I’m working through Katatonia’s albums, and it’s a fascinating lesson on finding oneself.
Their first, Dance of December Souls, is a regrettable attempt to write in the vein of early 90’s death metal. Their second, Brave Murder Day, stays the course, but is greatly improved by having Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt do most of the vocals. And yet this is ultimately what makes it so disappointing. Not because of Mikael’s work—he is consummate—but because there is no identity to Katatonia as a band.
By their third album, Discouraged Ones, they finally break away from what’s going on around them musically, and fumble toward being something new: themselves. It’s far from perfect, as is their next, Tonight’s Decision, but it’s decisive.
Had they stayed the course of their first two albums we would have never known about them. The fact that they don’t really come into their own until their fifth—eight years after their first—speaks to the importance of openness. With each release they had to have thought, yes, this is it, the best work we have done. And yet, it wasn’t. But they kept going, and were willing to let go of contemporary constraints. They wrote from their hearts, and it not only shows, it captivates.
There are those who seek imitation, in the sense of Adorno and Horkheimer’s “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”, and those who delight in novelty. Honestly, I can’t knock the former. At the end of the day joy is what we find delight in. There is a part of all of us that wants the eternal return of the same. But there are some of us who are willing to be unsettled, and this is exciting. To follow their trajectory is like getting lost in the woods, but without the fear. Each step forward both unnerves and fascinates.