Katatonia

The Great Cold Distance

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Coming three full years after 2003's Viva Emptiness, The Great Cold Distance continues the trend toward the mainstream that Katatonia began with that album. Singer Jonas Renske -- who apparently lost his ability to do the now-clich├ęd Cookie Monster vocals some years ago due to medical problems -- has refined his voice into a much smoother and, surprisingly, more powerful instrument that's capable of greater emotional shadings. Similarly, this album forsakes the blastbeats and hyperspeed riffing for a more dynamic sound that makes smart use of slow and quiet passages. They're still heavy: "Deliberation" and "Leaders" are as brutal as anything on the band's career high point, Last Fair Deal Gone Down. But that heaviness is set off by gems like the surprisingly restrained "In the White," a powerful and heartfelt song that's among the band's finest, and that sonic variety makes The Great Cold Distance a stronger, more compelling listen than a more bludgeoning effort would be.

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