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The Epic Kings and Idols Tour: Devin Townsend Project, Katatonia and Paradise Lost @ The TLA.

September 25, 2012

Text and images by Chad Sims.

At first glance this tour might seem like something of an odd bag to metal fans. Co-headlining would be Devin Townsend the former front man of Strapping Young Lad who disappeared from the music scene for awhile to sober up, and Katatonia, a legendary Swedish metal band who are relatively unknown in the US. Paradise Lost, the oldest of these bands and the one with the most recent US success, was opening. If nothing else this show had variety.

Paradise Lost (right) has been around since 1988, and they have gone through a number of stylistic transitions over the years. While their newer music is well-constructed goth rock, I found them to be a bit bland live.  I am not that familiar with their more recent albums so maybe it is the kind of music you have to know to really appreciate live.

Katatonia was up next and the band I was most interested to see. Like Paradise Lost, Katatonia have been around for a long time, forming in 1992. They too have gone through a number of stylistic changes over time –  they started as sort of a doomy black/death metal band and eventually evolved into what they are today which is a more technical metal band with many atmospheric parts and songs as seen on their newest album, Dead End Kings.

They didn’t play any of their very early material, as expected, because singer Jonas Renkse is no longer able to sing in the guttural howl characteristic of that material. They did however play a blistering set of songs from pretty much all of their other albums.  Overall, I enjoyed best the songs where they switch between heavy and dreamy parts.

Before the show I was not particularly excited to see the Devin Townsend Project.  I never loved Strapping Young Lad, I wasn’t terribly well associated with his solo music, and what I had heard I thought often lapsed into a brand of silliness I didn’t find amusing.  After Devin (right) took the stage, however, he quickly changed my mind.

Gone was Townsend’s tough guy demeanor of his Strapping Young Lad days. It was replaced by an energetic, charismatic showmanship. Unlike some people in recovery, Townsend didn’t seem like he was clinging to positivity in-order to stay sober but instead that he had a new lease on life and was showing his true self for the first time.

Of course, Townsend’s true self is now the clown prince of metal. He even came out wearing the uniform of 1990’s comedians –  jeans and a black blazer. I also can’t shake the idea that he looks like Iron Chef Michael Symon (also a notorious goof), with his newly shorn head replacing his trademark long hair.

The band’s set spanned the bizarre territory of metal, rock and roll, and show tunes but somehow they managed to pull it all off.  Townsend demands energy from the crowd and responds with bombastic performance which few can match.

Before the show, I got a chance to sit down and talk with founding member and guitarist of Katatonia, Anders Nystrom, about touring the USA, their new album, and the band’s influences. 

So, how is the tour going?

Good. We are coming near the end now. Just a few more dates. Favorites so far LA, Montreal, San Francisco, Chicago but everything so far has been good.

That is good because you guys haven’t done a tremendous amount of touring in the US.

No, we are trying to get there.  That is what we have our focus on.  Trying to get back here and do hard work.  I mean the first tour we ever did here was 2006. So it wasn’t that long ago. We are trying to gain what we never did in the 90s.

It is shame because so many other Swedish bands, like your friends in Opeth, came over then and seem to have gotten a head start.

Yeah, we should have followed them over here then. I see that now.

Was it just a matter of finances at the time?

Yeah, it was a lot of business aspects as well. These days it is a lot easier. We actually have the same management as Opeth. If is funny the same management has Paradise Lost and Devin Townsend as well. That is why this tour came together. Stuff like that makes things way easier.

Haven’t had the chance to listen to the whole new album (Dead End Kings) yet, but what I have heard seems more melodic and somewhat less heavy than Night is the New Day. Is that a fair assessment?

Well, there are a couple of songs on the album that are the hardest tracks we have ever done, but the other tracks on the album are softer and more melodic. So it is hard to pinpoint what is going where. Like usual for Katatonia, we are trying to make everything as expandable and big as possible. I like variety that way. I like the diversity – the balance between the hard edge stuff and the really lush atmospheric stuff. That is our trademark. We always try to improve and evolve and push the boundaries.

You have mentioned some influences that many people might not expect for a heavier band like, Red House Painters, for instance. I had heard of them but never listened to them. After I saw that I checked them out and was blown away.

Glad I could help. I always like to spread advice about good music because I always get it myself, and I think if someone wouldn’t have told me about this I never would have known.

How does the songwriting process work?  Are you and Jonas (Renkse) still writing most of the songs?

We are the two founding members. We are the guys who carry the vision since day one. I was more involved in writing 100 percent of the music and he wrote the lyrics. But then I got into this writer’s block and he stepped up and delivers tons of music. That felt great because all the weight wasn’t on my shoulders, and Jonas is writing stuff that I wouldn’t write. We are complimenting each other like that, and sometimes I step into his shoes and do lyrics.

Can you tell us anything about recording the new album?

Something we did a little different is we never split up the writing and recording sessions. Let’s just enter the studio and start writing, and record while we write. Some of the takes are like demo takes that we still saved by jamming. It is a big experimental environment and it really suits a band like us, because we have never been a rehearsing band. We never had a rehearsal space with a drummer where we went and worked out songs. We always just went to work on the albums.

You have covered songs by Jeff Buckley and Will Oldham which may seem odd for a band that is labeled as metal. How did those covers come about?

We are just fans of them. We felt as a metal band it would not be expected and it would be very cool to do it. It stands out. It is different. Will Oldham is one of Jonas’ favorites of all time, and Jeff Buckley is one of mine. It was also a way to pay tribute especially with Jeff Buckley’s passing.

Any new unusual influences that you would like to recommend?

Of course, I listen to everything. I tell people just look through my iPod. These days, I listen to a lot of singer-songwriters from Norway, like Ane Brun and Rebekka Karijord. They are making magic wonderful music out of just their vocals and an acoustic guitar, basically. That stuff fuels me for making songs in Katatonia.

So going the other way, is there any heavier music where you think people are doing really originally things?

Of course, there is this whole djent (the mathy, angular style of metal originating with Meshuggah) thing that is going on at the moment where I think there are really great parts. But it is hard to listen to three songs in a row and then I get fed up. I have some friends, some young guys back home, called Vildhjarta, and I hear some of their stuff with these crazy arrangements that are super technical. But I would like a band from that scene to strip it down a little bit to focus on the progressive elements and the atmospheric parts. I guess that is where Katatonia went.

Musically, you guys have evolved quite a bit from your early albums. But I have to ask you about something from those days.  What was with the Blakkheim and Lord Seth pseudonyms? How seriously did you take that?

It just comes from the whole black metal thing. We were very, very involved with that in the beginning when we started the band. We were totally influenced by it. It comes from the Swedish band Bathory actually. The guy had this weird name, Quorthon. We thought we shouldn’t be anything less we should also pick some peculiar names. I don’t even know how we came up with these names Lord Seth and Blakkheim but it just stuck with us. For me it isn’t a pseudonym anymore. It is more of a nickname, you know, tongue in check. People know me by it. I keep it printed on my fret boards still.

Before we wrap up is there anything you want to say to your fans?

Just that we are honored to have just passed the 20 year mark as a band. People ask me how that is possible, and I say I don’t know. But we did it. I honor and salute everyone for sticking around and making that happens. Cheers!

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