Imagine your basic symphonic black metal, say, Emperor. One day, Ihsahn’s on a big electronica kick, so he throws some cash at the latest Toontrack update, digs out his high school band instruments, and rolls all his artsy friends over for a weekend. No blasting, no razor thin production, just a full plate of programmed drums and defied expectations. This is the sound of Tamás Kátai’s Thy Catafalque. The world’s most successful alchemist of black metal, electronica, contemporary, and anything else you can imagine, Kátai continues to fly solo with Meta, a more-than-worthy successor to his impressive catalog.
After releasing Sgùrr less than a year ago, you’d think Kátai’s creativity might crumble under the ten-ton weight that comes with layering albums as complex as his. But the Hungarian superman stands tall, his mind a unique cornucopia of elegance and harmony. Drawing comparisons to other experimental metal like Ihsahn’s solo work or Kátai’s time with Gire captures the avant-garde spirit but lacks the sonic accuracy to convey the breadth of Meta’s style. Even turning to previous Thy Catafalque releases falls short as Kátai proffers material divergent from both his aggressive outings (Rengeteg, Róka Hasa Rádió) and the more heavily produced (Sgùrr). The trademark electronica-black metal mashup pops its head up here and there, but largely yields to a slower experimental approach. The drag races of “Szervetlan” past are nearly expunged from Meta, limited primarily to “10^(-20)” and the Fleshgod-infused “Ixión Düün.” “Uránia” pays respect to its blackened heritage, but spends most of its seven minutes establishing a crushing symphonic doom environment that calls to mind The Howling Void more than In the Nightside Eclipse. “Mezolit” revisits that style at the album’s close, opening with a lumbering Sabbath riff for the ages. This methodical pacing benefits Kátai’s aptitude for crafting meaningful down-tempo passages and ensconcing atmospheres. Closer “Fehérvasárnap” plays (and reads) like poetry1 weaving a punctuated finality with the church bells and priestly incantations that regularly waft through Meta’s proceedings.
As always, Thy Catafalque lives and dies with its long-form offerings and Meta’s defter touch hinders 21-minute “Malmok járnak” more than helps. Tamás Kátai has certainly earned the right to self-edit, but there’s simply not enough in “Malmok” to justify its length. The creeping intro that sounds a heartbeat away from a Leviathan-esque frenzy never develops, leaving only a synth-laden dirge in its wake. After 10 minutes, the song teeters into self-indulgent interludes and an electronic passage that, while adequate, do not deserve the time they demand. By the arrival of the next noteworthy excerpt at 17:30, I’ve checked out for good. Meta’s midsection largely suffers from the same problem, stumbling in the balancing act between atmosphere and tedium. Kátai crafts effective segments that never reach their full potential without a counterweight of furious black metal. “Vonatút az éjszakában” in particular would greatly benefit from a shot of Hungarian black with its pint of subdued folk. These shortcomings are truly a shame, as a touch more self-restraint and substance would make Meta an Album of the Year front runner.
Thy Catafalque could field a baseball team with its guest musicians; fortunately Kátai selected his cohorts well and they add significant value to the recording. Notably, Balázs Tóth (ex-Casketgarden) throws some serious death riffs around the fantastic “Ixión Düün,” while an entrancing soprano performance from The Moon and the Nightspirit’s Ágnes Tóth stands out on “Sirály.” Preeminently replayable and the finest summation of Kátai’s curious mind, “Sirály” pits relaxing samples of seagulls and crashing waves against a melody as strong as any he’s ever penned. Kátai himself excels on Meta, arranging his myriad of instruments and effects in a fashion that never feels disjointed or derivative. However, on an album with such attention to detail, the mix is a shocking let down. It’s beyond me how Kátai could put this level of quality into his performance and then confine it to a poor-sounding DR6.
Thy Catafalque’s commitment to musical exploration has long produced some of the most interesting compositions in modern metal, and Meta is no different. With so many ideas banging on Tamás Kátai’s front door, this abundant quality should come as little surprise. There’s no gimmick here, no casual exploitation of mismatched sub-genres for the sake of headlines. If you approach Meta with clear eyes and full attention, I promise you will not be disappointed.