Last updated: 06/29/2012 12:00:00 PM
Katatonia formed in 1991, brought together by long time friends, Anders Nyström (aka Blackheim-guitars) and Jonas Renske, (aka Lord Seth-drums, vocals). The first real fruits of their labour came to light in 1992, with the release of the demo: Jhva Elohim Meth, recorded at Sweden’s Gorysound Studio and produced by Dan Swanö. The demo sold out immediately, bringing Katatonia to the attention of Dutch label, Vic Records, who went on to release the demo as a mini CD, re-titled Jhva Elohim Meth – The Revival. With the CD selling out fast, and their reputation on the underground growing, the band knew that to move forward they would need a fuller line-up so, bassist Israphel Wing (Guillaume Le Huche) was temporarily enlisted, enabling them to play live for the first time. Things progressed at pace and in 1992 Katatonia entered into a one-album deal with Swedish label: No Fashion. April 93 saw Katatonia re-enter Gorysound (renamed Unisound) to record their first full-length album: ‘Dance OF The December Souls’, produced by Katatonia, and ably assisted by Dan Swanö. The album was released in late 93 and was an immediate hit with the critics. Gone were the out and out black metal meanderings of their earlier attempts, to be replaced with subtle melancholy & epic melodious emotion.
The reaction to the new sound was just what Katatonia needed to hear, encouraged, they pushed the boundaries even further and set about re-entering the studio in early 94 to record the 10 minute epic track ‘Scarlet Heavens’. The track eventually found a home, with Misanthropy releasing it as a limited split 10” (with Primordial in 1996).
Spring 1994 and Wrong Again Records approached the band to appear on a compilation album they were putting together – W.A.R. Another session in Unisound ensued, and Katatonia emerged with the tracks Black Erotica and Love Of The Swan. In the same year Italian label Avantgarde approached them, and the mini-CD ‘For Funerals To Come’ was recorded, again at Unisound.
Katatonia then surprised everyone by taking a sabbatical. Anders & Jonas main problem being to find a strong & stable line up to help them realise their master plan. Frustrated at the lack of Katatonia action the friends came back together in 96 with a different approach, and also with a new permanent third member – guitarist/bassist Fred Norman. They went back into Unisound, but this time armed only with ideas, no actual songs had been written at this stage. After a month recording, Katatonia emerged with the album ‘Brave Murder Day’; proof positive that this new way of working had paid off. Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt performed vocal duties, with Katatonia & Dan Swano’s production capturing perfectly the highly original and newly emerging Katatonia sound. Emotional and cutting edge, while still retaining the dark void so integral to the whole Katatonia vibe.
After successfully touring Europe with In The Woods Katatonia felt ready to re-enter the studio. Finding that Unisound had closed it’s doors for good they chose Sunlight Studio in their home city of Stockholm, figuring this would push their originality and experimentation to new places. The result was the mini-album ‘Sounds Of Decay’, again for Avantgarde. Produced by the band & Tomas Skogsberg the CD followed a similar path to Brave Murder Day and again saw Mikael Åkerfeldt perform vocal duties.
Fuelled by the session it wasn’t long before Anders, Jonas & Fred returned to Sunlight, to begin work on their third full-length album ‘Discouraged Ones’, a rebirth of sorts, which saw Jonas take centre stage as Katatonia’s vocalist. This time Mr Åkerfeldt’s input moved from primal screamer to vocal producer, and it is on this release we get the first real taste of Jonas’ clean sharp vocal style. A brave and radical move away from the old was a big risk for the band but the sheer quality of the music on offer blew all away. The gothic flourishes of yore having been replaced by more contempory leanings, dealing with feelings of loss and desolation, of despair and hope.
Peaceville Records had been following the bands career from almost the beginning, but it was Discouraged Ones, with it’s modernity and dynamics that made the label really fall in love with their sound. Realising that Katatonia were perfect for their roster of highly original acts, the label offered the band a long-term deal, spanning five albums. Delighted to find themselves working with a label that had produced some of their favourite music, Katatonia set about working on their fourth studio album, Tonight’s Decision. Tonight’s Decision saw Katatonia back in Sunlight, produced again by themselves; they were ably assisted by Tomas Skogsberg. Dan Swanö came on board as guest drummer – enabling Jonas to focus all his attention on his ever-improving vocals.
With strong international distribution now firmly in place via Peaceville Katatonia saw their popularity soar to unimagined new heights. The album also made ‘Album of the Month’ in Terrorizer, with then editor Nick Terry stating in the closing paragraph of the review: ‘We’ve lived with Tonight’s Decision for nigh on 2 months now, and factions round here are already manoeuvring to argue a case for album of the year. Maybe, maybe not. But one thing is certain, that 1999 would not have been the same without it, and that, in my mind is enough of an achievement for any album.’
In the early summer of 2001 Katatonia released their fifth album, titled ‘Last Fair Deal Gone Down’, and more than any previous release sees Katatonia really expanding in their self-belief. Still with their hallmark tears of sorrow spilling over the songs, there is now also a confidence and warmth about the band that adds a new dynamic to the sound. Maybe this is due to the fact that Katatonia produced the album themselves; maybe it’s the persuasive use of light and dark, used to illustrate perfectly the emotional gravitas of the songs, either way this is the album that will make the whole world sit up and listen.
Containing 11 tracks, the songs resonate with Katatonia’s own brand of fragile dreams, not dissimilar to Tonight’s Decision, but with a new maturity and accessibility only hinted at on their previous albums. Jonas really is coming into his own as one of the most honest and unique vocalists around today. There’s vulnerability in his vocal style that makes you believe every word he sings, he gives so much without ever sounding false. All this is underpinned by the genius guitar work of Anders, who seems to have moved away from that Paradise Lost esque sound to an altogether more contempory and modern approach.
The album release was be preceded by a 3 track CD single, the title track being ‘Teargas’ culled from the new album and underpinned by two tracks specially written for the single – ‘Sulfur’ & the mysteriously titled ‘March 4th’.
After the success of the ‘3 days 3 countries’ sprint that was the Peacefest in March 2001, Katatonia came back to the UK in May and embarked on a mini tour with label mates Akercocke, and Earache band Gandalf. Fuelled by the crowd’s reaction, they were quick to set up a tour with long time friends Opeth, the tour, which starts in November, takes in Central Europe and the UK and winds up in early December.
To coincide with the tour Katatonia have released their second single of the year - ‘Tonight’s Music’. The title track is taken from their last album, Last Fair Deal Gone Down, released in March. The EP also contains the tracks ‘Help Me Disappear’, and ‘O How I Enjoy The Light’.
Katatonia’s guitarist, Anders Nyström explains – “Help Me Disappear’ was originally supposed to be featured on the Tonight's Decision album, a song we felt strongly about at composing stages, but unfortunately the song never got finished in the studio and was left aside without vocals and mixdown. Now the song is finally put down and is actually another hit warning, it just couldn't sound more Katatonic.”
This biography is written by Peaceville, Katatonia's label
Jonas Renkse - Lead and Backing Vocals
Anders Nyström - Rhythm/Lead Guitar, Mellotrone
Fred Norrman - Rhythm/Lead Guitar
Daniel Liljekvist - Drums
Mattias Norrman - Bass