If you could read my mind, yo, what a tale my Muppety thoughts would tell. Music has been a lifelong medium for channeling the nonsense that rattles around my skull; notes and melodies swirl into colors, percussion and atmospheres shape landscapes, while tone and pacing flesh it all out into specific characters. Music is a visual experience for me, so much so that when I see something instrumental smoldering in the Angry Metal Heap ov Dreams, I grow curious rather than cautious. Such was the case with Cataya‘s Firn, and I met its four-track challenge with all kinds of optimism: I ain’t afraid of no vox.
Firn is an atmospheric post-metal dish with just a dash ov black metal, hold the vocals. Hearkening more closely to atmoblack of the Vvilderness variety than the wicious ways ov Wiegedood, Cataya craft calm and colorful compositions, occasionally creeping into dark and dangerous tonality, but never getting downright violent or brutal. The most aggressive moments of Firn, such as the energetic, crunchy chugging vis-à-vis “Vis-à-Vis,” bear more resemblance to moody prog than to even the atmo-est ov black metal. The less aggressive moments, aka 80% of the album, evoke shimmering and decidedly tranquil images reminiscent of seeing silent scenery softly swallowed by snowfall. There’s a journey to be had along the way, yet the adventure that is Firn is comparable to the “adventure” that is the Lord of the Rings film trilogy: fans of the genre are sure to revel in the subtleties and minor flares, but to many this may just feel like an awful lot of walking.
To that end, it would be remiss to label the largely subdued nature of Firn as a detriment. Sure, it’s not a riffalicious voyage through the untamed wilderness of Scale the Summit, but nor is it the tepid Sunday drive of Coldbones. Cataya do their wordless thing in a Russian Circular way where atmosphere is of the utmost importance without sacrificing sonic inertia. The end result is an album that boldly posits the world-shattering notion that less can be more. “Madera Sagrada” will not floor you with progged-out fretboard wankery, but it will briskly jaunt with you through a tranquil forest of snow and starlight, and therein lies the beauty of Firn. If environment-specific vibe-age is your thing, there’s a pretty good chance that this album is up your alley to the point of rendering sitting down impossible. Little is the urge to headbang while listening to Firn, and at no point did I feel the need to praise Satan (no more than usual, anyway), yet I absolutely cannot call this album boring.
So if it’s not trvly black metal, and it’s not a riff-laden adventure, but also isn’t a lukewarm dip into naptastic waters, then what the fuck is this nonsense? Well, this nonsense is as follows: “Destiny” is a world waking up to snow, either during the pre-sun hours of dawn or else amidst the glittering reflections of the moon against a crystalline winter’s night, a shimmering coalescence of clean post-metal tones and energetic percussive buildup thrusting the listener into motion. “Madera Sagrada” sees this momentum sustained and pondered upon, with minor chords and the occasional aggressive flare-up introducing conflict to the mix. Spiritual reflection is being had, and it’s not particularly riffy, but it is oh so engaging. As “Vis-à-Vis” fades into existence, an increased energy and presence of percussion bring this conflict to the forefront of focus, and suddenly things aren’t so peaceful. The listener is in the throes of self addressal, until catharsis arrives in the form of the lively closer “Ausblick;” suddenly the woods have been cleared, the turmoil is behind behind us, and all we are left with is the peaceful poignancy of a snowclad forest and a freshly cleared mind.
If Coldbones had introduced a few degrees of liveliness to their compositions and dropped the ambient temperatures to Winter Lights levels, we’d have had Firn that much sooner. An exercise in technical ability it may not be, yet those seeking a soundtrack to a serene sight-seeing stroll through snowy scenery and self reflection are likely to find themselves quite taken by this German sextet’s sophomore effort. Firn is a strong testament to the visual powers of music, and it’s there that I’ll be headed once this Moxie-drenched land ov lobsters and L.L. Bean that I call home finds itself prostrate before the rapacious forces of winter.