To find greatness and explore it, play around its edges, is all we can hope to do. Some people find it immediately, only to exhaust their strength and spend the rest of their lives in mediocrity. Others come at it near the end, such that we are left to trace their development in an attempt to glean some insight into the nature of genius and its growth.
I know I write too much about an obscure musical genre, and a somewhat more obscure band, but we can only work with what we love, what we spend all our time with.
Of course, this is nothing more than my narrative, my interpretation. But I would argue Katatonia’s arc is this:
Their next two, a movement toward something different—a sound their own.
Albums five and six—Last Fair Deal Gone Down and Viva Emptiness—their self-discovery and height of their genius, flaws and all. In these two albums everything they had strived toward finds fulfillment, while new doors are opened.
The next three—The Great Cold Distance, Night is the New Day, and Dead End Kings—find them playing with their genius, rooted in their identity. Each of these could be used as the proverbial album one uses to introduce a friend to their music.
And yet, this is not what I would do. I would have my friend listen to five and six. For between these lies the key to understanding everything that comes before and that which follows, up to the present (in which they are finished?).
Of course, on any given album one could try to choose a song that represents them to that point. But is there one that captures the span of their work the way Last Fair Deal and Viva Emptiness do as a whole? As much as I love songs like “A Darkness Coming”, “Dispossession”, “Will I Arrive”, “Rusted”, “Idle Blood”, &c., I would have to argue no. And this is a credit to their complexity—no one song embodies the breadth and depth of their writing.