Katatonia is only one of many bands that began with their roots in blackened death metal and transformed their sound into one that is not only instantly recognizable but adheres more closely to moody, melodic progressive rock. The Fall of Hearts, the band's tenth studio album, directly extends the line that began with 2003's Viva Emptiness and carries straight through 2014's Dead End Kings. That said, it also presents a new musical direction. New drummer Daniel Moilanen is more much nuanced than Daniel Liljekvist was. He can hit hard, but more importantly, he offers restraint and refinement in the album's quieter moments. Further, new lead guitarist Roger Öjersson diversifies the attack with dynamic ferocity and imagination in his riffs, fills, and solos. He adds weight to even the most basic and gentle of melodies. The use of keyboards -- from Wurlitzers, Mellotrons, and synths to electric and acoustic pianos (played by vocalist/guitarist Jonas Renkse and guitarist/backing vocalist Anders Nystrom), are more assured and simultaneously painterly in detail and meatier. First single "Old Heart Falls," with its modal melody and syncopated dynamic structure, offers fat crescendoes and dropouts as swirling Mellotron strings, keyboard-simulated vibraphones, and a layers of reverb is cinematic in scope. The mellower cuts such as "Decima," with its folk-like melodic line and uncharacteristic hand percussion (performed by JP Asplund) employ a restraint that ups the lyrics' emotional quotient. While "Shifts" commences with the sound of an air raid siren, it plods at a dirge-like rock tempo colored by acoustic guitars and piano that recall vintage Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd. Contrast these with "Serein": an uptempo, prog pop/rocker with ringing, wrangling guitars, fat kick drums and snare, and an anthemic bridge. On "Serac," Öjersson flexes his guitar muscle. His monstrous riff hearkens back to the doomy death metal on Tonight's Decision, or even Opeth's Ghost Reveries. "Sanction," with skittering hand drums, blazing guitar vamps, and multi-layered choral backdrop, all support Renkse, who is at his most emotive and urgent. Some of that feel is captured on the more melodic and piano-centric "The Night Subscriber" and the knotty closer "Passer" as well. The Fall of Hearts offers more musical sleight of hand than we've heard from Katatonia in some time. Their lyrics remain steeped in themes of loss, alienation, desolation, and the desire for transcendence, but their melodies are more labyrinthine, less straight-ahead, and conversely, contain more earworm hooks, making them more accessible to a wider prog rock audience than ever before. Inspiring and forward-looking, this album proves that at 25, Katatonia are still restless and refuse to rest on their laurels.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek