Review Summary: Form and void.
How does one define or redefine themselves musically? Should one craft an original sound for themselves or travel between genres as often as possible? And if somebody finds their musical identity how long you create in that particular frame before someone starts throwing the dreaded terms towards you: “Stale. Boring. Same as usual. Lost its edge.” These are questions are familiar to musicians, even for ones who are most certainly don’t appeal to the mainstream. Thy Catafalque and its creator Tamás Kátai is anything but mainstream.
Ever since the project’s humble beginnings in the late 90’s, Kátai has been slowly but steadily crafted an organic, dynamic and unique mixture of black metal and Hungarian folk, post-rock and ambient. Lengthy songs with raw distorted guitars brickwalled by dense keyboard section and synths, unorthodox tempo and mood changes, indecipherable lyrics. Over the years Kátai widened this already complex sound with industrial soundscapes, touches of classic and modernist music. In short he’s closer to Béla Bartok than Darkthrone. And his craft nowhere as dizzying and head-spinning than Catafalques’s sixth full length album, Sguur.
Compared to the stark, more lineal Rengeteg, Sgurr is about as experimental as Catafalque can get. The galloping, dancing acoustics of the first track are pretty much the catchiest and most digestible track on the record, that introduces some heart-stringing violins into a continuous, melancholic riff. After that we arrive to the first centerpiece of the album titled “Oldodó formák a halal titokzatos birodalmaba” (Melting forms in the mysterious empire of death). The buzzsaw-like guitars and Kátai’s heavily distorted vocals turn into a twisted flurry of circle that has the pace and rhythm of a folk dance. It’s only after five minutes of breathless dancing we enter into classic Catafalque realm with spacey, outer realm-like atmosphere, black metal riffs and haunting keyboards. The song builds, builds and finally explodes into pure instrumental fury and a sudden end.
Sgurr even more so than most Catafalque albums, is heavily instrumental-based with Kátai’s screeching, screaming, shouting and whispering feeling just an add-on. Like a ghost of memories echoing its remaining thoughts into the void while the instruments thunderously melt and rip everything around them. But the whole album has that feel, like its drenched in that murky, grey-like halo, that clouds our old memories and abstract thoughts. About life, death, and everything between. But maybe that’s due to the albums production which I can only describe as lucid. A far cry from the warm, energetic epicness of Roka Hasa Rádió and the sharp, piercing power of Rengeteg, Sgurr’s sound feels strangely blunt, disconnected. The guitars still bite, but don’t tear into your flesh, its like Kátai took the master tapes and bathed them in liquid fog.
The two larger songs are connected with three short ones, making a well-paced and diverse transition. The peaceful and airy “A hajnal kék kapuja” feels like an intro to the fifth song “Élő lény” which picks up the pace with its galloping and intense riffing, double-bass drum patterns, and dual guitar leads. In a way it feels like a European power metal song drenched in Kátai’s blackend folk. But the main solo is not done by a six-string but a wired keyboard snyth. “Jura” on the other hand is a full throwback to Catafalque’s early sound with its tremolo picking onslaught and blast beats. It’s brutal, blunt and with three minutes surely doesn’t overstays its welcome.
All these lead into the second centerpiece of the album, the 16-minute long “Sgurr Eilde Mor” which in its build-up, presentation and mood feel very much like a modernist musical piece composed by a metal music artist. Starting with relentless black/death metal sounding riffs and soaring leads, the piece feels standard and digestible, but from onward it becomes a large assemble of dissonant mid and slow-paced accords, echoing sounds, booming orchestra and almost eerily calm passages. Later into the song, there is an almost two minute part whre we hear nothing but a murmur that make us feel like the earth shattering before closing down what sounds like a giant hymnal chant. After this the lulling tinkling of “Keringő” (Waltz) feel like an afterthought, a natural exit from the album and Kátai’s world.
Sgurr is neither the most accessible, nor the best work in the Catafalque catalogue. It has its share of great ideas, but unlike Kátai’s best work, it feels less well-executed, and more like a giant collage of influences that doesn’t hit the mark as perfectly and fluidly like Tünő idő Tárlat or even its follow-up Meta. Still its uniqueness is undeniable and the highlights feel achieve that netherworld aura, few musical acts can produce these days.