Getting to grips with the wonders of Thy Catafalque is like wrestling with an agile, ever morphing, psychedelic serpent that wants to love you to death. In fact, as you can perhaps tell, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to convey the emotional intensity the band manages to deliver its own unique style which has evolved into an experimental feast seeking new and fantastic ways to delight. All I can say is that, once you fall, you fall hard. I had 2011’s Rengeteg nestled in my ‘invest some time in this’ pile for so long that Sgùrr had already been released and raised the roof on my pathetic existence one rainy afternoon, turning a grizzly walk along the high street into a 2am double-drop experience via a pair of inadequate headphones. It turned out band mastermind Tamás Kátai (from Hungary, supplanted to Scotland) has been crafting his art for a while – unashamedly combining sometimes very abrasive black metal with cool-as-you like electronic trance highs, jazzy passages and folk indulgences with 70s psychedelia as if it was all the most natural thing in the world.
The style is almost sumptuously baroque is its extravagance – at times reminiscent of the market squares of wealthy Renaissance central Europe, sometimes 90s underground nightclubs and at others strung-out neurosis. But even then, rarely is Thy Catafalque not full of emotion and sometimes sensuous detail where, even in its darkest moments, the colours bleed through and, unlike most black metal rooted music, you feel like you’re on the journey with, well, a friend. Arguably some of the finest examples of this ability to balance chaotically dark moods with bursting light are on his work last decade – Microcosms, Tûnõ idõ tárlat and Róka hasa rádió are shining examples. Last album Meta, which was arguably the hardest work of all the albums to date as far as the listener is concerned, swung very much towards contrasting scales rather than clashing the two together – with some of the band’s heaviest moments to date that were almost too much to bear in contrast to the trance-inducing 21 minute electronic high of Malmok járnak. This latest surge if creativity works like the antidote to Meta, if anyone feels like they needed one. While still possibly even more weird and wonderful than ever, it is the band’s warmest work to date. Geometria is a blended synapse massage that cross fades between heavy but honeyed riffs, jacked-up repetitive beats with the entrancing vocals of Martina Veronika Horváth and folk loops that spiral into guitar solos which swirl like smoke from evening fires.
Whereas Thy Catafalque’s early efforts had arguably concealed some of these elements under deep layers of chaos and doomy riffs of leadening weight, this time the band offers fewer veils of metallic extremity. Barely a second of Geometria hides Kátai’s elation as the dark, brooding moments of previous releases are stripped away with almost carefree abandon. The cast of characters illustrates the movie well: Kátai, with his multi-instrumental handle on guitar, bass, and penchant for keyboards and programming; violinist Misha Doumnov; Gyula Vasvári from that other Hungarian avant-garde black metal band Perihelion contributing to vocals on various tracks and a host of musicians on lounge pop jazz-fest Gõte including Balázs Hermann from Kátai’s former band Gire on fretless bass and David Jean-Baptiste on saxophone.
The first half of the album releases a burst of creative energy as Geometria unleashes black metal’s obsession with keyboards and folk in a glorious joyride. At times you might even be forgiven for forgetting you’re listening to a metal album at all – but that’s not to say things drift. Far from it. During the second half of the album things get more mellow – and heavier. Still with many of the ingredients but with an almost Sunday afternoon version of Thy Catafalque kicking in from track seven Lágyrész as the pace begins to slow and the frenetic energy of tracks like Töltés and Sárember begins to dissipate. The lull allows listeners to put their heads above the balmy sonic waters of Geometria and, take in the experience without having every brain cell bombarded. It remains just as engaging and enthralling, but less generous with its joys as the mood gradually becomes more sullen. Kátai saves the sludgy dirge until last. The doom trudge slowly releases its beautiful refrain that is, again, unmistakably tied firmly into Thy Catafalque’s black metal roots. The weight of the swaying melody begins to set in and the melancholy mood grips to the point where its simple, soulful refrain could even become my favourite track on the album.
Geometria works like any relationship – at first almost carefree and even joyful, before the drifting moments of more complex emotion settle in. It even ends with a crushing funereal swan song that finally gets absorbed into the void. An allegory for life it may be, but it’s a life worth living. Like Orphaned Land stretched into uncompromising highs and lows, Thy Catafalque is a journey through the traditional and the sparkling new with a musical maverick at the helm that’s going to be difficult to outshine this year for its subtlety and uncompromising creativity.
(9/10 Reverend Darkstanley)