Romanian quartet Katharos XIII may have started out life as a DSBM band, but their sound has massively changed and evolved over the years, and their third album Palindrome, released last fall by Loud Rage Music, moved them even further into the realms of dark ambience and jazz-inflected doom.
The majority of the record is built around a sombre, shadowy soundscape of moody synths and noirish saxophone, underpinned by some brilliantly subtle and creative drum work and topped off with the hypnotic, dramatic vocals of Manuela Marchi, resulting in a sound and style that’s unusual, and unusually captivating.
There are still occasional touches that call back to the group’s early works, including some suitably nasty harsh vocals here and there, but also entire tracks (such as haunting closer “Xavernah Glory” or the mid-album masterwork that is “Caloian Voices”) which are almost entirely stripped of any metallic elements. Even when the band maneuver toward heavier sounds, it’s more in the vein of latter-day Katatonia or Portuguese Post-Metal maestros Sinistro, using looming, lambent chords and taut, restrained rhythms to cultivate a sense of ominous weight and shivering tension just waiting to be broken.
The mysteriously named “No Sun Swims Thundered” is in that latter category. It becomes an ebbing and flowing tide of intensity, gradually building, receding, and crashing against the shores of sanity and comfort with heavyweight power and mind-bending ingenuity. The movements are enthralling and often dreamlike, but persistently disturbing, and the visual interpretation of the song by director Alexandru Das that we’re presenting today channels all of those same sensations.
The layering of instrumentation in the opening of the song is a collage of emotional manifestations that together create a harmony of distress. The slow, deeper tones convey a somber sense of grief and gloom while the dense, shrill, feverish sounds broadcast intense distress. The piano melody seems to be a bridge between those feelings, and the sharp drum strikes seem like fractures.
The pulse of the music quickens, the drumming becoming more physically compulsive and the darting orchestral strings enhancing the music’s vibrancy. Manuela Marchis, who speaks softly at first, begins to sing in haunting tones. The music becomes dramatically more intense, as does her voice, and an order of magnitude more heavy and hammering. Suddenly the mood changes as the sounds become mystical and mysterious, though the duet between Marchis and the guitarist/keyboardist F isn’t a peaceful sound (though it is enthralling).
When the music begins to climb in intensity again, as the orchestration and jolting rhythms reappear, Manuela’s voice soars and pitches toward the brink of screams, but the music also becomes more ominous and frightening, with male vocalist F. delivering a kind of grim chant. Doom chords heave, the drums detonate, and keyboards shimmer in a chilling alien ambience.
Things get even more hallucinatory through chiming guitar reverberations, weird warbling and skittering keyboard emanations, moaning vocals, the smoky drift of the saxophone, and the hum of the bass. But there’s time left for one more shift into an emotional abyss, driven by oppressive chords, skull-cracking drums, and harsh snarls.
The entire experience, from beginning to end, both musically and visually, is gripping, and we’re thus grateful for the chance to premiere this video, and to help spread the word about Palindrome to people who haven’t yet discovered it. (I’m also grateful to Andy Synn for “allowing” me to quote and paraphrase his review of the album in the first three paragraphs above (even though I didn’t ask his permission).
BUY / STREAM PALINDROME: