Review Summary: A musical sermon of darkness and light
Sometimes I can only wonder how he does it: How can Tamás Kátai blend so many conflicting styles, harmonies, genres and tones into such a seamless, organic flow of music that feels exciting and original at every turn? Of course the Hungarian-born metal artist spent years perfecting his craft before his signing to Season of Mist introduced him to a wider audience. Harsh black/industrial guitar riffs with atmospheric post-metal soundscapes surrounded by the sounds and rhythm of Hungarian folk – that’s the simplest way to describe Thy Catafalque, but every album of this project has shown a different side of Kátai’s sound. Tűnő idő tárlat with its massive scale and spacey voids, Rengeteg with its buzzsaw-like metal songs or Sgurr with its bold experimentation and touches of modern classical music.
2016’s Meta, which only came months after Sgurr is both a blend of everything and another stepping stone. It’s simultaneously Catafalque’s most accessible album yet it is also equally varied and adventurous in its elements. It has the lengthy epic songs, the unorthodox structures, disharmonic guitar passages but the tone and style has a much clearer footing in traditional metal genres, which is another showcase for Kátai’s vast array of influences he can play around and assemble like a musical alchemist.
This is exemplified right in the first song “Urania” which hits us with a slower, more slogging type of riffing which is not the usual, etheric stuff you would expect from Catafalque. The rawer yet clear guitars combined with the haunting organs in the background and Kátai’s growls are much closer to the British death/doom band of the 90’s namely Anathema, Paradise Lost or My Dying Bride. The last part of the song even has a clean singing-harsh guitar dynamic that really makes the track sound like a spiritual successor of Anathema’s The Silent Enigma. The next song “Sirály” (Seagull) is a peaceful and enchanting galloping of softer tones, relaxed drums and high-pitched female singing, showing just how well Kátai can blend the classic harmonies of folk into a more modern context. Even when the guitars become heavier they are more uplifting and less overly aggressive and harsh.
In fact for the most part Meta is a constant oscillation between Catafalque’s darkest and brightest side, sort of like a ying-yang relationship. The latter shows itself in track like the mentioned “Sirály” or “Ősszel otthon” which is an instrumental dominated by pianos, electronics, the sound of rainfall to sonically recreate the feeling of isolation, the foggy-windy weather and returning to a place you once called your home. A feeling that anyone living in a foreign country can relate to (Kátai as well, since he’s been living in Scotland for many years now). If you want the harsher, brutal, black metal version of Catafalque, you will get that in “10 (-20) Angstrom” with its fast pace, visceral riffs and shrieking leads.
The eclecticism and the rich texture of Kátai’s music shows its fullest potential in “Ixion duun” and “Malmok járnak”, two songs that comprise over 30 minutes in runtime yet both of them never become boring, self-indulgent or too chaotic for their own good. “Ixion duun” starts out dramatic orchestra before switching into a powerful tremolo-picking attack of twin guitars accompanied with double bass drumming and melodic solos a feature that feels new in the Catafalque arsenal. The technical proficiency of this track is also present in the numerous tempo changes of “Malmok járnak”, but this song puts more focus on that unique, illuminating aura of darkness, which is almost impossible to describe with words. Nursery rhymes, quirky electronic segments with elegant, yet heavy guitar riffs, the whole song has a flow that I can only match to a peaceful river. But the absolute highlight of the record to me “Vonatút az éjszakában”: A music tribute to the great Hungarian poet Endre Ady, this song creates a powerful, somber and melancholic atmosphere that does feel like the perfect soundtrack to a late night train trip. The buzzing guitars which feel both warm yet chilly at the same time, the rich baritone vocals, the beautiful lyrics and the spine-chilling closing section all come into what I consider Thy Catafalque’s finest hour to date.
Meta ends with the sounds of organ, a quiet prayer and the sounds of nature as we exit from this journey to out reality. An album that makes you feel both the ugliness and a beauty, the dark and the light, pain and happiness. Metal or avant-garde, folk or modern classical, the genre and the form matters less. It’s just simply music, the one that reaches deep into your soul. A towering achievement of creativity, versatility and artistic integrity. With this album Tamás Kátai perfects and expandes the vision of Thy Catafalque, while also displaying fantastic musicianship, organic production values, and a sense of fullness. To quote Imre Madách's famous play "The Tragedy of Man": The big work is done. The machine is turning, the creator is now resting.