Katatonia Credit: Ester Segarra

Katatonia were fresh off a hiatus when they dropped their 11th studio album, City Burials, in April, but the pandemic meant they couldn’t stage the triumphant return tour it merited. In May, the nearly 30-year-old Swedish metal outfit appeased their fans and assuaged their own frustration with a livestreamed concert. More than six months later—with the live-music circuit in Europe and the Americas still on hold—they’ve released Dead Air, a beautiful, melancholy, tight, and almost seamless document of that online performance. The recording raises the question of what a “live album” means when there’s no live audience—surely this is somewhere between a studio effort and a traditional live album. The band had invited their fans to vote for the songs they’d play, so Dead Air is literally a collection of crowd favorites recast in Katatonia’s current intricate, streamlined style. Three tracks from City Burials—“The Winter of Our Passing,” “Behind the Blood,” and “Lacquer”—nestle comfortably among material that dates back to 2001 (“Teargas”), which makes the album work as a thank-you note to longtime devotees and a solid introduction for newcomers. There’s no substitute for the energy a live crowd brings to a performance, but Dead Air is a testament to the various ways artists can reach their audiences when touring is impossible. If you watch the videos from the livestream that Katatonia has made available before you listen to the album versions on Dead Air, you’ll get a little more of the emotional context: front man Jonas Renkse sounds great but looks sad (arguably with more reason than usual) in his neon-lined sound booth. Katatonia’s elegiac style of melodic gothic metal rises to the moment beautifully; “Ghost of the Sun” sounds like a cathartic cry, and “Forsaker” swings from rage to mourning in a heartbeat. Katatonia have optimistically booked a full schedule of in-person European festival dates starting in March 2021; whether those shows go as planned remains to be seen, but with COVID-19 vaccines on the way, maybe the band will be able to make up for lost time by next fall.   v