Date: October 21st 2016
Venue: O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London
Line-up: Katatonia + Agent Fresco + Vola
Twenty five years is a long time to stick it out in the music industry and in 2016 Swedish metallers Katatonia celebrate just that at tonight’s show in London. From their early death/black/doom days alongside the Peaceville Three, their depressive rock middle era and right up to their modern dark progressive metal, they’ve had quite a career. Another particular piece of interest for this show is that the band are also celebrating ten years of one of their most popular albums The Great Cold Distance by playing the album in its entirety.
For this European tour Katatonia have brought along two young up and coming acts to support them. The first of these bands are Vola who hail from Denmark and mix a range of eclectic sounds with progressive rock. Their performance began somewhat awkwardly with the band pooling out into the stage with no real presence, simply getting on with their set up. Vocalist/guitarist Asger Mygind was the first to be heard with his lone guitar filling the room with the other members soon joining in. The music was heavy and modern sounding calling to mind Leprous and sometimes even Katatonia themselves. Asger and bassist Nicolai Mogensen had fantastic vocal dynamics, harmonising well with each other which elevated many of the songs choruses. The surrealistic keyboards set the right tone for the music, sometimes futuristic sounding but overall creating a good atmosphere.
Icelandic rockers Agent Fresco were musically quite similar to Vola but as their set unravelled they unveiled a more delicate performance. They started in a rather simplistic manner, a very minimalistic sound of haunting piano and beats. Arnór Dan Arnarson’s vocals were very soft and delicate in nature leading us into the heavier elements of their music. Continuing with the vocals, Arnór had an incredible range hitting high notes that few men could dare to reach while throwing in the occasional bark when it was needed, all this with an emotional depth and tone. Drummer Hrafnkell Örn Guðjónsson was so fun and exciting to watch, his performance oozed enthusiasm whether he was hitting those more complex arrangements or even the simplest beat. The crowd gave them an excellent reception at the end, something that small band from Iceland really appreciated.
While the crowd had dispersed between bands, the stage was being set up for Katatonia’s The Great Cold Distance set. The familiar stark red tones were well represented by a large backdrop created from the cover for the ‘My Twin’ single, a pair of smaller stands of the albums cover and a variety of lights. The time had come for the set to start and the ringing notes of the albums opening track ‘Leaders’ began to fill the venues speakers. The red lights were pulsating and a sea of long hair had filled the stage.
The band blasted through earlier tracks of the album, the all too familiar setlist staples over the years; ‘Deliberation’, ‘Soils Song’ and ‘My Twin’. After these we’re brought into the deep cuts territory, those tracks which rarely see the live stage, and songs like these are the reason shows like this are so special. The crushingly atmospheric ‘Consternation’, bleak ‘The Itch’ and the sombre closing track ‘Journey Through Pressure’ along with the rest of the album saw rare airings but with tonight’s polished performance you’d be hard pressed to think these songs were freshly rehearsed for this special show (one of two with the other being their performance with the Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra in Bulgaria in September).
As my gateway to the band, this album holds a special place to me and this performance was highly anticipated, so as guitarist Roger Öjersson played out his solo for ‘Journey Through Pressure’ I was grinning (or maybe frowning would have been more appropriate) at my chance to be present.
However the momentous performance of TGCD was not the only set that fans were treated to, with the band returning to the stage soon after to perform a “best of” set to celebrate the bands twenty-fifth anniversary. They quickly ran into some computer difficulties during the intro of ‘Last Song before the Fade’ but were quickly rectified and the band soldiered through another hour long set.
While the band have changed musical stylings a number of times over the span of their career, they manage to neatly arrange their setlist so that every album of the band is represented which stood as a testament to how well much of their material still holds up. ‘Teargas’, one of the bands biggest tracks turns fifteen years old and you could hardly tell with the bands energetic performance. More tracks from the band’s latest album, their 10th The Fall of Hearts, ‘Old Heart Falls’ and ‘Serein’ slotted in nicely alongside songs from their earlier album such as ‘Saw you Drown’ and ‘For My Demons’.
‘Day’ had caught me off guard, one of the title tracks of the bands second album Brave Murder Day, had new life breathed into it no small thanks to the recent acoustic tour. I thought it was safe to presume that would be the furthest back the band would delve into their discography given the fact that Jonas Renske could only very rarely perform harsh vocals but was shocked when he announced the band were staying true to their word to represent each of their albums. For the first time in twenty years the band played ‘Gateways of Bereavement’ from their debut album Dance of December Souls, to say I was shocked would be an understatement. While Jonas’s vocals were never going to match his original performance he still put in a respectable effort and was played excellently from the musical aspect.
Upon the band saying their farewells and leaving the stage it wasn’t long before the usual cries of “one more song” came loud and determined. Even though we had already been spoiled all night Katatonia came back out to play one final track, the live favourite ‘Ghost of the Sun’. The crowd singalong of “a fucking lie” signalled the end of what had been a momentous night for the band and fans alike.
Set #1 (The Great Cold Distance):
In the White
Journey through Pressure
Last Song before the Fade
Saw You Drown
Old Heart Falls
For My Demons
Gateways of Bereavement
Ghost of the Sun