After blowing my microbial brain through a nuclear-powered orgasmatron with last year’s full-length Sgùrr, I was slightly surprised Thy Catafalque had any creative juice left in the tank. Not only was Sgùrr one of the best albums I heard last year, it was one of those albums that left me mildly concerned that I may never hear some extreme music the same again. So here we are less than a year later, with yet another opus that I was not-so-secretly hoping would continue where the last one left off. Thy Catafalque’s Tamás Kátai uses a base ingredient of guitars with a buzzing distortion that sounds more Ukraine (think the final 25 minutes of Voice of Steel) than it does from his native Hungary. Before there’s any temptation to pigeonhole on any level, though, bear in mind that alongside the folk influences are elements of prog, ambient techno, death metal, trippy blackened doom and anything else he feels like lobbing in. Avant-garde is the obvious description that comes to mind but that undersells the energy that flows through every minute of Kátai’s work.
Meta isn’t as straightforward as Sgùrr’s blast – less singular and direct, perhaps in some respects having more in common with some of his earlier works (handily reissued on last year’s ‘Early Works’ compilation). Whereas Sgùrr could be listened as one track from the outset, this is more of a journey, a canvas that slowly weaves itself together and takes time and thought to see the whole. At its most basic, Meta manages to incorporate some heavy-as-fuck guitar work that briefly borders on Nile-levels of intensity, and the most convulsive in the band’s catalogue meshed with some of the most serene and sublime.
It’s a sprawling and awe-inspiring vision made all the more impressive because it comes from just one man, although admittedly with some steady help including female vocalist Ágnes Tóth. I will admit there were times when I first slapped this on when I felt that some editing was required. But I now accept that I was merely being a bit of a lazy sod. When I finally found enough time to sit down and relax into this, I began to fully appreciate the mastery at work.
Walls shift to let you through, floors collapse without warning and explosions of sound or complete breakdowns into silence planted at random points build a sense of shifting reality that underpins Meta. The first couple of tracks set the scene and the themes of the album – dragging you into Meta’s musical otherworld which has one foot somewhere timeless, borrowed from somewhere in an imaginary past, and the other in the vanguard of the modern extreme music scene. Fusing his eccentric goth-baroque with black metal in a way that feels so natural you’re lost within minutes. The best comparisons, and this is a difficult one, could maybe be the one referenced above, perhaps with Therion’s aesthetics or the nomadic adventurousness of Enslaved. But nothing quite fits. Meta is a feast, hard to digest in one sitting but with each track a sumptuous serving on its own.
Drifting female vocals, chugging guitars and spiralling melodies kick off the album – and linger to the very end. Ten minutes in and we’re plunged into a boiling cauldron of guitar work – what begins as a power-metal lead extravaganza descends down a steep gradient that you wonder if Meta can ever pull itself out of. But even then the easy lacing of all Thy Catafalque’s influences carries us along. At one point in the depths and the next in the middle of another of Kátai’s remarkable soundscapes. Malmok járnak (and the preceding Ősszel otthon which serves as a nice intro) lifts Meta to its spacious peak – if you take nothing else away from this, just try to find a way to listen to that before the year is out. The final three tracks work as some trip-fuelled comedown by comparison – with Kátai unleashing another barrage of musical wanderlust that feels unhinged and absolutely coherent in equal measure.
If the last album was a rush of acoustic energy with an almost physical force, this time round he lays his sepia alternate reality in front of you and then wraps you up inside. Musically multifaceted and emotionally overwhelming. Meta is yet another towering achievement.
(9.5/10 Reverend Darkstanley)