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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Review: Thy Catafalque - Sgùrr

With Sgùrr (which is mountain in Scottish), Hungary-originating avant-garde metal band Thy Catafalque release their sixth full-length album since the beginning of their existence in 1998 and the first since 2011. They started as a two man outfit, singer Tamás Kátai and guitarist János Juhász. After recruiting folk singer Ágnes Tóth for their fourth release, Tamás Kátai decided to go solo from there, hiring guest musicians where needed. For this album he hired the services of five guests, including three different vocalists, a violin player and a double bass player, while he himself is responsible for vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards and programming.

Thy Catafalque has walked many musical paths since the start, starting out with black metal and from there on slowly evolving into what they are now. From every path they have taken, they picked up an influence or two, making their music hard to place. Hence the label avant-garde metal, the go-to genre when all else fails. In this case, however, it’s quite fitting, since avant-garde metal equals experimental music, and if anything this album definitely qualifies as experimental. I have my work cut out for me here.

It all starts with what I assume is a short, spoken introduction in Hungarian called ‘Zúgó’. I’m not sure if it indeed is Hungarian, because there’s some references to Scotland on this album, but since zúgó is the Hungarian word for rapidly, I assume it indeed is Hungarian. Next up is ‘Alföldi kozmosz’, which is a folky song with a lot of keys. It has a Spanish feel to it, due to the use of an acoustic guitar, which, combined with a nice violin contribution of Dimitris Papageorgiou, gives this song a somewhat summery atmosphere, although the keys are a bit too much to my liking here and there. The summery atmosphere fades fast when ‘Oldódó formák a halál titokzatos birodalmáb’ begins. This song stretches for over 15 minutes, but never feels that long. It has plenty of variety, starting with an ominously slow grinding guitar riff, rapidly picking up speed and displaying all facets of the avant-garde genre: speed changes, sudden sounds and intermezzos, distinct, sometimes over the top keys and a complex mix of styles. A great song, one that takes a few spins to fully comprehend, but that is in fact one of the charms of this genre.

It seems like Mr. Kátai is fully aware of the impact this song has on the listener, because he continues with the relaxed, almost soothing ‘A hajnal kék kapuja’, which gives you some time to recover from the intense, but in my case definitely positive experience of ‘Oldódó formák a halál titokzatos birodalmáb’. And then the speed is turned back on with ‘Élő lény’, followed by ‘Jura’, which is a tribute to the band’s roots: black metal with the raging drums, the foul screams and the high speed. However, true to Thy Catafalque’s style, there’s more to it than just black metal, there’s some thrash influences as well.

And just when you think you have heard it all there’s ‘Sgùrr Eilde Mòr’, which is a mountain in Scotland, an epic 16 minute lasting masterpiece with thrash, doom and black metal molded together into an overwhelming experience of sound. Like the earlier ‘Oldódó formák a halál titokzatos birodalmáb’ this song too needs more than one spin to fully enjoy its complexity. It starts quite thrashy with black metal based vocal lines and slowly, but surely, the doom and black metal enter the musical frame quite abruptly ending in a somewhat odd intermezzo that evolves in an electro-ish end of the song. Truly a musical adventure, this song.

Next is the definitive proof Mr. Kátai is an expert in strategically placing songs in a track list, because after the complicated ‘Sgùrr Eilde Mòr’ yet another soothing moment comes when ‘Keringo’ starts. That, however, doesn’t last long when halfway through the song switches to a lingering and thick guitar riff, with great work on the keys and an awesome piece of violin music by Dimitris Papageorgiou to end this song and, in fact, this album, although there’s still a short outro sang by soprano Ágnes Sipos, also called ‘Zúgó’ to come.

‘Sgùrr’ is definitely not an easy to digest piece of work, but that is to be expected considering it’s an avant-garde metal album. You will need more than one spin to fully enjoy all facets of this album and it will need your full attention all the time, but it’ll be worth your while. Most songs are extremely complex, filled with intermezzos, speed-and-genre changes and unexpected noises, with perfectly placed points of rest to keep it all manageable on both the ears and the mind. The songs are expertly composed, which is no easy task with complex structures like this. To top it off it’s a well-produced album, with a flawless mix of all instruments and noises. I particularly like the fact the vocals are a bit softer in the mix, causing them not being too dominant, but still perfectly notable. Make yourself comfortable, grab a glass of scotch and sit back to let this album leave its impression on you.

Written by Henric van Essen

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