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Katatonia - Last Fair Deal Gone Down CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

4.13 | 99 ratings

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5 stars How many of you remember listening to your first album that was truly dark? And I'm not just talking about some brooding breakup songs by an arena rock band, but something in which you can actually feel the dread and melancholy pouring out of the speakers? I can safely say that I remember my first experience: with Katatonia's 2006 effort The Great Cold Distance. The moment "Leaders" blasted its way into my stereo with its grim atmosphere and doomy chugging, it felt like I entered a different world entirely. The songwriting was (and still is) fantastic, but the vibe was what really set it apart. Between the hopelessness in Jonas Renkse's crooning and the often sluggish-yet- diverse songwriting, Katatonia sparked my love and fascination with the darker side of music as a whole. But little did I know back then that the entirety of the band's catalog was a goldmine of alternative doom, and little did I know that my favorite record by them wouldn't even be one of the records I grew up with.

Gradually I turned back the clock on my Katatonia, checking out their back catalogue to get the full scope of their evolution. As I went further and further back, the band's original death/doom roots were becoming more and more apparent. But, of course, one thing never really changed: the atmosphere. Regardless, as both the alternative and doom metal sides of the band are incredibly well-executed, I often found that the records that combined both styles would be my favorites in their body of work. And from that thought process emerged my love for the majesty that was Last Fair Deal Gone Down. It was a gradual process, but eventually this one won over the others. Basically, if I had to describe the album in a nutshell, it would be "alternative doom metal with hints of progressive rock"; of course, there's a bit of irony in the fact that this sounds nothing like the Robert Johnson song of the same name. The experience is a beautiful synthesis of melodious hooks, subtle shifts in rhythm and texture, and downtuned riffing that really drives the melancholy and aggression home. That being said, the songcraft displayed here is simply incredible, and some instrumental oddities (such as the orchestration in "The Future of Speech" or the mellotron in "Don't Tell a Soul") expand on the musical ideas quite a bit.

But right from the beginning, Last Fair Deal Gone Down lets us know it's going to be an experience. The soft opening guitar licks of "Dispossession" sound like a blue sky immediately shifting to a dull gray, as if distorting our very world around us. What I'm saying is: the atmosphere is fucking potent on this one. Granted, the tight riffing and intelligent songwriting pull it through just as well. The way that opener builds and builds before even reaching its first verse is admirable, especially in how well Katatonia can keep expanding on the same motif without making it boring. Hell, "The Future of Speech" and "We Must Bury You" place much more emphasis on lingering on the soft ballad-like sections instead, and it's just as effective. The cool thing about Katatonia in general is that they can use their technical prowess and diverse compositions to give us endless variations on the same mood. They might constantly be dark and dismal, but they've shown us that it can be expressed in such a variety of ways. This is even true for "Sweet Nurse" and "Teargas," which happen to be the most accessible and pop-oriented cuts of the bunch. If Katatonia ever had singles (perhaps if they started around the grunge era?), these lean slabs of alternative metal would probably make it on a greatest hits compilation. That's not a bad thing, of course, as the catchy choruses and Nirvana-esque "soft verses, booming choruses" they employ are memorable and well-executed.

I think the combination of atmosphere and diversity are really what put this above the other Katatonia releases. The band's whole discography is worth a listen, but there's often been an issue regarding the band being "too consistent and same-y." It's not an unfounded claim either, as the whole "doom-laden alternative metal" thing has been their trademark sound since Discouraged Ones all the way back in 1998. So it's a tried-and-true sound by this point. But in Last Fair Deal Gone Down, every song has its purpose in the tracklisting. Even the shorter pieces, such as the rhythmically-varied "We Must Bury You" and the slow funeral dirge of "Passing Bird" display variation in both the songwriting and mood of the album. The latter is particularly interesting, as the lyrics take on a more lifeless nature as Jonas drearily sings "too much fucking emo; it's false, I know." But honestly, my personal favorite song on offer here is the midtempo chugger "I Transpire." The entire track has lyrical themes of being trapped and constricted by people who tap into the narrator's fears and worries, and the dark ambience behind Anders Nydstrom's guitar leads is so thick and palpable that the chorus comes off as both chilling and beautiful. If you just listen to one song off the album, I highly recommend that one.

But if you enjoy either alternative metal or doom metal, I really do recommend the entire thing. Last Fair Deal Gone Down is one of the most gorgeous and brutally honest depictions of melancholy I've ever heard in rock music, and the music backing it all is just as strong. Katatonia were at the peak of their powers here, and the melding of the band's alternative future and doom metal past was at its most balanced and fleshed-out state. This album combined the band's roots with their eventual stylistic shift, but it somehow captured the best of both in the process. I'm grateful for Katatonia's entire body of work and its powerful expressions of honest emotions, but Last Fair Deal Gone Down is the one I'm most grateful for.

Necrotica | 5/5 |


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