Katatonia and Before the Rain at the new Hard Club, Porto, Portugal, on November 27, 2010
by: Pedro Azevedo
The new Hard Club occupies a prominent spot in one of Porto's busiest nightlife areas. In place of what was once a marketplace / exhibition room, it clearly possesses everything required to make it a very likely success in such a favourable location. What it no longer has, however, is quite the same personality it derived from the old stone walls and view across the river to Porto that it enjoyed in its previous location. With a different name it could have just been a brand new start, and there would be no looking back. With the old name comes a degree of recognition that must be useful for the owners, but also a constant reminder of what was left behind. In addition, having already seen both of tonight's bands a couple of times before, there seemed to be no end to all the inevitable comparisons to the past.

Opening act Before the Rain are for the most part longtime acquaintances of mine, including an old friend who once designed a certain logo -- not that it matters here, in context with everything else. More importantly, they knew they had a great chance to impress in front of a large audience that might be receptive to their style of what is essentially an evolution of doom/death. With one date in Lisbon and another in Porto supporting Katatonia, Before the Rain wanted to showcase their new material and generate as much interest as possible for their forthcoming second album. Based on their live performance tonight, I can't imagine why that shouldn't happen.

While most in the audience were probably oblivious to this, Before the Rain recently changed vocalists. The Portuguese doom act has just finished recording their new album with Gary Griffith (of Morgion fame) on vocal duties, and he was also able to make the trip from the US to Portugal for these two gigs. While he is possibly more renowned for his clean vocals, Griffith proved that not only has his singing remained at least as good as it was before, but that he also retains a fearsome growl that should work brilliantly with their music in the studio. Furthermore, new additions Carlos Monteiro (ex-Sculpture guitarist) and Joaquim Aires (ex-Disaffected drummer) were also looking to continue their integration.

Including only one previously published song in your set is a risk that few would have been willing to take in front of such a large crowd. You do get to showcase your latest material and generate interest for your next release, but the audience will have little or no familiarity with your music, which may cause them to lose interest. Taking this risk proved Before the Rain's confidence in their new material, and with good reason: it sounds like they are about to comfortably surpass their already impressive debut, and as a result they were able to keep the audience interested.

BtR were visibly enthusiastic, and delivered a powerful and heartfelt performance that showed significant progression in their sound and onstage confidence. I would have traded a bit of the triple guitar wall of sound for just a little more volume in the vocal department, but that's nitpicking. The overall sound was very good, the more rhythmic sections particularly crushing, driven by strong drumming and a remarkable bass guitar sound that was used to its fullest. Apart from a couple of missteps on the penultimate track, they were highly competent in their delivery of material that promises to shape up as one of the best doom/death releases in quite a while.

If by now you're thinking along the lines of "enough already, what about Katatonia?", there's a reason for that. Simply put, I enjoyed Before the Rain's songs more intensely than the whole of Katatonia's set. That isn't to say the Swedes didn't put in a good performance; they were highly professional, the sound was good, the crowd absolutely enthusiastic. However, two things contributed to my somewhat diminished enjoyment of their set, and they both go back to that relativity thing again.

First -- and this comes from someone who really likes Katatonia -- they sounded too mainstream compared to the powerful doom/death Before the Rain had left lingering in the air. I understand this is by design, but it made me lose part of my interest because their emotional side was not as effective. Second, and without wanting to seem overly negative, virtually everything they played from previous albums sounded much better to me than what they played from their latest record -- the only possible exception being "Forsaker". This was especially evident on most of the mellower tracks, including the more-Opeth-than-Opeth "Idle Blood", with others suffering from excessively softly sung backing vocals and increasingly frequent electronic touches.

The likes of "Teargas", "July" or "Evidence" were still an absolute pleasure to hear -- even if we can hardly expect "Murder" as the closing song anymore. Ultimately I was not as impressed as I would like by _Night Is the New Day_, so it was hardly a surprise that I didn't enjoy this set nearly as much as the one based on the superior _The Great Cold Distance_. For all their impeccable musicianship and professionalism, I was simply not as moved by the music as I should have been, and that does not bode well. This was surely a more enjoyable Katatonia gig for all the teenagers with their _Night Is the New Day_ shirts than old-timers like myself. A good show by the Swedes... but everything is relative.

(article submitted 8/12/2010)

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