Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Katatonia - Brave Murder Day (1996)

Brave Murder Day is the second full-length from Katatonia, released in November 1996. Recorded in Swanö's Unisound Studio, this album demonstrates a rather significant stylistic change from the previous record. In the time that had passed, the band had apparently broken up for a while, which was the impetus behind the creation of October Tide. By the time the decision was made to resurrect Katatonia, Jonas had destroyed his throat and a new vocalist had to be recruited. Along with the new guitarist and additional musical inspirations, the stage was set for the band to enter a new phase of its existence. 

Upon first listen, it would seem that Brave Murder Day has little in common with Katatonia's earlier material. Particularly if you are one to get a CD and to check out the first few seconds of each song, it's likely that you'd end up writing this one off. The down-picked riffs that dominate much of the album represent quite a change from the monumental Death/Doom of Dance of December Souls. Unfortunately, there are no epic tracks like "Gateways of Bereavement" and "In Silence Enshrined" to be found here. It could be said that the rather powerless strumming of the guitars accentuates the overall atmosphere of the album, as it is done in such a lifeless and miserable way. The monotonous rhythms seep into your mind and begin to wear you down so that, by the time the heavier doom riffs are unleashed, you're simply crushed without resistance. In some instances, the downpicking is combined with haunting melodies that work together in creating a truly miserable and hopeless feeling, such as in "Rainroom".  Furthermore, buried in between these sections are slower riffs and melodies that hearken back to the band's earlier work. Around the 1:50 mark of "Brave", things slow down and the melancholic guitars don't sound too far from the middle part of "Tomb of Insomnia", for example.

New guitarist Fredrik Norrman fit the band like a glove, at the time. One has to wonder if his contributions to the band had anything to do with the more coherent songwriting, as the For Funerals to Come mCD, and even parts of the debut album, suffered from poor arrangements and a sense of inconsistency. One can definitely hear influences here from his collaboration with Renkse on Rain Without End. In fact, perhaps the October Tide full-length should be considered the direct predecessor to this album. The guitar tone, in general, has a lot more in common with that record than with the earlier Katatonia releases.  As for the actual compositions, there are a lot of similarities between Rain Without End and Brave Murder Day. The slower part of "Murder", for example, is somewhat reminiscent of "12 Days of Rain", while "Rainroom" and "Blue Gallery" feature comparable melodies. It would be difficult to deny that the odd interlude "Losing Tomorrow", with its clean gothic vocals and programmed drums, was not the model for the terrible abomination titled "Day". The main difference being that the latter is more clear and far less effective. Another resemblance would be the use of clean guitar bits throughout the album, such as in "Brave" and "Endtime". Indeed, the latter would absolutely have fit on Rain Without End, right alongside "Infinite Submission". Even the vocal style is rather similar. Though Mikael Åkerfeldt handled the vocals on Brave Murder Day, he seems to have modeled his performance on Renkse's deeper vocals from Rain Without End, for the most part. Still, there are times when he also utilizes a few higher-pitched growls that are reminiscent of "Funeral Wedding". 

Though this album does well to create an atmosphere of gloom and depression, it is not without its faults. Sadly, Jonas refused to be left out of vocal aspect of the album, feeling the need to soil a few of the tracks with his new-found clean singing voice. Not only was this record stained by the lackluster and pathetic track, "Day", but he nearly ruined "Endtime" and (to a more severe extent) "Rainroom" with such weak passages of quiet music joined by his whining. Speaking of weak, the original CD was sent off to the pressing plant without being mastered in any way, which apparently accounted for how quiet the CD was and the overall weak feeling of the music. While writing this, I became aware that the 2006 re-release on Peaceville has been mastered, thus giving it a louder and fuller sound. 

Katatonia may have become better at composing their songs by the time of Brave Murder Day, but some of the choices that they made resulted in an inferior outcome. Its flaws as well as the various changes that had occurred since 1993, leave this record simply unable to match the quality of Dance of December Souls. As a matter of fact, all things told, Katatonia's second offering is not even as solid as the first October Tide L.P. Nevertheless, it's not a bad album, and if you are less picky and don't mind the clean vocals (especially if you're a fan of the albums that followed this one), it is worth checking out. With a bleak and oppressive atmosphere of melancholy and despair, this record might serve as good background music while you write out your suicide note.