Katatonia - Viva Emptiness
Peaceville Records
Melancholic Atmospheric Dark Rock
13 songs (53'15")
Release year: 2003
Katatonia, Peaceville Records
Reviewed by Alex
Album of the month

This review has been gnawing on me for a while. I have wanted to do it for so long, but was afraid I have not listened to the album long enough to be fair about it. So I just kept listening to it almost non-stop … and it has been growing on me ever so steadily. One thing for sure with Viva Emptiness, it is not a catchy radio-friendly jump-and-immediately-grab you collection of songs Last Fair Deal Gone Down is. There I was, on my 20th listen, when I had to go on a business trip. I thought to myself it would be a nice one last listen before I started writing. The weather was horrible in the morning when I had to drive. Thunderstorm, windy, driving rain, grey skies and not a ray of sunshine. And there it hit me, it all just came together, Renkse’s voice enveloped my senses and my almost 2 hr long drive lasted only a few minutes. On the way back the weather improved, contrasting the abysmal morning. Katatonia played on, and I knew exactly what I wanted to say about Viva Emptiness.

For those of you who don’t know Katatonia, you have been missing on one extraordinary, non-conventional and talented band. Having started in extreme metal, these Swedes went through a semi-gothic phase, and produced a dark rock masterpiece in LFDGD two years agp. If I smoked pot, LFDGD would be a perfect record to lean back into a LazyBoy and suck on a joint or two. Entirely relaxing and mind-numbing, the album had an uninterrupted mellow flow to it despite sometimes almost tragic lyrics. I am sure, if Katatonia released another LFDGD, they would be hailed. However, it would be below Renkse/Nystrom/Normann company not to progress.

Viva Emptiness is about contrasts. There are still tracks that would fit LFDGD nicely (Sleeper, Walking by a Wire), however the whole album has a much heavier, strongly pronounced dark edge to attenuate Renkse’s comatose vocals. Viva Emptiness is an inseparable web of trademark Katatonia addictive melodies rudely interrupted by heavier sections. Standoffish singing atop the quiet soft verses in Sleeper, Criminals and Walking by a Wire is followed by chaotic drumming, siren guitars and internal screams for help in choruses. The trend reverses itself in Burn the Remembrance, where heavy prog riffs of the verses give room to the much lighthearted stringwork. Gliding waltz beginning of One Year from Now switches to distortion, reverb and processed vocals, for that climax only to die away in the end. Even the whole tracks contrast each other as Beatlesque Welsh/Irish folk melody inspired Omerta abruptly ends, for the album to finish on a heavy crushing instrumental note of Inside the City of Glass. The whole album just never lets a listener to settle in. It constantly challenges you, including some lyrics that are not shy about the clearly enunciated F^*& word. I may be overplaying it, but even the title itself is a contrast of words. How can you hail and greet a Void?

Musicians’ performance is flawless. Aside from a few heavier riffs borrowed from Opeth (intro to Will I Arrive and main riff of Wealth), Nystrom’s guitar is intricate and addictive. I am sure Mr. Akerfeldt & Co. wouldn’t mind, as Opeth and Katatonia are huge friends. Renkse shines, but those processed vocals that surfaced on We Must Bury You in LFDGD again make a few appearances (One Year from Now). A few songs provide even some room for distinct basslines (Criminals, Complicity). Synth programming is used smartly painting a foundation of rain droplets that never stop falling in A Premonition or sound almost like a saxophone or oboe at the end of Walking by a Wire. A special mention goes to Daniel Liljekvist. With all due respect to Dan Swano who played drums on some of Katatonia’s albums getting Liljekvist was a coop. He is steady when need be, even giving a hint of double bass in Complicity. Yet, he is so percussive, chaotic and unnerving throughout the record. Just listening to him bob and weave through the songs is a pleasure. I loved those quiet sections where Renkse’s desperate and melancholic vocals and Liljekvist’s drumwork are the only two driving forces for the song.

Having sung so many praises – why in the world could I not get into this album right away? For once it does require many listens to appreciate all intricacies Katatonia threw at us. Another reason – try as I might – I still don’t enjoy the album opener, and an album’s single, Ghost of the Sun. It is obviously my problem as the majority of Katatonia’s listening world thinks it is brilliant. I would have chosen Criminals or Evidence for a single if I had to.

My parting words would be for you to not take this album lightly. Don’t expect to delve into it right away, give it many spins, and then declare it either a bust or a masterpiece. Superficiality is something Viva Emptiness would not forgive or tolerate.

Killing Songs :
All, except Ghost of the Sun and Will I Arrive
Alex quoted 91 / 100
Other albums by Katatonia that we have reviewed:
Katatonia - Night Is The New Day reviewed by Khelek and quoted 91 / 100
Katatonia - The Great Cold Distance reviewed by Al and quoted 93 / 100
Katatonia - Last Fair Deal Gone Down reviewed by Danny and quoted 82 / 100
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