I’ve only seen Katatonia live twice. The first occasion – in October 2013 – they opened for Paradise Lost. In my review of the night I described the Swedes as “prime doom of the highest order”  and added that “Ghost of the Sun” ends things in a swirl of anger.”

The second time was the other week. They were headlining a bill that also saw Solstafir play. I wrote [the two bands] “forgo the chest-beating bombast in favour of something else, something that comes from another place. A place not visceral, not immediate, but utterly and totally compelling.”

Maybe that shows I was wrong the first time  – or wrong the second? – but I prefer to think of it like this: Katatonia have, as most of the best bands do, evolved over time.

Which means that “Sky Void Of Stars” is perhaps not the “culmination”, but more just the latest stopping off point on a wonderful journey.

It’s a journey that begins abruptly. “Austerity” doesn’t have an intro, instead Jonas Renske’s vocals kick in immediately, as if he’s bursting to say something.

“…..Stars” is his album too.  He writes it all, but Anders Nyström – the other founding member – has a telepathic understanding of what’s required and his lead work is stunning. And the words –  the chorus here “You say that woe is always on your mind. You drag me back in for a breath of comfort” are as unconventional as they are poetic.

It is something of an irony that I saw the band on Valentines Day. The only love they’d professed that night was when Renske had introduced the mighty “Colossal Shade” with a simple “hail Satan”. This one has a groove.

They’d played a lot of new stuff that night too. This is a record that isn’t “heavy” as such, although its weighty, and its beauty is in the subtleties, stuff like “Opaline”, which has a real gravitas, or the more immediate “Birds”  – which actually would have fitted in with Paradise Lost’s “One Second” era stuff.

Over the years – and dares I say as they’ve matured perhaps? – Katatonia have become mellifluous and there’s a beguiling quality to this album. Perhaps best shown on “Drab Moon” and the discordant, slightly unsettling “Author” both gives the record its title in its lyrics and its most strident riff.

If it exists in the shadows, this album, then you can’t fail but notice the nod to the doom past of “Impermanence”, it’s the closest we get here to the mid period work, but even here, it sounds like the modern band playing the track.

Metal that makes you think, I a rarity, I suppose, but on “Sclera” the words: “We are standing safe outside of knowledge/Where nothing ever can or will be taught”  stand out. As a result, although this album was excellent from the off, its very much one that improves with repeated listens. A real throwback in that respect – the more you give, the more you get back.

It’s striking, actually, how immediate these tracks are, and also how they are incredibly consistent. In truth, as the lyrics are so opaque, its unclear whether this is a concept record or not, but there does seem to be a “golden thread” if you will, running through them. Whether it’s the mid paced “Atrium” or the heavy, yet hypnotic “No Beacon To Illuminate Our Fall”, there’s no doubt what band this is, or what record it belongs on.

Katatonia exist in a perpetual state of evolution, as if they constantly searching for something tangible, but yet just in the ether. They way they have grown, on their own terms, is quite astonishing. “Sky Void Of Stars” is in that context, merely another step along their own path, but it’s a wonderful, and beautifully crafted one.

Rating 9/10

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