Thy Catafalque – Vadak Review

Few musicians have as long and varied a career as Tamás Kátai of Thy Catafalque. The one-man outfit may have attracted an entourage of impactful guests over the years, but the end product was always, is always him. The throughlines of his writing and personal touch continue to persist even now, a decade since he struck out on his own. However, his most recent outings, Geometria and Naiv, lacked that certain je ne sais qoui essential to his kaleidoscopic sound. Vadak marks Thy Catafalque’s fifth entry in seven years, a common cause of too much lack and not enough luster. Of course, just as I was ready to pass on Vadak with the same half-shrug as 2020’s Naiv, Kátai starts dropping bombs.

Once “Szarvas” and “Köszöntsd a hajnalt” spin up the engine, we peel the fuck out. If there’s an argument to be made for what hobbled this band the last few years, it’s the lack of an edge. Where was the heat? The excitement? The hallowed gas pedal that made metal fookin’ metuhhhhhl? Kátai resurrects it with a vengeance. Excepting an airy, almost ambient showcase for the superlative vocals of returning collaborator Martina Veronika Horváth, every track on the A-side is a goddamn exclamation point. They are powerful fusions of some of the band’s meanest passages in a decade with the trademark avant garde mix of synth, folk, and prog we expect. “Gömböc” thrives in the odd spaces between progressive death, electronica, and folk; “Az energiamegmaradás törvénye” would be a proper thrash track if it weren’t seven minutes long and ambient for almost half that length; “Móló” is downright moshable — not exactly the quality I associate with Thy Catafalque — and for the better part of 10 minutes no less. By halfway through the spin, whatever doubts I had about Thy Catafalque’s present ability to write compelling material were long gone.

For all the strength here, the most usual of gripes rears its ugly head: the songs take forever. No matter how clever or delightful or fuck-you forward as the ideas here are, Kátai always takes his sweet ass time getting there. It’s a small qualm overall, but one has to wonder how much more punch this stuff would have if he boiled down the sauce a bit. Thankfully though, past the fact that big riff make weenie nice, the nicest aspect of the aforementioned heat wave is that it allows the album to do what the album was always going to do — get weird — without most of the usual side effects. The result lets Vadak’s B-side oddities breathe with an oxygen mask, not with an iron lung. The spaghetti western-meets-horns feel of “Kiscsikó (Irénke dala)” is exactly the right amount of strange, while the poignant and dark piano-laden “Zúzmara” might be my favorite track on the album, bar none. It’s not all soft stuff — the penultimate “Vadak (Az átváltozás rítusai)” is the longest track on the record and one of the best exploratory pieces Kátai’s put out in a minute, partially because he’s never afraid to go full black metal at times.

As expected from a Thy Catafalque outing, the sound is spot on. Kátai continues to be one of the most underrated producers in metal. Who else could cobble together so many different environments with this much sonic cohesion? Nobody (I mean, maybe somebody, but don’t wreck a good narrative). Per usual, the band’s full roster features 16 guest spots, and outside of Horvath, the biggest impact certainly comes from Breno Machado in what appears to be his first work in Metaldom. He swings a mighty lead axe on four of the heaviest songs on the record, including both of the ten-plus-minute epics, and fits perfectly into the outfit. Given Kátai’s penchant for Tarantino-esque repeat casts on his records, here’s hoping/suspecting this isn’t the last we see of Machado.

Early on, I noted to I’ll Be Your Huckleberry that this was definitely a Thy Catafalque record: the same recurring melody lines as previous records, the same thumbs in the same pies, the same thematic focus and the same sonic ADD. In retrospect, I’m right, but I’m also wrong. Even though the individual elements of Vadak are reminiscent of Thy Catafalques past, it’s hard to imagine this record written before now, before the last decade of exploration, before Kátai spent entire releases understanding certain elements (for better or worse) that make up pieces of the whole now. The result is one of the best records in Thy Catafalque’s catalog, and one of my favorite records of the year. Nothing lackluster about that.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist
Website: |
Releases Worldwide: June 25th, 2021

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