Review by saxystephens for Katatonia - The Great Cold Distance (2006)
Having never really cared for Katatonia, I was a little nervous about giving one of their records the fullest of my attention. This is a band that has modulated their sound considerably since the humble beginnings as a death doom metal band, spanning alternative metal, gothic metal, and even progressive metal in later years. It makes checking out a bands discography a daunting task. And if you never grew up with this group, these pivots may not resonate in the same way as they did around the albums initial release window.
Anyways, The Great Cold Distance is perhaps the culmination of the bands first major pivot from death doom metal to more accessible alternative doom. And for what it is worth, I do not think that The Great Cold Distance is a bad album. Certainly if we are comparing this to albums with similar timbres, Katatonia are far more advanced, but I feel like much of the drama is diminished.
Now the comparisons that I am making are to the specific brand of post-grunge revival that came out of the mid 2000s that included groups like Breaking Benjamin, Seether & Shinedown. Breaking Benjamin were always the closest comparison, but Katatonia's compositions and song structures are far more developed than anything from the groups mentioned previously. The typical slower tempos that are reminiscent of Swallow the Sun and (more likely) Trees of Eternity that are complimented with slow double bass percussion and complimentary guitar riffage present a more energetic side of doom metal that is commendable, especially when the vocalist follows suit. Otherwise the mismatch in timbre is unsettling, which may be part of the point.
In addition, the compositions of individual songs is very good. The modulation of ideas through time signature and rhythmic changes is pulled off with proficiency. Whether that be "Consternation" or "The Itch", they do sound quite wonderful together. But even on this record, these sounds were not going to last on their own. You can already start to hear elements of progressive/post-metal creep in during the albums closing moments; almost as if a teaser as to what the next era of Katatonia will bring. Very reminiscent of the post-metal sounds that Tool were experimenting with during the 2000s. And, once again, the mixing of these sounds is executed with precision and grandeur.
But let's talk about drama. Not so far back as Last Fair Deal Gone Down is the band allowed to let their songs resonate and reach the desired conclusion. This album feels rushed, as if some of its main ideas are not allowed to finish. And the album clocks in at a brisk fifty minutes so their would have been plenty of wiggle room to allow "Soil's Song", "The Itch" and especially the closer "Journey Through Pressure" to reach some finality. Instead, the album just....fades away; perhaps reminiscent of the band on their next great journey. If you believe that, then this album will serve you well. For me however, I see it as a cop out. Doom metal inherently implies some sense of completion, whereas this implies that this journey is just beginning. I can appreciate the diversion of expectations, but I have heard it done better.
As someone who never grew up with Katatonia, my opinions may be skewed, so take my conclusion on The Great Cold Distance with a grain of salt. For a time, Katatonia expanded the possibilities of what post-grunge could sound like and arguably did it better than any of their influences or contemporaries. But I have heard many of the sounds on display within this record done better in the years following, including from Katatonia themselves, which makes this an album that I respect, but do not love. The journey that Katatonia speaks of on this record is long and bitter, and that is okay. It's what you find at the end of your adventure that counts.