Katatonia’s concert film Sanctitude (Kscope, March 31) is a splendid relic of the semi-acoustic Unplugged & Reworked tour the Swedish band took through Europe in May 2014. It was the first time the band had gone the unplugged route, but the jaunt was a logical step in the wake of 2013 album Dethroned and Uncrowned, where the progressive doom rockers stripped their hard-charging 2012 album Dead End Kings down to its melancholy bones. The gothic architecture of the London’s Union Chapel lent itself perfectly in both atmosphere and acoustics for songs that stretch across the band’s catalog, bringing a natural, haunting echo to tracks like “Ambitions,” “Unfurl,” “Lethean” and “The One You Are Looking for Is Not Here.” The latter song featured The Gathering vocalist Silje Wergeland in a surprise appearance.
Despite Katatonia typically giving concerts that are backed by a wall of amplification, its members seem at ease performing in the hushed setting, surrounded by candles. Their calm demeanor looks so natural you’d never know how nerve-wracking it was for them to pull the shows off.
“To be seated and depend on the whole environment of having things really low key and really moody and really stripped down, it was a very, very strange experience and new for us, and probably what made us very nervous,” guitarist/co-founder Anders Nystrom says.
But the experience hasn’t made Nystrom gun shy — he can’t wait to do it again if the opportunity presents itself. “It’s good to cover new ground and also put up challenges for yourself and see where you can go,” he observes.
Another reason he wants to make a second go of the tour is because he loved how Katatonia’s music sounded when played in churches and cathedrals. “I felt like the church became my amplifier, so to speak. It also enhanced the whole vocal performance. It really filled up like that,” enthuses Nystrom. “It was cool being able to utilize a real natual reverb and not just rely on effects and having a good PA.”
Future engagements aren’t limited to venues with canyon-like acoustics, either: Katatonia strumming guitars in a cozy bistro is within the realm of possibility. “We tried out the small setting of playing in almost like a cafe thing,” says Nystrom. “This concept worked beautifully in that setting as well, so it doesn’t always have to be a grand cathedral or auditorium.”
Katatonia is now is the early stages of “collecting ideas and cooking them, so to speak, into songs” for the album that will follow up Dethroned and Uncrowned (which peaked at No. 25 on the Heatseekers chart). Since it’s too soon to determine whether that project will be in the vein of Dethroned and Uncrowned or Dead End Kings (which reached No. 138 on the Billboard 200), Nystrom says, “I think we’re somewhere in the middle, because you just don’t want to go down one street too far. You want to have a little bit of both, and I think that mixture is right now the best way to represent the band and where we are in our evolution, so people should probably expect a few songs being on the acoustic side and a few songs being on the really heavy side.”
In the interim, Nystrom is indulging his fondness for heaviness by doing a mini-tour of European festivals this summer with death metal supergroup Bloodbath. The side project performs when its members’ schedules permit. Nystrom is joined in the band by Katatonia singer Jonas Renkse on bass, former Katatonia guitarist Per Eriksson, Opeth drummer Martin Axenrot and new singer Nick Holmes of Paradise Lost. (Holmes replaced former Bloodbath singer Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth.) Bloodbath played its first show in five years on April 4 in Oslo. Its sole date in the United States is on May 22 at Maryland Deathfest in Baltimore.