Artist: Thy Catafalque
Album Title: Vadak
Label: Season Of Mist
Date of Release: 25 June 2021
My reasons for letting Thy Catafalque slip under my radar for so long are incredibly hard to justify, based on the output of ‘Vadak’, the tenth album from the band. I suspect it had something to do with my previous inability to enjoy much music labelled as ‘avant-garde’. However, seeing as how my mind is opening and my tastes are broadening by the day as I listen to more music than ever before, I wanted to check them out. In part also, I was spurred on by recent releases from apparently ‘avant-garde’ acts, the most notable being both Dordeduh and Wooden Veins. If I enjoyed these artists, maybe it is worth striking while the iron is hot.
To correct a slight inaccuracy from the opening paragraph, to refer to Thy Catafalque as a ‘band’ is slightly disingenuous to Tamás Kátai because he is the mastermind of the outfit; the song writer, the multi-instrumentalist, and the vocalist that pulls Thy Catafalque together. Essentially a one-man affair, Tamás is responsible for guitars, bass, synths, programming, and primary vocals. He does tend to invite others into his musical world, with ‘Vadak’ being no different. On this record, there are no fewer than sixteen guests, offering their talents with vocals, violin, saxophone, redpipes, trumpet, and guitar, to name but a few. As such, despite Thy Catafalque pronouncing Hungary as home, these guest parts were each recorded all over the world, from the USA to Russia, from Edinburgh to Brazil.
This multi-national approach will have presented its challenges, but ultimately, it has allowed ‘Vadak’ to be the success that it undoubtedly is. It is a truly avant-garde affair, with masses of competing influences throughout the hours’ worth of material on offer. If I had to suggest a core sound, I’d suggest it might be experimental black metal, but this is a vast and gross oversimplification, not to mention inaccurate. At its heart, ‘Vadak’ is a heavy record, but Tamás is not shy of incorporating anything into his music that he believes will enhance the experience. From electronic, to pop, from folk to industrial, from black metal to melodic death metal, from jazz to Gothic rock; it is all represented on ‘Vadak’ with pride and undeniable authenticity.
Crucially, though, alongside pride and authenticity, is cohesiveness. What could have been a complete mess is actually an amazing journey through sounds, textures, and atmospheres that all seem to work together incredibly well. I am astounded at the talents of Tamás because he has managed to create something that sounds truly unique to my ears whilst also pulling me along for the ride. And, because of the strength of the material, I am pulled along willingly, thoroughly enjoying the experience each and every time I dive in.
And when you have songs like “Kiscsikó (Irénke dala)” within the album, it is an impressive feat get me to say that I genuinely like it. The folk elements loom large, offering what I believe to be an Eastern European flavour. It is a bouncy track with a surprisingly catchy central melody. Initially it is delivered by a lead guitar line but as the song progresses, in come the brass instruments to compliment and add a new dimension. The mid-song minimalist introspection is really nice, breaking up the happiness nicely, but I can’t help but smile as I listen to this track.
If I’m being hyper-critical, I might have initially argued that the absolute best moments on ‘Vadak’ are front-loaded. However, as I have discovered over time, there are no bad songs, no dips in quality, and the entirety of the album brings something new or interesting to the party. More accurately then, I happen to think that my personal favourite songs feature early on.
‘Vadak’ opens with ‘Szarvas’, which begins quietly, with synths and electronic sounds building in intensity until we’re struck by a monstrous guitar-based wall of sound. Distorted open chords resonate powerfully, before giving way to a ferocious black metal assault, where the drums and riffs approach warp speed in a flurry of vicious intent. The synths are never far away, adding layers and depth to the composition which, at the three-minute mark is joined by some rasping, heavily effected gruff vocals. The introduction of Goth-like, deep, clean vocals is more of a surprise, as is the more openly melodic closing moments where a lead solo briefly takes the spotlight.
Thy Catafalque certainly have my attention and it remains rapt as we enter the second song’s embrace. Beautiful female choral vocals start things off before being replaced by what I suspect are the redpipes that offer an insanely catchy melody alongside a punchy, almost tribal, folky beat. The riffs that emerge are huge, counterpointed by the smooth, angelic vocals of Martina Veronika Horváth, the most widely used of all of the guest musicians. The groovy, simplistic nature of this song belies a depth and sophistication that only really surfaces after multiple listens, making it one of my very favourites, a stunning song.
By contrast, ‘Gömböc’ is easily one of the heaviest and confrontational tracks on ‘Vadak’, thanks to some crushing riffs, the size of which I’ve not heard since Devin Townsend was at his most angry some years ago. The bruising heaviness is punctuated frequently by synth-led moments of trance-like calm as the electronics really make their presence felt. The intensity of the song, alongside the pronounced juxtaposition of competing sounds makes it another breathless but rewarding listen.
I’d be lying if I didn’t point to this opening trio as my favourite section of the album, but as I stated before, there is no shortage of brilliant music to be found within the remainder of ‘Vadak’.
The first half of ‘Az energiamegmaradás törvénye’ (don’t ask me to pronounce it!) is perhaps the fastest and most uncompromising that Thy Catafalque sounds here, with blistering pace creating a frantic, almost claustrophobic experience. When they arrive, the electronics are off the wall and then, for the final minute or two, the whole song changes. Clean guitar stumming, bold bass, steady beat and spoken-word female voice come together alongside 70s-sounding synths to lead the track out in warm, relaxed fashion. It shouldn’t work, but it does.
‘A kupolaváros titka’ brings the jazz elements to the fore in a way that I can appreciate, a warm piano at the heart of the song throughout its relatively brief meandering life. Then there’s ‘Vadak (Az átváltozás rítusai)’ which, at over twelve minutes, covers a huge amount of ground. Beginning in spiky black metal fashion with sharp riffs and blastbeats, we’re then ushered into a much more minimalist world, as if floating quietly through space after the turbulent take-off. The introduction of the string instruments adds another dimension, an elegant dimension. More female vocals, a violin solo, and an increasing folk feel all contribute to the slow build, which explodes savagely with nasty growls and guitars and violins in tandem with more blastbeats create an impressive wall of sound. And then, right near the end, I’m blown away by some thunderous guitar notes and a dark melody that sends chills down my spine in a truly epic finale, thoroughly fitting for an amazingly complex but engaging song.
It is left to the quiet piano and ethereal female vocal strains of ‘Zúzmara’ to close out ‘Vadak’ in a suitably soothing manner, the cold compress to the fever-like delirium of the long dark night before.
Coming to this record with an open mind, but no preconceived ideas, it is wonderful to be able to declare ‘Vadak’ to be a terrific body of work. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but if you like music to challenge you both in terms of the complexities at work but also the variety of genres of music it traverses, you need ‘Vadak’ in your life as soon as possible. And I have a discography to discover – sorry, Tamás Kátai, but I hope you’ll agree that an epiphany at any time is better than no epiphany at all.
The Score of Much Metal: 92%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: