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Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "Dance of December Souls" is the debut full-length studio album by Swedish doom/death metal act Katatonia. The album was originally released through No Fashion Records in December 1993 but has seen several reissues since. "Dance of December Souls" was recorded at Dan Swanö´s Unisound Studios and produced by Dan Swanö and Katatonia. Swanö also plays keyboards on the album.

The music on the album is doom/death metal with a blackened edge. The latter musical influence is mostly heard in the vocals which are sometimes snarling raspy type vocals rather than deep growling vocals. The album features a dark and doom laden atmosphere which suits the predominantly slow and heavy tracks well. The use of gloomy lead guitar parts and atmospheric keyboards add another defining dimension to the music.

The album features five "regular" doom/death metal tracks which are between 6 and (just shy of) 14 minutes long and three shorter intro/outro/interludes. There isn´t much variation between tracks, and that´s the major issue with the album. But on the other hand Katatonia had a unique sound already this early on, and that deserves praise. Despite the slightly one- dimensional nature of the music, the album is entertaining all the way through the 53:31 minutes long playing time.

The musicianship leaves a bit to be desired though, which unfortunately is made further clear because of the sound production. The drum sound and especially how they are played sound a bit amaturish and awkward to my ears. It´s obvious why it was one of the best decisions of Katatonia´s career to relieve Jonas Renkse from his drumming duties to fully concentrate on his singing. The weak bass sound should also be mentioned as a slight sound production issue.

"Dance of December Souls" is widely considered a "classic" doom/death metal album, and considering it was released in 1993 I understand why that is. Especially their atmospheric and blackened take on the genre was something new and a bit different from the their contemporaries (artists like Paradise Lost, Anathema, and My Dying Bride). A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

Report this review (#1600531)
Posted Tuesday, August 23, 2016 | Review Permalink
4 stars Katatonia are one of those death-doom bands who, like Anathema and Paradise Lost, more or less walked away from the death-doom subgenre after the early phases of their career. (In particular, in playing an alternative-progressive metal style influenced by Pink Floyd, they seem to have been riding the Anathema bandwagon just a wee bit.)

Listening to Dance of December Souls, I find this a crying shame, because back in the day Katatonia seem to have really nailed the death-doom style and given their own spin to it, especially when it comes to the inclusion of light progressive elements here and there.

In particular, there's some delicate keyboard work from special guest Dan Swanö that on the one hand plays a similar role to the violin in early My Dying Bride in terms of providing a beautiful, haunting counterpoint to the more gruesome and abrasive aspects of their sound, but which inevitably gives the album its own particular texture. On top of that and some of the gothic influences that more or less all death-doom bands seem to slip in sooner or later, there's also some influence that seeps in here and there from early black metal, creating perhaps the richest bouquet of carefully chosen and arranged styles offered in death-doom at the time.

As a result, whilst latter-day Katatonia is certainly not my cup of tea, I'm going to have to make a point of exploring their early discography, because clearly there's some gems here that I've been overlooking.

Report this review (#1701393)
Posted Monday, March 13, 2017 | Review Permalink
5 stars Have you ever found yourself infuriated with how much ignorance and misunderstanding an album that you adore receives. This is the case for me with the debut album of Katatonia, "Dance of December Souls". I have read many reviews of this album from Katatonia fans (fans of their modern sound) who trash this album for the most blatantly stupid reasons.

First of all, this is not death/doom at all, nor is it black/doom. There is no death metal in this album whatsoever and I don't see how people mindlessly dismiss it as typical extreme doom metal. This sounds literally nothing like anything that was released at the time, nor does it sound like anything released today. It is a mesmerizing blend of epic doom metal, gothic rock, symphonic rock, along with simplified romantic classical music. This isn't even an entirely metal album. Every song is absolutely gorgeous and there is plenty of variation, but it all keeps you in a depressing, dark-fantastical atmosphere that feels like the end of the world is at stake. This is the sound of the universe dying. It is complimented by the vocals, which are guttural cries of anguish that are full to the brim with passion.

"Gateways of Bereavment" is a soothing, brooding melodic doom track with sections that are reminiscent of music that would play during a high-school graduation, but in the best way possible, it's rather difficult to describe. "In Scilence Enshrined" is a more gothic track with a sad, gothic riff with beautiful synths to support it, "Without God" is a more evil- sounding track filled with anger, "Tomb of Insomnia" is closer to pure doom at first, before going into pure gothic rock, then turning into uplifting symphonic music. But the highlight is "Velvet Thorns", which has a very cold, mystical atmosphere that is both depressing and uplifting at the same time, somehow. Then it turns into a faster, power-metal track with melodic tremolo-picking, before going into a slower, ballad-oriented atmosphere, then into an extremely depressing blend of synths and soft-drums that sounds gothic, very romantic, but not rock in any way.

If this review seems incoherent, it is because this is very difficult music to describe. It doesn't really seem like it fits into any genre and many of its ideas seem to have come from out of the blue. All of it is mesmerizing and all of it is inventive and beautiful. But it is also hard to understand. It is a complex record that takes multiple listens to fully digest, but once fully understood, it is easily realized to be the single most brilliant thing done by any doom metal band ever. Definetly the best Katatonia album. Do not let the prejudices of their current fans mislead you into thinking that this is generic in any way.

Report this review (#1766528)
Posted Thursday, July 27, 2017 | Review Permalink
The Crow
3 stars Considering that classic doom metal does not stand the test of time very well, I can say that Dance of December Souls is a very good example of that sub-genre!

Produced by the extreme metal guru Dan Swanö, this album has a very good sound with rich keyboards played by Swanö himself. And maybe because his influence this album has some progressive and experimental passages which makes this record also interesting for prog fans who are not really into doom metal.

Let's talk about the songs!

Seven Dreaming Souls is an atmospheric and gloom intro made of strange vocals and keyboards, which leads to Gateways of Bereavement, a song which contains some acoustic guitars mixed with the typical doom metal riffs inspired by Black Sabbath, alongside a good keyboard work and rhythm variations. All this announces that this band is a bit more than the habitual doom metal of the 90's, more progressive and experimental than similar acts.

In Silence Enshrined has a very melancholic beginning with beautiful doubled guitars. But after that another good doom metal riff appears, accompanied by powerful drums. Later, we can find another entanglement of riffs and fine melodies, with even sections which sound like traditional heavy metal.

Without God has another strong riff and double pedal drumming, followed by some terrifying growls and melodies. But at this stage of the record, the music starts to be a bit repetitive. This track is one of the best of the album, but it sounds just like more of the same. Luckily, Elohim Meth acts like a blow off valve with its instrumental acoustic melody. Very good!

Velvet Thorns is a 13-minute-long tour-de-force of beautiful doom melodies and intricated guitars and keyboards, with another heavy metal sections towards the end. Good but irregular. And the same can be said about Tomb of Insomnia. If you like the rest of the album, you will like this last song? Otherwise you'll be bored to death, despite its (ridiculous) Love Story homage at the end.

Dancing December closes the album with a beautiful set of guitars and keyboard, incorporating a final riff where we can foresee what Katatonia would do in the future, once their doom years were done.

Conclusion: Dance of December Souls is not the typical doom metal album, despite being considered a classic of this genre. Just like in The Silent Enigma from Anathema here we can find a band trying to achieve new textures for this genre, incorporating tons of keyboards and progressive passages. The result is an album hard to listen for classic prog-rock fans, but a gem for progressive and experimental metal lovers.

Nevertheless, I can't give more than three stars because its repetitiveness and some dull moments, especially in the longest songs, which I find too irregular and unnecessarily long.

Best Tracks: Gateways of Bereavement, Without God, Dancing December.

My Rating: ***

Report this review (#1770949)
Posted Sunday, August 13, 2017 | Review Permalink

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