I can’t speak for everyone, but this year hasn’t exactly crushed it for me. I don’t know what it is. A case of the heard-it-all-befores? The inescapable drain of attempting to keep up with everything but feeling like you’re keeping up with nothing? Whatever it is, I circled Thy Catafalque‘s Geometria early, hoping it would wrench me from my malaise. With Tamás Kátai, you’re never getting the same thing twice. His ability to blend anything and everything that pops into his head always guarantees a wild ride. That sense of exploration, of what’s-around-the-bend-next titillation can only be produced by a band with a keen sense of the fresh, new, and surprising, and Thy Catafalque has yet to fail me. But with Geometria seemingly pushing boundaries farther than before, why does it feel like Thy Catafalque play it too safe?
Why? For starters, Geometria is more disinterested with metal than ever. Opener “Hajnali csillag” delves into intangibility ambiance, light jazz digressions, classical elements, and trickles of folk. It’s wholly Thy Catafalque, bearing Kátai’s distinctive programmed drums and the intricate mix of art house rock, folk melody, and electronica, newcomer Martina Horváth’s gorgeous guest vocals, but with barely a lick of heaviness. It feels more compact than its eight minutes, a trend solidified by Geometria‘s shift from Meta‘s long-form progressions into tight, easy-to-digest packages. In sonic contrast sits follow-up “Szamojéd freskó.” The charging guitars and hyperactive beats straddle a line between black, industrial, and some sort of spaced-out djent – a feeling enhanced by tones and filters even more sterilized than usual. However, the song scuffles before the bar of both Sgúrr‘s bombastic frenetics and Meta‘s soothing glory. It never reaches that next level and struggles to establish its own identity next to the more capable (but less metal) tracks on the album.
Nothing can ever be simple. Saxes, trumpets, violins, and samples; hell, even the synth transitions feature multiple layers, as seen in the jump from “Sazmojed” to “Töltés,” another song that ignores any sort of metallic bent. Harping on the devil’s-horns-sized hole in the songs is not an attempt to undercut Geometria‘s inherent worth (or to rile up the comment section). However, Kátai was heretofore one of the very best at bending “metal-plus” to his will: metal plus electronica, metal plus ambiance, metal plus ecstasy-laced dance tracks. The darkness present stagnates in isolation; only “Sárember” provides enough meat to be interesting. Horváth’s singing on “Töltés” may be beautiful but the harrowing mix of lo-fi atmobeats and eastern European melody isn’t exactly why I bought a ticket and, while strong, doesn’t push me to keep listening. The core of “Hajó,” “Lágyrész” and “Sik” punch even lower than that, flat offerings that lack the challenging nature of Geometria‘s better half.
With all these stylistic digressions, Kátai doesn’t wander off down some hour-long rabbit hole. This isn’t Ulver or Igorr, praise be. In fact, Geometria marks the first entry since Thy Catafalque‘s debut without a track cracking the ten-minute barrier, and the shortest ones seem to fare the best. Highlight “Gőte” blends retro-rock piano rhythms and bass lines into something akin to a Final Fantasy soundtrack, while “Tenger, tenger” disguises a wry glance and subtle smile inside multi-layered folk acoustics. In these moments, the quality I expected arrives, though it remains untethered. Closer “Ének a búzamezokrol” follows it up with nothing remotely related (or all that ear-catching). That “Tenger, tenger” stands out as a highlight isn’t a problem; that it is functions as a glorified transition is. In previous iterations, its bridge-spanning abilities would have been used to link the more disparate elements on the album. Now, it strains across the expanse, unable to reach the other side.
Thy Catafalque have thumbed their noses at people’s expectations for years; that Geometria occupies some unexplored space should surprise no one. The record struggles between light and dark, pitting its easy weight and its brooding ambiance in a struggle that is deep and complex but only occasionally compelling. The shorter tracks and lighter fare give Kátai more leeway than ever; what that freedom unleashes isn’t half of what I had hoped for. Geometria rounds out Thy Catafalque‘s catalog in ways its predecessors never could, but loses something along the way.