Riding the coattails of 2009’s Night is the New Day, Katatonia’s new Dead End Kings has virtually the same plot: It’s difficult, unforgiving, elusive, isolated, and ultimately rewarding in the end. Reaction for Dead End Kings has been split, which means the Swedes are doing something right, for the bar is set so high that a “regular” Katatonia album just wouldn’t do. And while the band has yet to make the same album twice, their propensity to pair successive albums in their catalog (2003’s Viva Emptiness with 2006’s The Great Cold Distance; Night with Dead End Kings) gives them clear separation in a career that is marked by continual change.
Presently hitting the boards in North America with the killer bill of Devin Townsend and Paradise Lost, guitarist/founding member Anders Nyström phoned Blistering during a stop in Denver to discuss the new album, subsequent touring load and immediate plans for an “alternate” version of Dead End Kings. Time limitations ultimately prevented a deeper dive into the band’s storied past, but we promise that time (and feature) will come. For now, Mr. Blakkheim was his usual forthcoming and humble self, and off we went...
Blistering.com: You’re out with Paradise Lost at the moment and considering their influence on your early works, how cool is it to be in North America with them?
Anders Nyström: I think it’s a very huge honor. If you would ask me this 20 years ago, it would sound silly, unrealistic, and a dream, all in one. We have toured with these guys before and we’re sharing the bus with them and everything, so we’re really good friends. But it’s quite surreal to be over here and bringing them along with us.
Blistering.com: Surreal indeed. Like when you listen to Dance of December Souls, there’s so many nods to Paradise Lost.
Nyström: The whole surreal part is that we’re bringing them as special support, but that’s just because we’re in America and for some reason, they’ve neglected this market for a really long time. The bill wouldn’t be this if we went somewhere else, obviously. If we went to Europe or South America, they would take us as special support. We do keep that in mind, with all due respect for that.
Blistering.com: It still feels like your gradual chipping away at North America is starting to pay off. Are you starting to notice it more with every tour?
Nyström: Oh, totally. When we finally made the decision to start over here from scratch and re-invent the whole wheel, we said we’d come back here as much as we can. We also neglected America for a long time. We didn’t tour in America at all in the 90’s, as well as the first part of the millennium. It’s picking up really fast, though. That’s really encouraging because the situation is different in Europe because have a really established fanbase. It’s cool that it’s becoming a worldwide balance, really. Katatonia is spreading its name globally and I think touring America lately, has become one of my favorite places to go. It’s one language wherever you go, it’s one currency…it’s a really long drive, but the country is gigantic.
Blistering.com: Your first full tour in the States was in ’06 with Moonspell, so it’s been like this six-year process. You came over with them, then did some headlining runs, and now you’re here.
Nyström: That’s what makes it worth coming back. You’re going to step it up with the venues and more people are going to be at the shows. I can tell with this tour already. Something always happens in North America.
Blistering.com: As for this co-headlining tour with Devin, are you keeping the setlist the same for every night, or are you mixing it up?
Nyström: We try to switch it up as much as we can. We’re still early in the tour and there’s so many new songs we haven’t played before, so we’re trying to make them stable and nail them first. Once we’re there, we’re going to shift them around as much as we can. We really need to have the confidence and the songs under our belt before we do that. The setlist hasn’t changed too much yet. If the length changes, we’ll throw some songs in there, but we both have an hour each. So far, we knocking these new songs out from the new album, like five or six, and so far, they’re brand new, even to us. It’s a nervous thing…to get up and perform them every night.
Blistering.com: The new album is very keyboard-heavy, which makes me wonder how a song like “The Racing Heart” will translate. How it’s working so far?
Nyström: I think the songs are working really well. We bring backing tracks with us, so everything you heard on the album that [studio keyboardist] Frank Default did, you’ll hear live as well. Unfortunately, he’s not with us to do them live, but what can you do about it? I’d rather have backing tracks than nothing at all. All the sounds are still there; it’s very full and atmospheric. It seems to work out really well, and “The Racing Heart” is a song we’ve been playing every night and people seem to love it. You take a step down…you almost take a break from the intense stuff. It’s basically Jonas [Renkse, vocals] up there by himself and people are cheering and loving it. It’s amazing how soft material comes across live so well, actually.
Blistering.com: I remember when you had “Omerta” in the setlist a few years ago and that went over extremely well.
Nyström: Oh yeah. I think if you place it right in the setlist, it works wonders. It’s like you take a break, and then bring back the heavy stuff and you’re hungry again.
Blistering.com: You’re responsible for the heavier songs on the new album like “Buildings” and “Dead Letters,” so those must be in, right?
Nyström: Both of those are in the set, exactly, and they will stay. We felt that those are the bombs in the setlist and they unleash total fury. Well, on a Katatonia level [laughs]. They’re great songs and the band was stoked about performing them. We usually open each show with “Dead Letters” and they’re turning out well. It’s a blast performing them. Perfect live environment songs.
Blistering.com: You take a song like “Dead Letters” and the riffs…they’re not even Katatonia-like.
Nyström: I see the whole song like a little adventure, a musical adventure put into a compact media format. I guess that sums the whole essence of what I consider progressive.
Blistering.com: If you match the riffs from “Dead Letters” up against the stuff on Discouraged Ones, then that’s the utter definition of progressive, I would think.
Nyström: Exactly. You cannot stand still at the same spot over and over again. You get bored. I do enjoy going back and listening to the old songs and I enjoy playing them live. They are beautiful songs, but creatively and doing new songs, it wouldn’t be a challenge doing those kind of riffs anymore.