DB HOF NO. 33
The making of Katatonia’s “Brave Murder Day”
released: July 1996
Katatonia’s initial incarnation as a black doom outfit—replete with corpsepaint, weapons, stage names like Lord Seth and Blackheim, and song titles “Without God” and “Palace of Frost”—probably caught as many Darkthrone acolytes off guard as it did followers of England’s doom metal “big three.” Yet for Katatonia’s debut album, 1993’s Dance of December Souls, the Stockholm-based outfit unmasked, altered the stage names (Lord Seth transformed into Lord J. Renkse), and discovered a profound love of Joy Division and the Cure. It was the start of something great. Or, at least that’s what we thought. A year later, disagreements between Renkse and Blackheim (a.k.a. Anders Nyström) forced Katatonia into a two-year holding pattern, and the brawling duo splintered off into other music pursuits, namely October Tide and Diabolical Masquerade.
By the time death metal—the atmospheric, doom-laden and frilly type—rolled into 1996, stripping down to the most basic of elements was entirely a foreign concept. Everything was orchestrally and conceptually grandiose. The sky was the limit, but bands were reaching for the stars. It had to end. Well, it never did (Nightwish’s studio bill for Dark Passion Play is reportedly over $680,000), but that same year Katatonia envisioned, created and released the antithesis. Disharmonic and bereft of symphonic glitz, Brave Murder Day instead relied on a driving, no-frills 4/4 beat, a wall of shoegazer-style guitars with desolate, wind-swept lead playing, and the disquieting roar of Opeth frontman Mikeal Åkerfeldt. It’s shockingly simple and haunting all the same. Though few appreciated or understood—even longtime producer Dan Swanö thought it unsatisfactory—Brave Murder Day’s austere approach, songs like “Brave,” “Day,” “Rainroom” and “Endtime” were as daring as they were influential. In fact, Katatonia was the first to marry metal and shoegaze. Though the Swedes would successfully reassign Renkse to the vocalist role, replacing Åkerfeldt, on every full-length since then, it’s Brave Murder Day where Katatonia—like Hall of Famers Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Cathedral—blazed a new trail while the rest of metaldom stood and scratched its collective head.
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