Alföld by Thy CatafalqueRelease date: June 16, 2023
Label: Season Of Mist
The whole ‘avant-garde metal’ shtick is something of a loose catch-all term but all too often, the artists who fall under that category shift styles and moods between albums, songs and, more often than not, within the songs themselves to the extent that any attempt at traditional categorisation would be pointless. Thy Catafalque have always been firmly entrenched in that camp and even now, thirteen albums in, there is no real sign that they are willing to do anything so mundane as a ‘genre record’. Instead, it’s a carnival of folk, groove, doom, death and black metal, shot through with the extravagance of 70s prog heavyweights like Yes and King Crimson. Once again, though, the steady hand of Tamás Kátai’s has managed to pull these ragged threads together into a fluid, infectious and efficient masterclass of metal that ranks amongst the year’s finest releases.
The opening battery of ‘A csend hegyei’ and ‘Testen túl’ barely hint at Kátai’s typical extravagance, both of them leaning towards the more traditional side of the metal spectrum. Though both take very different paths, with the former a slab of guttural, utterly uncompromising death metal and the latter a groovy offering that sits more firmly at the black metal side of the spectrum, its riffs that bit more incisive and Bálint Bakodi’s voice packing a raspier, more caustic bite. ‘A földdel egyenio’ feels cut from a similar cloth but after a minute, the genre-mashing of old creeps in. Samuel Chacon’s sinewy bass run is the first hint but as fist-raised thrashathons, infectious solos, organ flourishes and a rich, folk-tinged vocal effort from Kátai that fully demonstrates his true range are trotted out in the space of a few minutes, Alföld’s spirit of wilful defiance becomes apparent.
The title track pushes that philosophy to its limits, not only packing its intimidating length with everything from French horns and tranquil medieval guitar to fevered percussive jams and straight-up shredding but also pitting the diametrically opposed voices of Mansur’s Martina Veronika Horváth and Ahriman’s Lambert Lédeczy against each other. The clash of elegance and bestial power make for a true beauty and the beast situation that feels acutely in tune with Kátai’s ever-changing compositional aesthetic. Apart from the comparatively blunt ‘A felkelo hold országa’, the remainder of the album is a kaleidoscopic joyride that still feels like a cohesive body of work rather than the scrapbook of ideas that it would be in lesser hands.
This eclecticism has always been Thy Catafalque’s charm but it feels subtly different now. It’s a lean and focused album, one that channels their early output while skilfully interweaving the diverse influences that they’ve picked up since then, but it does so in a way that feels natural and trims off any excess with brutal precision. Part of the focus may be due to Kátai being the sole leading force of the project now, which lends itself to a clarity of vision, or that their recent run of live shows has reinvigorated them but it may just be the case that Kátai is truly coming in to his own as a bandleader. In Alföld, he has brought together a motley crew of musicians to make that vision happen, with each one hand-picked for the precise role allotted them. By composing with that in mind, he has been able to create a record that many bands could never achieve under any circumstances. Time will tell is this is the definitive Thy Catafalque record or if even better is yet to come but for the moment, Alföld is a gloriously unique album that will delight metalheads of all stripes.