There are more than a few metal bands which, discontent with the lack of “seriousness” in the genre, venture towards serialism or (free) jazz in search of inspiration, but instead end up ineptly and bluntly borrowing musical and philosophical ideas of perceived “higher value.” Expectations of sublime high art land awkwardly in territories of conceited dreck or ho-hum metal with superficially exotic but clumsy kitsch flourishes. Not everyone can be Jute Gyte, Krallice, Chaos Echœs, or Imperial Triumphant. But let’s reverse the tables. Imagine, for a second, what could and would happen if musicians with backgrounds in free jazz, free improvisation, and modern composition became metalheads. What sort of music would they then make? Perhaps they would attempt a take on death metal, deconstructing the genre’s elements, perverting them, and piecing them back together into maddening soundscapes. A fantasy befitting of phase-shifted thinking and playing mechanisms. With their debut Putrid Tendency, Catatonic Effigy give flesh to this feverish reverie.
Formed by New York composer and guitarist Álvaro Domene, Australian drummer and improviser Mike Caratti, and American bassist and producer Colin Marston, Catatonic Effigy play avant-death demented in shape and substance. The wobbly and mystifying soul of their music is born out of free improv constructs, minimalism, and 20th-century Western composition. And its flesh? A sonic Frankenstein’s monster with a body of ear-splitting riffs, tectonic bass & drum detonations, and drifting electronics—simultaneously majestic and terrifying. Take, for example, the opening “Putrid Density” and its graphic score which instructs the musicians on how to manipulate the shape, density, and texture of sound. Here, Domene builds colossal monuments out of guitar feedback and extraterrestrial electronic effects—barely perceptible at first, overpowering later—and assembles them around Caratti’s disjointed, clanking rhythms. It is a droning, grumbling, and growling track, one that sounds like a nightmare sonified and whose textural essence only occasionally crests into sharper guitar leads, as tormented as the noise which swallows them.
Even though Marston’s involvement with the project might suggest a similarity to the music of his other bands Gorguts, Dysrhythmia, or Krallice, Putrid Tendency has none of their strict organization nor clearly defined stylistic traits. Instead, his bass distorts and dissipates, blending into a thick fabric, sustaining textural and controlled noise modes of playing. On ambient-like cuts “Gravitational Lensing” and “Time Dilation,” his lines flicker and become felt rather than heard, bubbling beneath Caratti’s kinetic rattles and Domene’s dissonant, lonely guitar and deep undulating frequencies. If the aggressive and incisive “Garakku” then brings Catatonic Effigy closest to a semblance of conventional death metal, it is “Supernova Remnant” that delivers the first of three standout compositions. The Giacinto Scelsi-, post-tonal-inspired song builds itself slowly, through infinite resonations and reverberations, as the musicians trace the five stages of a stellar explosion and conjure cosmic vistas in the vein of Sunn O))). Like the phenomena it describes, it is a gargantuan and overwhelming thing.
The other two highlights, “Putrid Destiny” and “Putrescent Obsolescence” (digital-only bonus), pit the massiveness of “Supernova Remnant” against the aggression and “harmonic language of Olivier Messiaen” embedded in “Garakku” to concoct absolute fucking chaos. First, they descend into abysses of post-metal and progressive noise rock reminiscent of Keiji Haino’s collaborations with SUMAC and Merzbow/Balázs Pándi, respectively. Then, they erupt into distilled death metal riffing, silhouetted by outrageous leads and solos that appear compact and direct, but dig in with mind-boggling ferocity and utter heaviness. While Domene and Caratti co-own the Iluso Records label and are long-time collaborators, Putrid Tendency is the product of the first and only session that the trio had together. It showcases genuine joy in musical exploration, freed from learned behaviors, and reveals an extemporaneously established non-verbal language between the musicians.
The promo blurb labels the music of Catatonic Effigy as “extreme avant-garde metal.” However, in the case of records like Putrid Tendency, such descriptors become meaningless. Barring some faint similarities with Death Drag’s Shifted, another metallic project of Mike Caratti, nothing else quite compares to it out there. And it won’t be music for everyone. For those who are open and just crazy enough to absorb and let themselves be absorbed by the delirious universe of Catatonic Effigy, it will be everything.