First night of twilight burials – Katatonia, Sólstafir and SOM in Tampere 20.1.

Author Ossi Kumpula - 27.1.2023

The year 2023 has started with a bang. We’re not yet a full month into 2023, and already several great albums have been released and concerts played. These notable events include Katatonia from Sweden, who released their 12th studio album “Sky Void of Stars” on January 20th, the very same day they began their European co-headline tour with Sólstafir. This year marks the 30th anniversary of their debut record “Dance of December Souls”, and for more than half of that time Katatonia has ranked among my absolute favorite bands. Warming up the crowd for Sólstafir and Katatonia were SOM, who hail from the great USA.

It felt strange that Tampere, my adopted hometown for half a year now, would serve as the stage for the premiere of a brand-new chapter in the career of one of my favorite bands. Yet there I was last Friday, literally just a few steps away from my front door, waiting for Katatonia to begin their set in Pakkahuone, Tampere. As disappointing as the postponing of the “Twilight Burials” tour had been a year prior, it was equally satisfying to finally be standing there in the audience.

SOM, the opening act of the evening, flew in all the way from across the Atlantic, so here’s to hoping their European trip alongside Katatonia and Sólstafir will be worthwhile. The band began their set in Tampere punctually at 19:00, which was evidently too early for most of the evening’s attendees. The sizeable venue was sparsely populated as the lights dimmed for SOM, and what crowd had gathered stayed a hefty distance away from the stage. At one point Will Benoit, the band’s singer and guitarist, had to specifically ask the audience members to step closer to the stage, which they obediently did. SOM’s thirty-minute set was flush with atmospheric shoegazing, or doom pop as the band define themselves. The crowd settled for quietly polite observance, and I suspect that many (including yours truly) were hearing SOM’s music for the first time. I wasn’t swept away by the band at first listening, but I’m ready to give these guys another chance at home with my headphones.

After half an hour’s interval it was time for Icelandic Sólstafir to take the stage. These Icelanders have amassed themselves quite a following since their formation in 1995, which is no small feat considering the band’s lyrics are mostly in Icelandic. The venue had pretty much filled to capacity as Sólstafir took the stage, and the fans were positively mesmerized all the way through the band’s one hour set. Unfortunately I could not count myself among the smitten ones, as I’ve never managed to properly immense myself in Sólstafir’s soundscape. This is no doubt partly because of the utterly foreign lyrics, but even without them the music just doesn’t speak to me. Thus soon after Sólstafir began playing I retreated to the back of the venue to make way for the more enthusiastic fans. Solstafir’s live output was quite minimalistic, as was their interaction with the audience. Towards the end singer-guitarist Addi Tryggvason deliberately solicited a few cheap cheers from the crowd, which seemed a touch out of place for the band’s style.

Finally, at 21:45 it was finally time for the highlight of the evening, and my personal highlight of the week, as the members of Katatonia walked onstage to thunderous cheering from the audience. Katatonia leaned on their newest album heavily from the start as they opened the set with “Austerity” and “Colossal Shade“. The former was released as a single last December, the latter premiered along with the rest of the album the very same day as the gig in Tampere. During the new songs the stage was lit in dark greenish hues echoing the cover artwork of “Sky Void of Stars”. Besides the new songs, Katatonia had reserved a few surprises for the opening night of the tour. One of these was “The Promise of Deceit“, which hasn’t been played live much at all apart from the “Night is the New Day” commemorative shows a few years back. Vocalist Jonas Renkse was sparing in his remarks to the audience, but when he did speak it was to thank the crowd profusely, entertain them with the few Finnish words he could muster, and introduce the new songs. Curiously enough, the absence of founding member Anders Nyström was not touched upon in any way. The news that he would sit out the tour were made public just before the first concert, and filling in for him was Nico Elgstrand of Entomed A.D.

Among the lesser known songs heard during the night were “Ambitions” and “Residual“, the latter of which was dropped from the set right after the Tampere show. “Twilight Burials” was billed as a co-headline tour between Katatonia and Sólstafir, which has grown to mean sixty to seventy five-minute sets for each of the headliners. This is a passable arrangement if both headline acts are to one’s liking, but unfortunately this was not the case for me this time around. I’m grateful for all the Katatonia I can get, but a festival set from a favorite band felt a bit rough, especially when the earliest material they played was from 2006’s “The Great Cold Distance”. Katatonia’s set concluded with “Untrodden“, in which guitarist Roger Öjersson got to deliver some lead vocals as well. The crowd prompted the band back onstage for two encore songs “July” and “Lethean“, the latter of which culminated in an extended guitar solo and Renkse’s microphone failing.

I’d only had the time to spin “Sky Void of Stars” a couple of times before the show, and as of writing this the record is yet to open up to me fully. Even if “Sky Void of Stars” remains an underwhelming album in my books, it doesn’t shake Katatonia’s position as one of the most important bands in my world, and I couldn’t be happier that their current tour is off to a great start with several sold-out shows. Despite the sheer volume of bands touring across Europe right now, people seem more than happy to see as many of them as they can, which speaks to the air of gratitude following the nightmare years of covid-19 and bodes well for the entire coming year.