The inspired pairing of two titans of depresso-metal, Katatonia and Alcest, made this gig a hot ticket and Islington’s O2 Academy was packed to capacity early on. A good thing too as first band, Boston’s Junius, whetted the appetite with their quiet-loud metalgaze. When they stomped their fuzz pedals it felt akin to being in a wind tunnel. Very effective use of dynamics which were let down a little by a lacklustre vocal performance. Nevertheless a good start to the evening.
Alcest tread a similar path but do so with more beauty, heart and subtlety. “Les Voyages de l’Âme” was one of my albums of 2012 and hearing these songs performed live was a mouth-watering prospect. Throughout the set the band struck me as incredibly studious and focused. They really were putting their all into this show. Musically, this intensity came across as they tore through majestic versions of ‘Autre Temps’, the pulsing and incandescent ‘Là où naissent les couleurs nouvelles’ and the stunning, elegiac ‘Summer’s Glory’. I look forward to the return of Alcest to the UK, hopefully with a headline slot in the not-too-distant future. Their music seems to touch everyone who hears it and this was palpable in the O2.
Headliners Katatonia took to the stage to a triumphant roar, principally for Jonas Renkse, vocalist and channeler of the barely-contained emotion which constitutes this band’s music. Opening with the lead-off track from “Dead End Kings”, ‘The Parting’, it was immediately clear that this was going to be no ordinary metal gig. Renkse’s voice soared, threatening to escape the confines of the venue. Again I noted the intensity with which these musicians attacked their anthems of death, defiance and alienation – faces rarely visible, the mops of hair formed a rhythmically pulsating front-line, utterly engrossed in the present. Behind them the lone figure of Daniel Liljekvist was fascinating to watch, an inventive and musical drummer who never lapses into metal clichés. Katatonia are an emphatic and potent force when playing live. We were treated to a fan-pleasing set reaching as far back as ‘Deadhouse’ from 98’s “Discouraged Ones” album. Every intervening album was represented: ‘My Twin’, ‘Burn the Remembrance’, ‘Tear Gas’, ‘The Longest Year’, ‘Soil’s Song’ and more were all greeted by a rapt audience. With surprisingly few songs from “Dead End Kings” this was a band consolidating its recent successes and offering a retrospective, for any who doubted, of just how good they have been for many years.
After the main set, an encore beginning with the twisted riffing of ‘Ghost of the Sun’ saw the mercury rise in the already stifling hall as the crowd joined in its expletive-laden chorus. ‘July’ followed and the night was brought down to a low simmer with the beautiful closer, ‘The Day and Then the Shade’.
It has been heart-warming to watch Katatonia’s reputation grow in recent years. With performances like tonight’s it’s plain to see why. For many this night will have been the live metal highlight of the year. Next time Katatonia come around don’t miss out.