Auschwitz. It’s a name that has come to represent a giant blemish on the great canvas of humanity, an almost incomprehensible chapter in the story of our species. It’s no wonder that while existentialism existed prior to World War II and its horrors, it wasn’t until humanity was forced to look into the mirror of that great conflict, coming face to face with its own darkness and capacity for evil that the philosophy that deals with facing meaninglessness and absurdity began to resonate with the masses. On this, their third full-length album, Norwegian band Katechon leaves the esotericism of their past behind and instead takes “a deep dive into the darkest places of the collective human psyche.1 Here Auschwitz is not just the physical, but also the meta-physical manifestation of evil on earth.” I knew from the moment that I saw the title that Sanger fra Auschwitz would not be a fun album, but I felt compelled to see what this journey through the dark might reveal.
First of all, it reveals a band that has taken a tremendous amount of care and time to create an emotional experience that holds up under the tremendous weight of its subject matter. A perfect example of this careful construction is “Ankomst.” Norwegian for “Arrival,” the song begins with an undulating riff played over blast beats, and it recalls the sound of a train barreling down the tracks at full speed and even has the accented percussion beats mimicking the wheels of said train passing over the joints in the tracks. Soon the blasts are pulled back, and it sounds as if the train is decelerating before things slow to a doomy crawl with sinister tremolos heralding the train’s impending arrival in Hell. I don’t speak Norwegian and can’t understand the lyrics, but through the music alone Katechon has allowed this privileged white man from America to experience a tiny sliver of the psychological horror that must have been felt by those arriving at the camp.
While their past albums were labeled blackened death, Sanger fra Auschwitz doubles down on the black metal, favoring minor chords and tremolos while incorporating a healthy dose of death growls along with black metal rasps. “Mørkets Hjerte” begins with a dissonant build up before launching into a blistering black metal midsection and then moving into a grooving blackened rock jam that heavily features the bass. This is followed by “Tre Hoder” a track that features an epic traditional metal riff and sounds like it would have fit nicely on last year’s Immortal album. “Renselsen” begins as a well-played but relatively standard black metal song before it breaks loose into a frantic solo played over some unhinged and terrifying riffing, and I felt my heart rate increasing every time this part came back around. It really is remarkable how Katechon is able to create music that forces the listener into a varied collection of emotional landscapes.
Part of this ability comes from the beautiful production on Sanger fra Auschwitz. The whole record is amazingly clear and allows the bass work to really shine. The bass is featured strongly in the atmospheric intro track “Fotspor,” climbing up and down the scales as a horrifying laugh is played over it, unsettling us for the dark ride ahead. Closer “Unheimlich” gives the bass center stage as its black metal passage is hidden between two doom sections that have the instrument carrying the rhythm by itself while the guitar madly twists and turns through different leads. The song could easily be shortened by a minute or two and still have the same or more impact, but this is a relatively minor complaint considering the quality of the material that’s to be found here.
“Unheimlich” translates as “uncanny” and is a concept generally attributed to Freud that refers to things that are strangely familiar in an unsettling way. It’s important that we be able to look at the events and trends of our day and notice when ideas, attitudes, and actions are reminiscent of the things that led us down dark paths in the past. While not groundbreaking musically, Katechon have succeeded in creating a visceral and terrifying musical experience that forces us to face and learn from the darkness that is within us, both as individuals and as a collective.
- In case anyone is nervous about Katechon‘s ideology and how it relates to the subject matter, here is a quote from band leader L.O.V.: “Any ideology advocating for the seclusion, extermination, or repression of humans on the basis of race, sexuality, gender, or religion is an ideology that needs to be fought back against.” ↩