Still reckoning with the fallout of Covid-19, Katatonia’s tour finally makes its way to the UK following its postponement. These Swedish dark rockers always put on an entertaining show, so needless to say, the venue is packed to the rafters with attendees.
The supporting act is majestic post-rockers/metallers Sólstafir from Iceland. This music label is certainly lacking, as this quartet sounds like no other band. Their lengthy songs are abrasive, desperate, vast, isolating and frigid. Their set begins with Náttmál from their Ottá album. Post-rock introspection collides with the stoniness of desert rock. While most of the audience may be unfamiliar with Sólstafir, they are highly attentive and entertained. They’ve likely made some new converts here.
The crowd feasts upon songs, including Ottá, Fjara and Rökkur, from throughout the post-rock portion of their discography. These Icelanders visually resemble cool rockstars and are also spirited folk; not only does the band maintain a vigorous presence, but vocalist Aðalbjörn Tryggvason leaves the stage to mingle with the front row, as well as clambering on amps and the drum kit. The final song is Goddess of the Ages, seeing the audience off with oneiric atmospheres and an energetic show. If only all support acts were as engaging as this.
The incomparable headliners Katatonia waste no time getting stuck into the weighty opener of their shiny new album Sky Void of Stars, which just came out last month. The Garage is merciful to Katatonia’s sound, leaving the music crystal clear and aggressive when called to. One of the most glaring changes in the lineup is guitarist Anders Nyström’s absence. A family emergency prohibits him from embarking on his tour, but his substitute is ex-Entombed, Nico Elgstand, who fits the bill sublimely.
Sky Void of Stars is just a few weeks old and bravely the Swedes dedicate a third of the set to their 13th album. Stylistically, it follows the well-trodden path that Katatonia have ambled down for their most recent full-length observations. Colossal Shade, Opaline, Birds and Atrium harbour rain-soaked guitar melodies, brooding rhythms, stormy distortion and the dismayed signature singing of Jonas Renske. Confident in this nook of their oeuvre, this is not a retrospective show. The main body of the setlist is exclusively gathered from the most recent half of their expansive discography. While the new songs are enthralling, their recency impedes familiarity and visible excitement from the fans. Consequently, the punters are subdued and a couple of them call out for elder songs. At one point, Renske drily rebuttals “I don’t understand Scottish.”
More aged tracks Forsaker, Old Hearts Fall and Deliberation also secure more energetic responses. Untrodden from 2020’s City Burials seemingly sends off the headliner. The crowd expects an encore and sure enough, their patience is rewarded. Without a doubt, the mournful number My Twin secures the strongest reaction from the crowd. This is followed by the last song of the night, fan favourite Evidence.