The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the live music industry as we know it to a halt. The buzz of the crowd has had to retreat from the bar, venue, or festival tent to the safety of their own homes while emergency services and essential workers help to combat the ongoing global situation. As speculations suggest we might not be seeing physical live performances in some parts of the world until Fall of 2021, this is obviously a concerning point for live music connoisseurs and threatens the joy we experience in sharing said experience with other humans. Here, Katatonia offers some respite from the monotony of self-isolation and social restrictions around the release of their latest studio album, City Burials.
As the countdown notes, there is an hour to go until the show kicks off, a strange and wonderful feeling resonates from seeing countless people from all over the world excited for a show to begin. While it may be entirely digital, the feeling of giddiness and excitement permeates through the electronically inked letters of people from Alaska, France, Great Britain, Canada, Greece, Russia, and scores of other countries, states, and towns; coming together to share an experience for what may well have been the first time in over two months (and let’s face it, that’s a long time if you’re an avid concert-goer). As the countdown draws closer and closer, we read comments in capitals and the announcements of beers being opened, family barbecues, and an all-too-familiar buzz in the air akin to when the lights go down and all goes quiet in a venue; the tension of excitement awaiting release. I truly had no idea what to expect.
As the livestream begins, a dreamy blue-drenched animation trickles over the screen as the band prepare to enter their first song of the set, “Lethean,” from their standout album Dead End Kings. It is immediately clear that an abundance of thought and effort has gone into the creation of this event, as heavy blue lights are set all throughout the studio to create a prominent ‘Katatonia’ atmosphere. Cameras set up all around the studio and manned by crew provide shots of all members from exciting angles – Jonas Renkse’s side angle shots during his melancholically gorgeous vocals and shots of Roger Öjersson’s guitar work immediately entice a concert-like joy; Niklas Sandin’s drum cams with a heavy blue and sun-kissed glow around them make for dynamic and exciting shots. While digital, it feels like a concert, with those in the livestream witnessing one of the first of its kind in real-time and happily losing themselves within it. In such uncertain times, there lies within the simple internet browser a portal to a world we have missed dearly since our venues closed.
This live performance saw some special songs from Katatonia’s expansive discography being played. From the latest record, City Burials, we were presented with debut performances of “The Winter of Our Passing,” “Lacquer,” and “Behind the Blood.” These are fitting continuations of Katatonia’s sound, with the former especially taking charge of their melodic, doom-inspired melancholy. Bass-ridden grooves, Jonas’ soft-spoken vocals, and snappy drum patterns lift the track to a more positively melodic characteristic opposed to their darker and heavier variants. “Lacquer” demonstrated their dedication to experimenting with different styles and sound as the delicate plucks, electronic elements, and synths behind Jonas’ striking vocals show an interesting new side of Katatonia.
We also witnessed three songs being performed for the first time since 2014 – “Tonight’s Music,” “Omerta,” and “Unfurl.” Despite Jonas’ mentions of nervousness on behalf of himself and the band, this could not be noticed easily as the whole group performed at maximum capacity and delivered a tight set through and through. Viva Emptiness’ “Omerta” and its folk-inspired charm acted as a nice break between the new direction of “Lacquer” and nostalgic power of “My Twin.” Other honourable mentions of the set-list included “Ghost of The Sun,” which injected the aggressive, emotional charges of Katatonia’s earlier efforts, thanks to Anders Nyström’s backing screams and Öjersson’s aggressive blast beats taking the charge of changing atmosphere entirely. Their earlier efforts from The Great Cold Distance, “My Twin” and “July,” are fan favourites and strong reminders of the band’s growth from their roots into the multi-faceted melodic force they are today.
At Studio Gröndahl, Katatonia delivered a performance rife with hope, enjoyment, and above all else that communal music spirit; a fragile and powerful concept which has been compromised heavily during these uncertain times. They have demonstrated the power of utilizing livestream concerts both from a commercial perspective and for fans, those struggling with the lockdown, and simply those missing the buzz of a concert. A varied set-list and powerfully performed tracks through and through made it a unique and dazzling experience we hope to see more of until we can go back to our favourite venues, and maybe even beyond the lockdown.
Studio Gröndahl Setlist:
5. The Winter of Our Passing (live debut)
6. Ghost of the Sun
7. The Racing Heart
8. Soil’s Song
9. Old Heart Falls
11. Tonight’s Music (first time live since 2014)
12. In the White
14. Lacquer (live debut)
15. Omerta (first time live since 2014)
16. My Twin
17. Unfurl (first time live since 2014)
20. Behind the Blood (live debut)