni): How supportive has your country been towards music of your kind?
Katatonia: Very. You only have to glance at all the enormously talented and internationally acclaimed Swedish bands and artists to see that this is a country with a great support for the music industry. As for the metal bands and their fans, it’s always hard; some artists have a huge following whilst others in the same genre don’t. Katatonia as a band is a substantially bigger outside of Sweden than inside. Don’t know why, maybe we’re too emotionally difficult for the summerlovin’ tank top-rockers and too lightweight for the occultists. I don’t mind.
TO (Moni): With bands like Opeth, Anathema, Paradise Lost and others having a massive fan-following here in India, and Opeth having even been called for a show in 2012, when can we expect Katatonia to perform to their fans here?
Katatonia: I’d love to answer this question with some sort of certainty, but sadly I can’t. We haven’t forgotten about our fans in India and we’re looking forward coming there soon but at this moment there’s no definite plan.
TO (Kunal): How important do you think are singles and EPs in this era in comparison to full length releases?
Katatonia: That would depend on the artist or band, I would say. I think the single track format as it is on i.e. Spotify is greatly important for some artists and musical genres, and of course for some types of listeners. I’ve understood that the attention span for whole albums has shortened during my lifetime which I in some ways can understand but not relate to. The physical single and EP format is not as important, I think, but even then it’s depending on artists and genres. I still support the physical medium of music so I buy 7” singles from time to time and in those cases I absolutely think it’s important. Smaller bands in narrow genres have a lot to gain from that. Sell 300 7” and finance an album. Great success.
TO (Kunal): Katatonia circa ‘The Fall of Hearts’ is hardly doom metal or death metal, and there’s been a bit of a debate over what it can be called now. How would you define the current Katatonia style?
Katatonia: I would define the current Katatonia style as I would define Katatonia‘s style through the years: dark rock. The last few albums are more progressive, the first albums are more extreme in a lot of ways and the albums in the middle are more experimental. Still dark rock to me. But it’s understandably easier for everyone to pigeon-hole bands into the genres from which they’ve emerged. I don’t think anyone has seen Katatonia as a doom or death metal band for the last 15+ years but still that is what we’re called from time to time. Gloom metal perhaps. Let’s call it that. Gloom metal.
TO (Kunal): Your new album showcases more depth and a better atmospheric quality in comparison to the previous releases. How did you manage to achieve that? The presence of more leads definitely adds soul to the music as well.
Katatonia: Part of the progression of the album can, as I see it, be attributed to the four years since the last studio album was released. During this time the band has seen changes in line-up, different musical endeavours as ‘Sanctitude’ and ‘Dethroned & Uncrowned’ and obviously four years of personal “progression”. With age comes wisdom and depth, with new eyes and ears comes new perspectives and with new musical experiences comes new ways to interpret your ideas.
TO (Kunal): How would you explain the progression of your sound since your cult debut ‘Dance of December Souls’? Can we ever expect Katatonia to do somewhat of a return-to-the-roots album?
Katatonia: I wouldn’t hold my breath for a nostalgic return to the roots. Some parts of the past are best left behind, not forgotten. But the progression of the sound still retains our roots as these roots are such an integral part of the band, music and lyrics. Us becoming better musicians doesn’t necessarily erase what we’ve written or played, it only changes how we do it.
TO (Moni): The depressive nature or melancholy has become an intrinsic part of Katatonia’s sound. Is it possible to see a departure from these dark themes?
Katatonia: Short answer: No. Longer answer: No, I don’t see the possibility of us departing from ourselves.
TO (Kunal): You have been experimenting with your music in order to achieve a most effective, emotive expression. Would you be keen to explore some more of the electronic sound to go with your music for instance like how My Dying Bride did with their controversial ‘34.788%… Complete’ album?
Katatonia: There’s already been a bit of experimentation with electronics and loops throughout the years. Even before Frank Default was involved, Jonas and Anders had incorporated loops and keys into the Katatonia sound. On ‘The Fall of Hearts’ we decided to instead focus on more acoustic stuff again, using more of actual percussion instead of loops, but one of the bonus tracks – Vakaren – is almost purely electronic, in the vein of Unfurl for example. We might go down this road further in the future but only that future will tell.
TO (Moni/Kunal): Thank you very much for your time for this enlightening interview! Your message to your fans this side of the world goes here.
Katatonia: To all our Indian fans: thank you for your support and patience. The river that flows in you also flows in us.
Photo credits – Ester Segarra