Variety is the spice of life, as the old saying goes. This goes double in music. My favorite bands are those able to perform many variations on a style without losing their sense of identity. To me, it is one of the key features of good songwriting, especially considering the myriad of ways to make songs stand apart from each other. Using different tempos, introducing secondary instruments, changing style of vocals or inviting guest singers, I could go on and on about the many devices by which a band can break the bonds of monotony. And maybe I should, just in case Cataleptic read this review.
Forward contains over 50 minutes of death doom split over 4 tracks, the closer being 22 soul-crushing minutes long. I can feel some of you flinching at the concept, and with good reason. The amount of bands able to pull off songs of such girth is minimal, especially compared to the amount of bands that try. It takes a master songwriter to keep the attention span taut for a long uninterrupted time, and Cataleptic don’t make that cut. Where most bands would attempt to spice up such lengthy tracks with variety and song-craft, Forward displays command of only a handful of chord progressions and lacks sorely in the surprise department. Any good ideas are retread and retread until but a lifeless husk remains. All of the songs are too long, especially that mammoth of a closer. I’ve tried several times, but my attention would not hold more than the first two songs despite my best efforts. It was enough to make me dread listening to it again after the first two spins, a phenomenon I did not experience even when reviewing some of my 1-star platters.
That’s a sad statement to make because at least superficially, the sound these guys produce is quite alright. The commanding growl, which borders on sludge, is raw and savage. The guitar work is quite simple but effective enough, and here and there some good riffs pop up. The drums are likewise effective on the surface, though not far beyond that. “Grave Peril” is the best track and sometimes you can feel a higher level of songwriting trying to wrestle through the smog. When the overlong dirge section in the middle shifts into hyper-drive it’s like the sun breaking through the clouds, not because it’s faster but because it’s not more of the same.
But it’s not a good sign when a caveat joins each accolade. The vocals have a good sound, but the delivery is flat and monotonous, without much variation on the perpetual loud roar. Going full blast can be, well, a blast, but using this mode for every sentence, punctuating them in maximum overdrive, gets tiring fast. So do the guitars; while they perk up sometimes, in the absence of more interesting material they chug along in uninspired fashion, feeling obligatory more than passionate. The production is predictably dense and as dynamic as asphalt, which doesn’t help the album sound like anything more than a slog through a swamp.
Variety is the spice of life, but Cataleptic don’t seem to have heard that adage. Jogging across salt flats would provide more diversity than listening to Forward. While some of it is bearable in small doses, even the shortest track crosses that line several times over. The vocals plow like an earthquake but are as mobile as tectonic plates. The bad riffs stick around too long and the good ones manually create equine paste. It doesn’t stink like something septic and won’t make me apoplectic, but this joyless slog leaves me narcoleptic and, indeed, cataleptic.