Dead End Kings, the ninth full-length album by Katatonia, is a natural evolution from the stylistic variation and sonic nuances of 2009′s Night is the New Day. The songs remain anchored in heavy prog-rock and gothic gloom, but Katatonia also exhibits a strong grasp of pop melody, metal riffing and even jazz swing. In addition, the band augments its eclectic songs with swelling keys, heartsick strings, classical piano and thudding, clicking samples.
Without strong musicianship, Dead End Kings would unravel like a ball of black yarn, but Katatonia have the chops to keep their songs compelling without resorting to the kind of self-indulgence that bogs down many prog-metal bands. Regardless of how circuitous tracks like “The Parting and “Lethean” are, every move retains a sense of purpose. Obvious comparisons can be made to Opeth and Porcupine Tree, but Katatonia’s multi-tiered constructs also resemble Tool, and their emotional resonance impacts somewhere between The Cure and Marillion.
Those unfamiliar with Katatonia may find Dead End Kings too melancholy, too multifaceted or not heavy enough. But careful listening reveals an abundance of innovation and technique. “Buildings” revolves around a dense, crunching rhythm heavier than Helmet while “Undo You” is so light and diaphanous it would float away were it not for the offbeat drums and deep, meandering basslines. Twenty-one years a journey that has led them from depressive death metal to reflective prog rock, Katatonia are still finding new ways to captivate.