When Sweden's Katatonia released the nearly conceptual Night Is the New Day in 2009, there was little doubt that they had nearly transcended metal -- despite the fact that they engaged in thundering heaviness at will. Dead End Kings is a further exploration of the deeply atmospheric, melodic brand of "dark rock" offered on the earlier recording, but where the former was so focused on being an album that was greater than the sum of its parts, the latter is a collection of tightly written songs that work in virtually any sequential context, making for a more compelling listen. Produced by vocalist Jonas Renkse and guitarist Anders Nyström, and mixed by David Castillo, Dead End Kings offers a massive integration of sounds, textures, and architectures, organic and synthetic, ranging from lush softness to nearly bludgeoning moments of doom-laden density. A cello introduces "The Parting," the set opener. It is answered by Nyström and Per Eriksson's rumbling guitars, Daniel Liljekvist's syncopated drumming, and Niklas Sandin's thrumming bassline. It is further decorated by layers of dark aural thickness: synths, multi-tracked strings, and haunted ambiences courtesy of Frank Default. It is the door that opens into a swirling, shape-shifting universe, where sophisticated melodics underscore melancholic themes of isolation, loss, grief, death, loneliness, and existential angst -- the sadness is pervasive. Norwegian vocalist Silje Wergeland of the Gathering adds a passionate duet vocal on "The One You Are Looking for Is Not Here." "Hypnone," with guitars at the forefront, highlighted by rolling tom-toms, adds a sinister tinge. While "The Racing Heart" is the only cut on the set that is a ballad proper -- and a lovely one, too -- "Buildings" is the only cut that could properly be called "metal." The latter features churning guitar riffs, propulsive drumming, and urgent synths, in a stop-and-start cadence that alternates with bleak melodies and near menace. The latter half of the record features tracks -- "Leech," "Ambitions," "Undo You" -- that alternate between rockist balladry and doom, yet differ from one another a great deal. The harder "Lethean" and the gloomily anthemic "First Prayer" prefigure "Dead Letters," the set's finest cut, which can properly be called "prog" (not a criticism). With its various parts, ever-shifting dynamics, and blazing instrumental interludes, it sends the set off with a nearly majestic bang. Dead End Kings is uncompromising in its musical excellence, bleak vision, and dark, hunted beauty; it extends Katatonia's reach exponentially.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek