Conquering the Distance
Katatonia and Process of Guilt in Porto, Portugal, on April 11, 2007
by: Pedro Azevedo
Before the closure of the Hard Club late last year, Katatonia playing in Porto would have almost certainly meant a visit to that riverside venue. In its place, an old theatre in the city centre is used: the Sá da Bandeira, originally built in the early second half of the 19th century.

This is a theatre that has seen a lot during its long history -- from hosting plays of great prestige and vying for the title of best theatre in Porto, all the way to showing porn movies. Lately it has recovered to some extent, now regularly hosting popular plays as well as the odd concert. Katatonia were not the first metal band to play there, but it was my first time at the venue, so I had little idea of what to expect.

The theatre has a spacious room, with two levels of balconies and a large stage. Ornaments that are probably quite old still remain in the walls, although there is an air of persistent decay about them. Regardless of being much closer to rundown than pristine, the venue is still adequate. What's best, the opening chords by Portugal's own Process of Guilt that inaugurate the night leave little doubt that the sound will be potent and sufficiently clear.

Process of Guilt started playing in front of a nicely sized crowd: the venue was nearly full, but not uncomfortably so. The band managed to squeeze all of four songs into their set -- not bad, considering they all tended towards the ten minute mark.

Having released one of the top doom metal albums of 2006 with _Renounce_, they did not disappoint live. This is a band that does not compromise their vision of doom/death metal, with slowly evolving and almost hypnotic passages that go on for as long as they feel right. Process of Guilt reveled in thunderous storms of doom/death and basked in the tranquil calm that ensued, only to slowly build the tension back to a point of inevitable release.

With a drummer that is consistently able to prove that doom metal drumming doesn't have to be the least bit boring, both guitars and bass went about their business with feeling and abandon in each prolonged note and crushing riff. This was completed with vocals that alternated softly sung or spoken passages and a vast, emotional roar that fitted the doom/death sequences perfectly. The sound mix was generous in the low-end, which also suited their style.

All of the three tracks they picked from _Renounce_ were very well chosen, starting with album opener "Motionless", followed by "Window" and "Becoming Light". They concluded their set with what I was told was a cover of This Empty Flow, which I was neither expecting nor able to recognize at the time.

This was a strong performance from a young band that is already one of Portugal's premier doom metal outfits, and Process of Guilt proved they deserve similar opportunities to show their potential outside the country.

For the second year in a row, I had the chance to see a live performance by the authors of CoC's reigning album of the year. In 2006 I saw Primordial after their triumph with _A Gathering Wilderness_, and now it was Katatonia's turn, after winning the prize with _The Great Cold Distance_. They entered the stage to great applause from a crowd that would remain highly enthusiastic and responsive from start to finish, despite the lack of any stage banter.

On stage, Katatonia make an eclectic visual combination these days. With Daniel Liljekvist all but hidden behind his drum kit, and Jonas Renkse (as usual) remaining quite low-key in that respect, the remaining three members could hardly be more visually distinctive: Anders "Blakkheim" Nyström with his long-haired all-metal guitarist style; Fredrik Norrman on a short-haired combat gear and baseball cap note; and his brother Mattias looking every bit the goth bass player.

Enough side notes. Katatonia played a sixteen-song set, including one track as encore. The sound was quite good, and soon improved. This led to a powerful sound mix that didn't sacrifice too much clarity. Renkse's vocal delivery, which started out with some uncertainty, also improved rapidly. They opened with solid renditions of "Leaders", "Wealth" and "Soil's Song" off their last couple of albums, _The Great Cold Distance_ and _Viva Emptiness_. In retrospect, these songs were almost a warm-up for the rest of the show, as the quality and intensity levels increased across the board.

A change of guitars heralded older material, with "Deadhouse" and "Cold Ways" providing a welcome return to _Discouraged Ones_. These two sandwiched the outstanding "Teargas" from _Last Fair Deal Gone Down_, which got an especially warm welcome from the audience. At this point, it became clear to me that this gig might actually surpass my expectations.

With this fine triumvirate out of the way, a major sing-along occurred during the very well received "Ghost of the Sun" from _Viva Emptiness_, thanks to its simple lyrics and catchy chorus, punctuated by Nyström's shrill screams. "Criminals", from the same album, followed successfully, despite making much less of an impression. "July" then brought us back to their latest effort, and it turned out to be an especially powerful rendition -- the second half pretty much tore the house down.

A return to _Last Fair Deal Gone Down_ ensued, with two fine songs in the form of "The Future of Speech" and "Tonight's Music". _Tonight's Decision_ then got its chance, with album opener "For My Demons" joining the numerous songs that sparked a sing-along (though none as much as "Ghost of the Sun").

Back to _Viva Emptiness_ with "Sleeper" and _The Great Cold Distance_ with its first single "My Twin", before the regular set was closed with "Evidence", again from _Viva Emptiness_ -- a track that works very well indeed as set closer, thanks to its excellent final section.

After a brief break, Nyström came back alone and teased the opening chords of "Murder" from _Brave Murder Day_ on his own for a while, before being joined by the rest of the band. While this probably left many of their newer fans bewildered, others will have welcomed it as cathartic. I felt Renkse held back a little on his growls at times, but nothing came near to damaging their superb rendition of this outstanding choice for an encore.

A nicely balanced set, very well delivered by the band, with good sound quality, a very enthusiastic crowd and a decent enough venue. All things considered, a damn good night out.

(article submitted 22/4/2007)

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