A decade on from it’s critically acclaimed UK release, Katastrophy Wife releases the “All Kneel – 10th Anniversary Edition” for Record Store Day on April 19th.
The band’s 2003 album is also making its long-awaited international debut on vinyl and digital release in early May.
Katastrophy Wife (or “Kat-as-trophy-wife”), aside from having possibly the best band name ever, also has one of the very best front-people of the last few decades in the form of former Babes in Toyland singer Kat Bjelland. Babes in Toyland remain one of my all-time favorite bands, their singular style and sound and Kat’s distinctive, trademark frontwomanship being one of my fondest memories of what was my generation’s own rock golden-age.
Kat was and is an icon to me, man.
Bjelland’s post-Babes musical activity has proven just as worthy of attention, forming Katastrophy Wife at the turn of the century, with the 2001 debut album Amusia, followed up in 2003 with All Kneel.
The album, for which the former chief Babe in Toyland gathered a band featuring drummer Darren Donovan, bassist Andrew Parker and Vanessa White on additional guitars, is a superb album; simultaneously feeling like a trip back in time to when music was simply better, and yet also a demonstration of what we should wish rock could be like in the twenty-first century.
In All Kneel, Katastrophy Wife managed to be both sweet and violent, dark and tuneful, over the span of a single album, as has always been Kat Bjelland’s trademark.
In an era of decline in rock music, Kat Bjelland’s second band is a reminder of what rock music can sound like.
The fan-favorite Liberty Belle is pure punk-rock with a catchy-as-fuck chorus. Meanwhile the angel-voiced chorus to Money Shot is beautiful, pure Babes in Toyland-esque, as is the classic Kat-scream at the end. Sweetheart is proper kick-arse, mosh-pit stuff, that you just want to rock out to, the kind of track you just want to see performed live.
Blue Valient, with Kat accompanied by acclaimed singer-songwriter Carina Round, is a standout moment; evocative and harshly beautiful, featuring Kat’s sweetest vocals building to a super-chorus reminiscent of all the best bands of alt-rock’s prime era. It’s music with aching, sweet heart, but yet compromises none of Kat’s incisive edge.
Babydoll is brilliant, having major punch to it, but also offset by quieter, delicate guitar work, and fronted by sheer, trademark Kat vocals, every blood-curdling scream reminding me of both what was awesome about Babes in Toyland and also of why we need a band like Katastrophy Wife around today. Sheer punk-rock wickedness, aided by kick-arse drumming.
Suffrage is a trademark tune typical of Kat’s writing, in that you think you’ve got the song worked out with its mad-preacher shouted lyrics, driven by pounding drums and crashing symbols, but then it drops into this haunting, brilliant bridge permeated by Kat’s wordless, addictive and gorgeous harmonies.
Meanwhile Layne To Rest, a total grunge-fest, was Kat’s tribute to the brilliant Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley, who’d tragically died in 2002 while material for All Kneel was being written.
What’s so clever about the song is that it sounds so much like something you could imagine Layne singing; it’s as close to an early-nineties Alice in Chains sound as Kat Bjelland could’ve gotten, making it a fitting homage to her friend as well as a wicked track in itself.
Marking this 10th Anniversary release, the album comes complete with the complimentary Bonus Album For Your Patients; a 10-track compilation of previously unreleased, rare and exclusive bonus recordings, including alternative takes on existing album tracks, which makes for a fascinating companion to the main album.
The 10-track compilation features previously unreleased, rare and exclusive bonus recordings, including alternate takes on existing Katastrophy Wife tracks, including work by Babes In Toyland’s Nemsisters producer Tim Mac and by nineties indie icons Bis. The Tim Mac version of Sweetheart is a snazzier, more danceable take than the grittier feel of the album version, while the Spatula remix of the same song accomplishes the almost unthinkable in making Kat Bjelland sound like a Hip-Hop artist.
The stripped version of Blue Valient sounds very different without the meloncollie (yes, that’s how I spell it – the Smashing Pumpkins way!) guitars on the album version, but gives more prominence to Kat’s vocal and is an interesting listen. The Jon Glass remix of the same song, meanwhile, has a much more elaborate production than the standard mix.
Meanwhile the electro-remix of Liberty Belle by Scottish indie favorites Bis changes the feel of that song completely, putting the essentially punk-rock song through an Industrial filter; but it works better than I would’ve imagined on paper.
For Your Patients makes for an interesting companion to the All Kneel album. It’s always interesting as a musician to listen to multiple visions or re-imaginings of existing material; meanwhile for Kat Bjelland or Katastrophy Wife fans, it makes for some curious revision to songs they already know well in their existing forms.
Well worth a listen.
Meanwhile, Katastrophy Wife’s mystery third album, initially planned for release in 2008 under the speculative title ‘Pregnant’ is still AWOL.
A subsequent release date was announced for 2009, but that didn’t materialise either. Very little is known or has been announced from any relevant source about the project; so fans of the band or of Kat Bjelland’s work will simply have to wait and see what happens and merely hope for new material some time soon.
And to content themselves with this special edition re-release for the time being.
A 1000-copy Limited Edition of All Kneel, coloured, 180-gram vinyl, plus the For Your Patients download link, will be available April 19th exclusively for Record Store Day, and is one of the most exciting elements of this year’s plethora of special releases.
Find your local participating store here: www.recordstoreday.com
The 2 CD and Digital releases follow on May 5th, available on iTunes, Amazon and all the usual outlets.