HardReviews 2
by Martin Popoff

Katatonia - Viva Emptiness
(Peaceville)

Heralded as the post-Opeth possibility, Katatonia have returned with a much-anticipated opus that ties up the loose ends of a band that gleefully and catalogue-illogically casts such strings to the pavement then pulls. No question that this is the one band that must be compared to Opeth (Jonas and Mikael are best buds), and Katatonia do not disappoint, mining those obtuse, poignant melodies that aren't so much doomful but wistful, the soundtrack to a better world that exist exotically as a warm glow within the brain, but one that indeed does exists all the same, given the validity of dream states as a place, for those receptive of mind games, in which to live. The cool thing is that the band rock out often, aggressively, percussively, quite immediately, almost industrially without those tools, evoking thoughts of what the perfect Anathema album might be, given that band's gutted, inside out existence these days, or what Porcupine Tree might sound like, if Wilson's metal bits were all pasted together (that's both a compliment and a criticism). And Renske's world-detachable Kevin Moore-like vocals are a refreshing change from the sandpaper death that continues to rough up so much of this kind of music. I still am not enamoured with the echoey, noisy, messy, cymbal- and high hat-drenched backbeat and the spongy snare sound (see last album). And the lyrics... well, one can again hear awkward English amongst the gorgeously grim progressive din (I still scratch my head that Katatonia, or in fact a band as studied as Soilwork, still courts pain in this department: Speed, you have English friends - they'd be glad to help). But bottom line is this: gone are the electronic window dressings, back comes the metal, and retained are more good musical ideas than anybody else out there, save for Soilwork.
Rating 8.5

Foghat - Family Joules
(Besh Toons)

The heart of Lonesome Dave Peverett still beats within the band he commandeered through three decades. And although Dave has passed on, the newly constituted Foghat line-up (anchors Roger Earl and Tony Stevens, along with Brian Bassett and Charlie Huhn) do a solid job of carrying on the tradition. Charlie of course, is the voice of four golden era Ted Nugent records, and here he dishes the soul just fine, atop a mix that is fat, round, traditional... what we all wanted from a Foghat record. A mix of funk, blues and riffed-up boogie, Family Joules stays close to the product mix of the classic albums, with borderline metal tracks like Long Time Coming (think Oh Well played by deadly Ted), Mumbo Jumbo, Thames Delta Blues and Mean Voodoo Woman representing the stomping end of the spectrum, guitar tone for miles, occasional slide by Bassett blurring that line Foghat rode so well. To be sure, there's a few dull-ish riffs on here, something that was inevitable, given the steadfast tradition of the band when rocking, resulting in a couple/few tracks that sound like blustery but empty southern rock. But I'm pleased that the cupful of mellow and/or blues tracks are strong (and that there are NO covers!), resulting in a record that sounds plush, traveled, varied and abstractly, the work of seasoned veterans. See www.foghat.net for more.
Rating 7.5

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