Artist: Katatonia (http://www.katatonia.com)
Album: Brave Yester Days
Release Date: May 4th, 2004
Label: Century Media
Recommended Tracks: Disc 1 - Black Erotica, Love of the Swan, Funeral Wedding
Disc 2 - Murder, Rainroom, Saw You Drown
You know the simultaneous feeling of nostalgia and embarrassment you get when you flip through an old yearbook? You know what I mean, like when you're thumbing through the pages of your old high school yearbook and you see all the goofy clothes you used to wear, and the ridiculous hairstyles everyone had, but you also remember all the good times you had and all the cool things you did. For a lot of metal acts a compilation album is like that - embarrassing but memorable early demo material mixed in among latter-day metal musical gems. Katatonia's comprehensive double album Brave Yester Days (a play on the title of 1997's excellent album Brave Murder Day) features material from their expansive catalog dating all the way back to 1992, when they began as just another bunch of disenfranchised dark-minded teenagers wondering what the hell they were on this planet for (either that or they figured out they could get girls by being in a band and figured what the hell, let's go for it). And like a trip down memory lane in the old annual, Katatonia's album is a mixture of a few "what were we thinking?" musical moments mixed in with a lot of modern metal classics.
The double album is a collection of the band's hard to find EP's and tracks from their earlier albums. Disc one includes 1992's Jiva Elohim Meth EP, two cuts from their debut album Dance Of December Souls, two cuts from 1993's very obscure War Compiliation, Vol. 1, and 1995's For Funerals To Come EP. Disc two features two tracks from the album's namesake, 1997's Brave Murder Day (featuring metal's current top growler Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth on vocals), 1997's Sounds of Decay EP (also featuring Akerfeldt), and finishes with 1998's Saw You Drown EP. The packaging is impressive too, with an attention to detail usually not associated with a compilation CD. The 2-disc set comes in a smooth digipak format along with a booklet featuring haunting artwork and photography as well as lyrics to all the songs. It's clear Katatonia put every bit of their black hearts and empty souls into all aspects of choosing what was on this album.
The music itself is pretty much a grab-bag of their entire career, from their early musings on all things black and gloomy to the tight performances of the doom/death metal-lite they play now. Disc one's highlights include the driving rhythm of "Black Erotica" and the gloomy riffing on "Love of the Swan", but to be honest some of this stuff just isn't very good, as like most mid-grade doom metal the songs just tend to drone on and on aimlessly, searching for their cosmic place in the world or whatever subject matter they happen to be dealing with. The 13-minute "Velvet Thorns" immediately comes to mind as the chief offender, as it just wanders aimlessly over the same couple of riffs for about 8 minutes too long, and the first few tracks sound like a young band struggling to find itself and its sound. That's exactly what was going on back then and is totally forgivable, although not all that listenable. Fortunately the disc closes much stronger than it starts with the For Funerals To Come EP, especially with the excellent drum and bass work on the track "Funeral Wedding".
Disc two, however, is full of heavy hitters from beginning to end, as this disc highlights the part of the band's career where they really began to hit their stride creatively and musically. Having one of metal's top throats sing your songs doesn't hurt matters either, as Mikael Akerfeldt's guest vocals shine on top of the more straightforward melodic death metal stylings the band was beginning to adopt. "Murder" and "Rainroom", off of Brave Murder Day, are simply two of the band's best songs off of any album, and the last four songs featuring clean vocals over driving blackened rock riffs are indicative of where the band's sound is today. In fact there really isn't a weak track on the second disc which makes it a very enjoyable listen, even the 10-minute closer "Scarlet Heavens" has enough interesting switch-ups in drum patterns and riffing to overcome its length and its questionable 80's goth-sounding vocals.
Predictably, there's much better material on the second disc than the first, but overall this is a cool collection that showcases the dramatic evolution in sound of what is one of metal's top bands today. Katatonia has come a long way from the angsty youngsters they were back in '92 to the full fledged doom/melodic death powerhouse they are today, and this album is like a growth chart of the band's body of work. While it won't interest those of you looking for another splatter-filled gore grind death-fest, it is definitely a must have for Katatonia fans unable to track down all those tough to find EP's, and fans of metal in general will appreciate how far the band has come in over a decade of service to the metal community. To re-visit the yearbook analogy, you should at least give them a listen for the band daring to show you the musical equivalent of themselves wearing acid-washed jeans and hairspray-drenched long poofy hair on the first disc, but be warned that they will also flaunt musical pictures of themselves standing triumphantly lip-locked on the football field with all the hot cheerleaders on the second disc.
Artist: Katatonia (http://www.katatonia.com)