After eight long years, Melbourne fans of all things gloom, prog and heavy are finally afforded the opportunity to be embraced by the musical mystique of Swedish metal masters Katatonia. Walking into the Croxton the punters were greeted by a hugely aesthetic stage design. Drum riser in the center, backed by a large black banner adorned with Katatonia’s signature bird motifs and winged by walls of Marshall cabinets, the kind of site that forces you to throw horns.
The first band to take the stage for the evening was Victoria K. Barely illuminated, the dark stage is clothed with strips of white light as drummer Frankie Demuru began his thunderous entrance, accompanied by the guttural vocalizations of Charlie Curnow reminiscent of acts like the Hu and Heilung. A tangible mood was shaped by the band before taking a hard right into something much more power and prog-metal-inspired. Once Victoria took the stage it became clear why it was HER band. She draped a blanket of mystique over the audience with her powerful and controlled mastery of the voice. Gliding across kyrie inspired phrygian dominant runs with ease. Unfortunately, that mystique struggled to hold footing by the band’s unwillingness (or incapability) to lock in together. Which was a real shame because there were plenty of moments where each instrumentalist had an opportunity to showcase their talents. A particular highlight was during the track Tower where Adyn Young allowed some of his potential as a guitarist to shine through with a killer solo.
By the third song, the band had found their footing for a Madonna cover and started to play much more in time but still suffered from a case of concrete feet. But the best part of their set for me was the song Pomegranate. That song showcased the most dynamic elements from everyone in the band. Nuanced guitar work, restrained and deliberate drumming and, incredible vocals by Victoria. Criticisms aside this is definitely a band worth keeping your eyes on.
Next to grace the Croxton stage was one of the most uncommon ensemble formats in metal. Three guitars, drums, bass and violin. Suldusk’s performance was a masterclass in evocation magick with each song wielding the emotional gravity of a semi-trailer made entirely out of frozen orphan tears. Their songwriting process clearly places more weight on emotional connection than conventional song structure because you’d be as hard pressed to find an obvious chorus as a person in the audience not holding their heart. From the moment the band took stage they commanded an easy confidence that only comes from truly believing in your material.
At the helm was the immensely talented Emily Highfield’s who showed enormous vocal versatility throughout the set. Deftly swaying from Balkan white voice-esque timbres through to the shrieks and wretches of the band’s collective pain and regret trying to escape her throat.
The highlights of Suldusk’s set were numerous with each song mixed to perfection and performed with precision. The song Aphasia sounded like it would fit right at home on the soundtrack to The Witcher as it conjured images of riding on horseback to find my father’s murderer. The Elm followed which made me feel as though I was watching the sunrise into overcast skies over a misty ocean. Sovran Shrines was a little more light hearted, but only in comparison to the rest of the set, it was still melancholic to the very core. It was during this song that I looked around the audience and noticed a few people breaking into tears. Further evidence to this act’s truly masterful ability to conjure emotions from the crowd. The song finally ends on a huge crescendo that sounds like meeting all your lost loved one’s eternal souls for one last goodbye.
Some minor technical issues afforded Emily a chance to introduce the band before they ended the set with their new single Anthesis. I’m a slut for blast beats so I instantly loved this one with it’s use of classic black metal tropes. What can I say, blast beats and tremolo picking go together like being a real estate agent and not having any class at social gatherings. Overall, an outstanding performance and personally the highlight of the evening for me. I highly recommend checking them out.
The crowd holds their breath for one last moment as we see hear the intermission music fade out of the speakers and bear witness to the arrival of the Swedish legends Katatonia to an eruption of applause. Unfortunately, the group are left without the aid of their long-time guitarist Anders Nyström but the horde seems to be too elated to see their heralds of gloom to make any noticeable grievance to it. Kataonia starts the set by launching into Austerity, the opening track of their latest studio release. Jonas Renske’s vocals are a little shaky to start but find footing in no time and guitarist Roger Öjersson delivers the first of many of what I am going to affectionately call “tonegasms”. Seriously, every second song Roger executes a flawless solo that’s equal parts technically impressive, motifically driven, emotionally evocative, and, don’t even get me started on his tone. Gear nerds should be lining up to ask this man how he gets his wall of Marshall’s to sound so good.
It’s hard to say what the highlights of Katatonia’s performance were because my notes on every song are something along the lines of “killer riff”, “solid crowd engagement”, “killer face melting solo” or something to that effect. I think my favourite song for the evening was Dead Letters. The opening riff and drum groove were super tight and hit like a truck, everyone in the crowd had no choice but to headbang in unison at the riffs might. There wasn’t a second in that song that didn’t fuck. Their rendition of Opaline also made room for a beautiful moment between Roger and Jonas as their vocal duet resolved with a gentle embrace of long-time friends. It was a beautiful and subtle moment that felt earnest and was a good example of why I think the band’s gloomy music feels so honest in melancholia.
Contrasting this was the colossal performance of Nephilim which had the room feel like the earth was going to open up and eat us all. Towards the end of the set, Jonas really starts to let his heart out with some passionate vocalizations during Old Heart Falls and I really felt like he found a space for himself as a performer to connect with us as an audience.
After a massive 16-song set list the Swedish guests made their way off stage only for the audience to chant and demand an encore. With a catalogue of 11 albums to pull songs from, the group happily obliged. Returning to the stage, the backlit fog cast their silhouettes across the venue for a larger-than-life atmosphere. They churned out another 3 bangers for the crowd ending it all with a heartfelt thank you and large applause from the audience.
Overall I felt like the band were great as soon as they hit the stage. As the set developed, the Swedish powerhouse became more comfortable with the audience and seemed more willing to be vulnerable with their performance. It was in those small moments of vulnerability in the performance that it became obvious why they had such a long-lasting career and so many passionate fans. I look forward to seeing them again in the future, but next time with Anders.
Huge thanks to the Croxton Band room for having us and a special thanks to John Howarth for arranging media access.
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