Video: Katatonia – “Dead Letters”

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Katatonia – “Dead Letters” (Official Lyric Video)

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The official lyric video is a marketing device that’s sprung up in the past two or so years. It makes sense in the age of YouTube. At some point, artists and labels realized that fans would upload their music to YouTube, attach lyrics and graphics (usually bad), and rack up views. Why not take back control from the fans? Now official lyric videos are common for major label releases, sometimes getting millions of views. They allow another bite at the marketing apple in addition to the song’s actual video, as well as another revenue opportunity (ads). This all may sound grim, but as a music fan, I like reading lyrics while listening to music. It all boils down to that.

Which is ironic in the case of Katatonia. Amongst Katatonia fans, I bet I’m not alone in that I don’t listen to Katatonia for the lyrics. What are Katatonia songs and albums about? I don’t know. Viva Emptiness seems to have an urban theme, The Great Cold Distance seems to be about schisms between people, and other records seem divided between crime scenarios and feeling really, really bummed. Does this vagueness ultimately matter? Beyond the difficulty of singalongs at shows, I’m not sure. The music still speaks to me. The riffs, Jonas Renkse’s voice, and the occasional lyric that sticks out (for better or for worse) – they all combine to make Katatonia a “place”.

That place seems to have crystallized with 2006’s The Great Cold Distance. Basically, it’s radio rock dressed up dark and heavy, now tuned down to as low as Bb. This, too, may sound grim, but I happen to like the one song Katatonia writes now. “Dead Letters” is one such song. It runs on small details: Renkse stepping back and forth between light (major thirds) and dark (minor thirds), a bridge that teeters between brilliance (gorgeous chord changes) and disaster (cheesy keyboard solo), and a finale of sonic gold lace. Not a gourmet meal, but still a solid sit-down with better-than-expected wine.

As official lyrics videos go, “Dead Letters” isn’t the worst or best. Once again, viewing Katatonia’s lyrics doesn’t yield much. “My dreams are getting darker and darker” – we’ll take your word for it, Mr. Renkse. You’re telling, not showing, and when you say, “You shut my mind, but oh well”, we’ll shrug and agree. A common version of the lyrics floating around the Internet misprints the last line as “Songs that make the horus go”. That’s more interesting than the correct lyric, “Songs that make the hours go”. Horus, the Egyptian god of the sky/sun/moon and thus related to the passage of time, was often represented as a bird. These things potentially relate to the song’s lyrics, but I don’t think Renkse is going that deep.

That’s OK, though. The gods giveth (Swedish stewardesses) and the gods taketh away (English lyrics by Swedish metal bands). The gods, likely out of spite, also gave humans fire in the form of Photoshop. Travis Smith has harnessed this demonic force for good; the images in this video are proof. I’m excited for Katatonia’s new album, Dead End Kings, which comes out August 27 in the EU and August 28 in the US. I’m even more excited for the upcoming North American tour alongside Devin Townsend and Paradise Lost. You can see dates and buy tickets here.

— Alan Smith

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