Review Summary: Dark like obsidian, shining like moonlight through the nighttime forest.
Tamás Kátai and his project Thy Catafalque is destined to be known only by a few, appreciated by even less. The Hungarian avant-garde mastermind’s creation defies genre conventions, traditional song structuring or anything to easily grab onto. The sprawling, thick, guitar riffs grind through the speakers, as the keyboards ooze dark ambience, like a never-ending chorus in an empty cathedral. The distorted nihilism of black metal, neo-folk, the continuous build-up of post-metal all gets into the mix…as well eerie crescendos and soundscapes far out this world.
Kátai perfected his always-evolving, chameleon-like style on records like “Rengeteg” or “Róka Hasa Radió” but the roots of it can easily be traced back to the early records as well. “Microcosmos” was built upon the rough edges of the often cacophonic “Sublunary Tragedies”. Similar to that record, the songs are filled with relentless, buzzsaw-like riffs, furious drumming and grueling snarls whiplashed with calmer, electronic sequences. But the approach is more progressive, more adventurous and grandiose as Thy Catafalque’s uniqueness slowly begins to take shape.
Clocking in 73 minutes sprawled through ten songs, “Microcosmos” is a lengthy and often patience testing musical journey but the dedicated listener will find the hidden, deformed beauty in its compositions. The opening track “The Sileni and Sylvans and Fau” quickly explodes in a blur of detuned, tremolo-picking accords and drum beats while the keyboards ominously boom in the background. The rhythm section relentlessly chug and tore through multiple riff sections and suddenly the halfway point they became silent, as the song becomes a calmer, almost lullaby-like with a hypnotic acoustic passage, synchs and various effects imitating the sound of nature.
In fact most of the songs feature this dual structuring, with the distorted guitars and shrieking vocals dominating the songs first half and then transforming into a more ambient, relaxed pace while still having the chilling coldness of the Scandinavian musical ancestors. Kátai has an almost uncanny ability to create a specific, often emotionally charged mood and atmosphere to each song. Dark yet beautiful, simple-sounding yet heavily layered effects, and smart usage of the most different instrumentals and sounds from xylophones, bells, to bird chirping.
Also there is a good reason why I mentioned folk among the many genres that Thy Catafalque taps into. The calmer sections of the songs often have continuous, highly rhythmic guitar sections that often feel very close to the Hungarian folk tunes and dances, and sometimes even the structure imitates their slow-intense duality. Evident in both “Mirkwood Sonnet” and “These are the Clouds” Kátai manages to inject a very personal and unique musical influence into a modern, different yet very adaptable genre, thus creating a strange, perplexing transformation. A transformation that reaches its apex with “Fehérlófia” as the retelling of an old Hungarian tale begins with the warming sounds of the cobsa (a multi-stringed acoustic folk guitar), than switches its gears into the chugging six-strings before the echoing flutes quietly sing the end.
But still “Microcosmos” doesn’t becomes predictable for a second. Sometimes the pianos take over and tug our heartstrings in “Októberi kép” sometimes the drums and the electronic lead the way for “Panta Rhei” and that’s only when we get to the 15 minute long epic closer that goes through numerous ambient mood-setting sections, strings, some symphonic elements, with a completely striped down sound and a meditative pace. The diversity and change is also present at Kátai’s vocal performance that easily goes from the blood-curling screams and snarls (the influence of Mayhem Attila Csihar is undeniable) to morose spoken word.
As I said listening to Thy Catafalque is not easy, but describing it is even harder. With each passing song you feel like taking a slow, but certain walk the dark, foggy hallways, forests and plains as you feel your soul detaching from your body and reaching into an another dimensions. In fact I’m sure that’s what Kátai is aiming at: to have you experience reaching the cosmos of our planet with your soul, through music. The only thing more impressive than this ambition, is that he only became better at it with each passing record.