As you know if you’ve been here routinely, I make lists, lots of lists, of new music I want to check out. Last night when I began making my way through the latest one (an extremely long one), it happened that the first five selections were so good and fit together so beautifully that I decided to go no further, for fear of breaking a powerful pattern that had serendipitously taken shape. When I listened to them again this morning, it still made sense.
I’ve set out these songs in the order I heard them. I said they created a pattern, but they were also a journey, and one that ended in stunning fashion.
THY CATAFALQUE (Hungary)
Well of course I started with a new video from Thy Catafalque, especially because the video is for a performance of my favorite song from one of my favorite albums of 2011. Yes, more than a decade ago! But until senility encroaches I’ll never forget “Fekete mezők”.
Rengeteg was a perhaps unexpected favorite of mine in that long-ago year, maybe even my most favorite. Unexpected because the vast majority of the singing was clean and many of the songs were not what anyone would consider “extreme metal”.
On the other hand, “Fekete mezők” was definitely metal. It wasn’t the only infectious song on Rengeteg; in fact, every song on the album was memorable. But I thought it was the catchiest, and there was no song from 2011 that I spent more time spinning than this one. I loved the guitar tone that Tamás Kátai achieved, I loved the rhythms, I loved the lilting melodies, I loved the blend of distorted harsh vocals and Attila Bakos’ clean ones — basically, I loved everything about this track. In English, it means “black fields”.
The immediate occasion for revisiting it is this video, taken from the first live show of Thy Catafalque, recorded in August 2021 during the Fekete Zaj festival in Hungary. For that show 26 musicians performed 15 songs from Thy Catafalque’s discography, and the show is being released on November 25th by Season of Mist in a Blu-ray edition called Mezolit – Live at Fekete Zaj.
Interestingly, Thy Catafalque‘s mastermind Tamás Kátai isn’t one of the performers in this clip, but man, Bálint Bokodi (vocals), András Nagy (vocals), Krisztián Varga (guitar), Péter Erdélyi (guitar), Gergely Cseh (bass), and Tadeusz Rieckmann (drums) do a hell of a job with it, making the song even heavier and more hard-hitting (a more deaath metal version, I’d say), but no less captivating. Get ready to move….
Heron continue to evolve. My dominant impression of their last album Time Immemorial was just how goddamn pulverizing it was on multiple levels, a crusher of souls as well as bones. “With Dead Eyes“, the first single from their new album Empires of Ash that’s the second selection today isn’t as brutal, but it’s still thoroughly gripping.
One thing hasn’t changed — the innovative and convulsively head-hooking talent of drummer Bina Mendozza. That clever little rhythm that jumps up as the bass growls and the guitar languidly rings (and begins to convulse) in the song’s stripped-down opening is a beautiful thing, and it remains a highly infectious presence throughout.
Another thing that hasn’t changed is the throat-ruining intensity of the vocals, which are emotionally shattering as soon as they appear. The dire intensity of the song as a whole eventually also escalates, swelling to an anguished boil over those vibrant beats.
Empires of Ash will be released by Sludgelord Records on December 2nd.
The next song I’ve chosen for today, “Ex Tenebris I“, is a 10-minute epic, and it’s presented through a video that’s full of quivering feelers, flickering tongues, and menacing claws.
The song is a classic slow build. The mysterious ringing and swirling tones that evolve over tribal beats are almost hypnotic at first, even though the imagery in the video is the kind of thing that puts people like me on edge. There’s also some great drumwork in this song, as there was in that Heron track, as well as raw vocal torment.
Finally, the music catches up to the video’s menacing and alien insectoid imagery as the guitars radiate fevers and the drums pummel and clatter. A strange but captivating sequence of shrill pulses surfaces, and makes the song begin to sound unearthly… and alluring… until it begins to sound like a harrowing (but head-moving) calamity.
It was a stroke of twisted genius to combine the song with that imagery, but I’m still afraid I’ll lose sleep over it. The video is described as “an allegory of the process of ‘enlightenment’ or coming to consciousness that we reach by passing through our darker aspects”, which reflects the conception of the album as a whole that includes the song. That album, Torch, is described as “a concept album focusing on ‘The Fourth Way’ introduced by philosopher/mystic Georges Gurdjieff“.
Below the video at YouTube there’s this naming of the stars of the video:
Eurycantha calcarata (Papua Nuova Guinea)
Gromphadorhina sp. (Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches)
Heterometrus sp. (Asian forest scorpion)
Viet Nam Coenobita clypeatus (Caribbean Hermit Crab)
Pantherophis guttatus (corn snake – U.S.A.)
Akis italica (Italia)
Torch was released on September 20th of this year by Time To Kill Records. I haven’t heard the rest of it, but the hook has been set, and it will reel me in now.
This next song, “Oddal“, proved to be wonderfully varied and surprising, in part because it combines black metal with traditional instruments such as the goat horn and the tagelharpa, but for other reasons as well.
The song has heavy post-metal heft and interesting propulsive drumming (as in other songs chosen for today, the drumming is stripped-down but still threatens to steal the show), as well as sinister vibrating riffage and stricken vocal howling, screaming, and roaring. It creates an ominous and threatening atmosphere, but with hallowed overtones.
Eventually the song magnifies and soars. Eventually, singing voices emerge in their own stricken but reverent tones. Eventually, the song becomes thunderous and emotionally ravaging too.
The song is paired with yet another good video in today’s collection. It mixes shadowy imagery of the band’s performance and an ominous forest excursion. I’ll also share the band’s own explanation of the track:
“In the near future we will share our three new pieces. A musical and visual triptych which in fact is a prologue to what’s next to come. For the first time in our history we’ve felt that the album needs some sort of introduction, opening. So here’s the first lift of the veil. ‘Oddal‘ is a Polish word for seclusion, distance and isolation. We invite you there.”
The name of the new record is Prolog, and it will be released on January 6th.
This final selection is a paradigm case of “last but not least”, because this surprise album has absolutely overwhelmed me. I paused only long enough to buy it after the second song, and then started at the beginning again.
In Shifting Light is a near-immaculate union of storming and softness, of immense heaviness, poignant refection, and ethereal wonder. The ebb and flow of this emotional powerhouse is so immersive that I lost track of time, and of everything I’d been pondering before I began. The turbulence is striking, and so are the spells, and the sensations of glittering and soaring splendor.
There’s sorrow in the music, and turmoil, confusion, and anguish, but also hope.
I could go on and on, but the wiser course is probably just to let you experience the music for yourselves. It’s early days with the music yet, but I have a feeling this will be one of my favorite albums of the year when 2022 draws to a close.
Vendetta Records‘ owner describes Illumine as “a secret project by a friend I worked with before, but for Illumine he wants to stay unknown”. The album is available now digitally, and on a limited run of 100 cassette tapes.