When I was assigned this CD to review, I have to admit, I had never even heard of Paatos and had little idea what to expect.
What I've learned since then is that Paatos is a band from Stockholm, Sweden (though their lyrics are in English) who have a history stretching back to 1999, with a substantial back-catalog under their belts - A debut EP in 2001, followed by three full length studio albums, "Timeloss" (2002), "Kallocain" (2004), and "Silence Of Another Kind" (2006). Over the years the band have built a reputation as a must-see live act and in 2006 got some great exposure touring as the opening act for Porcupine Tree, as well as headlining their own shows. A live album culled from those 2006 dates,"Sensors", was eventually released in 2008 on both vinyl and CD.
While some of their past works were released by InsideOut Music, this newest CD, "Breathing" (2011), see Paatos making the switch to Glassville Records, where they will now be label mates with Sun Domingo.
In regards to their musical style, the band's official website says "some call it Post-Rock, others Progressive or Goth. But Paatos has described their own music as Cinematic Rock"...Personally, after having listened to "Breathing" at least a dozen times, I find the band's own description the most fitting overall. Honestly, there are no 20 minute epics here (the longest track clocks in at just under six minutes), and there are very few displays of the virtuoso musicianship that most people would associate with prog. But what this music does have, and has in abundance, is an engaging sense of atmosphere and dramatic tension, with some nice subtle shadings along the way. It is indeed quite "cinematic", but think 'cinematic' along the lines of a cerebral indie drama rather than a summer popcorn flick. This is the kind of album that is best experienced late at night, with the headphones on and eyes closed.
One thing that I found very interesting on this CD was the unusual blending of ethereal and ambient textures with rawer, organic sounds. Throughout the album Peter Nylander's guitars virtually float around the headphones, drenched in a colorful array of spacey, atmospheric electronic effects - some modern, some throwbacks to 60s and 70s psychedelia. The keyboards mainly create a dark undertone, but occasionally rise to the top of the mix with some retro Moogs, string synths, distant-sounding pianos, and one wonderfully 'scratchy' Mellotron sound that older prog fans will love! The soft, hypnotic female vocals of Petronella Nettermalm top it all off, adding a dimension of beauty & fragility to the band's sound. In fact, for me, it is Petronella that really stands out as the star of the album, as she carries many of the main melody lines and really pulls the listener into the sometimes oblique, sometimes melancholic lyrics...But while the frontline creates it's mesh of melodies & atmospherics, the rhythm section of Ricard Huxflux Nettermalm (drums) and Uffs Rockis Ivarsson (bass) keep the backline very naked and basic. It often sounds like the bass and drums were plugged directly into the mix board with no effects, reverb or other audio enhancements. This type of raw sound is far more common in grunge or punk than it is in prog-rock. But thankfully the Paatos rythm section are far more acomplished musicians than you would find in those genres, and somehow the odd mixing of the ethereal and the down-to-earth works to the band's advantage.
To me, "Breathing" is the kind of album that creates an overall "mood", and is probably best experienced in it's 50 minute entirety. But if I was hard pressed to pick stand-out tracks I would say that "Fading Out", Surrounded", "Smartan", & "Precious" are the ones which best sum up what this band is all about. The album opener "Gone" is the track which would likely have the most appeal for mainstream rock listeners (and has already been made into a video for YouTube), while "No More Rollercoaster" and Over and Out" pick up the tempo a bit and keep the album from becoming too one dimensional.
This album will no doubt further the debate as to whether or not Paatos is truly a "progressive rock" band, or "art rock", or "alternative", or something else entirely. I'll just say that when I listen to it I find myself emotionally drawn into it's melodies, words and sounds - and, to me, that matters a lot more than which rack it would fit into at the local CD shop. While I'm not sure that "Breathing" is something I would listen to every day, I think that when I'm in a certain mood, craving something a bit more dark and hypnotic, this could quite well be a prime "go to" CD.
Reviewed by Jeff Matheus on July 3rd, 2011