Considered by many to be one of Sweden's biggest metal bands, Katatonia's long, storied career has seen them shift from a rough, sludge-like doom metal sound to a more streamlined approach that embraces prog rock, assonant vocal harmonies, clean vocals, and polished production to their now-accessible brand of gothic rock. Though they began as a death metal outfit in 1991, their first two albums, Dance of December Souls (1993) and Brave Murder Day (1996), along with intense and grueling live shows resulted in problems for frontman Jonas Renkse's vocal cords. As new musical influences entered their sphere, Katatonia abandoned the guttural and screamed vocals inherent to death metal for a more traditional engagement — first with melodic metal and then hard rock and prog — that played out over several albums. While dynamic, volume-driven live and recorded dates remained part of the band's aesthetic for the rest of the decade, Katatonia altered their sound considerably for 2001's Last Fair Deal Gone Down, and 2003's Viva Emptiness. Founders Renkse and guitarist Anders Nyström made forays into prog, goth, and even indie rock while remaining a metal band. By the time they issued Night Is the New Day in 2009 and 2012's Dead End Kings, the transition to prog was nearly complete. By this time Katatonia had more in common with Porcupine Tree, Anathema, and Pineapple Thief than any metal band. With several lineup changes came yet another sonic shift for 2016's the Fall of Hearts, as the band moved toward accessible and artful prog.
Formed in 1991 in Stockholm, Sweden, Katatonia started out life as a studio-based two-piece. Members Jonas Renkse (known then as Lord Seth) was the band's vocalist and drummer, and Anders Nyström (aka Blakkheim) spent their first year under said moniker writing and rehearsing before putting together a demo titled Jhva Elohim Meth, which was recorded by Swedish metal legend Dan Swanö and released in 1992. Sludgy and doom-laden, with just a dab of classic black metal atmosphere to it, Jhva became a hit in underground metal circles, enough so that the band managed to score a CD re-release of it on Dutch label Vic Records. The popularity of the CD called the band out, and Katatonia added a bass player, Guillaume Le Huche (once known as Israphel Wing), in order to satisfy the need of fans to hear the band live. It was at this point that Katatonia began a long trend of signing short-term deals with European labels, the first being No Fashion, who released the first full-length Katatonia offering, Dance of December Souls in December of 1993. With a more expansive sound being chosen over the blacker elements of their debut EP, Katatonia attracted a broader fan base, and began to move into a more gothic-based sound that was more reminiscent of the Cure or Sisters of Mercy than black metal. 1994 was, for the most part, spent recording and releasing tracks for split singles ("Scarlet Heavens," a ten-minute epic eventually released in 1996) and compilations ("Black Erotica" and "Love of the Swan" for a collection for new label Avantgarde Music, released in 1995).
Tensions in nailing down a stable touring lineup led to the short-term dissolution of the band, with Renkse and Nyström focusing on other projects. It was in 1996 that Katatonia, a three-piece again with new guitarist Fredrik Norrman, regrouped and recorded what many feel to be their masterpiece, Brave Murder Day. Notable for the fact that this was the point at which Renkse was no longer able to sing in the guttural style (Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt was recruited to take care of that), Brave Murder Day also marked a new chapter in the band's sound overall. Gone were the black metal aspects of their earlier work, and the doomier aspects were set aside for a leaner, higher tempo — yet firmly metal — dynamic.
The success of Brave Murder Day would allow Katatonia to embark on their first European tour, and in 1997 the band returned (once again with Åkerfeldt on vocals) with the mini-album Sounds of Decay. 1997 also saw the band add a new member, Mikael Oretoft, taking the vacant bass position, as well as their recording of a new album, Discouraged Ones (released in 1998), with Renkse taking the clean vocals and (again) Åkerfeldt on the guttural. A new multi-album deal with Peaceville followed, and the band released Tonight's Decision in 1999. This time around, Renkse took on full vocal duties (all clean vocals, of course) and Dan Swanö was recruited to man the drums for the recordings. The band then rounded out its touring membership, adding Mattias Norrman on bass and Daniel Liljekvist before embarking on a tour supporting Paradise Lost.
The year 2001 saw the release of Last Fair Deal Gone Down, produced by the band, which found Katatonia fully embracing the sound that was to define them in the latter part of their career. A pair of singles was released from the album, and they spent most of 2001 on the road. The band returned after a quiet 2002 with 2003's Viva Emptiness, which was followed by a European tour that Katatonia headlined. While 2004 was spent touring, 2005 saw Katatonia's past being explored with the compilation releases Brave Yester Days and The Black Sessions. The former, a double-disc set, contained music from the band's early years (1992-1997), while the latter acted as more of a "best-of" and B-sides collection of their work dating from 1998-2004 that included a DVD of the band live in 2003. The band would re-enter the studio in late 2005, and in 2006, Katatonia released The Great Cold Distance. Over the next two years, the band would tour extensively (including an American jaunt), resulting in the release of the live album, Live Consternation in 2007. Night Is the New Day, the band's eighth studio long player followed in 2009. After extended global touring and a short break, Katatonia returned to the studio in late 2011 and recorded Dead End Kings, which appeared in August of 2012. The live audio/video album Sanctitude was released by K-Scope in 2015. By February of the following year the band's lineup consisted of Renkse, Nyström, bassist Niklas Sandin, drummer Daniel Moilanen, and guitarist Roger Öjersson. They entered the studio and emerged with the Fall of Hearts the same year and took the album on tour across Europe and the United States the following year.
Katatonia went on hiatus during 2018 as Öjersson injured his back during the previous tours and the band was tired of the album-tour cycle they'd been on for years. They re-emerged for a tour in 2019 marking the tenth anniversary of Night Is the New Day. At the end of the year, they secretly entered the recording studio. In February of 2020, Katatonia surprised fans with the advance track "Lacquer" and followed it with the full-length City Burials at the height of the global coronavirus pandemic in April. Co-produced by Renkse and Nyström, the album reflected Katatonia's complete transformation into a cinematic prog band. ~ Chris True