(We have been devoted fans of Thy Catafalque for a very long time, and the band’s new album Alföld has only strengthened our ardor [see the review here]. And so today we are very happy to present Comrade Aleks‘ interview of Tamás Kátai in advance of the new album’s June 16 release by Season of Mist.)
Thy Catafalque celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. It started as the duo of Tamás Kátai and János Juhász, who were highly enthusiastic towards black metal with an avant-garde edge, and it took just a bit before Thy Catafalque established their own unique blend formed by elements taken from different genres and sub-genres, from extreme metal to electronic and folk music.
Years passed, and the band turned into Tamás’ solo project, but he managed only to sharpen his skills and it seems that he never suffers from a lack of ideas. Alföld is Thy Catafalque’s forthcoming eleventh album. It’s still unique and unpredictable but you can already form an impression about its direction if you check Season of Mist’s Bandcamp and find there three new songs: “A csend hegyei”, “Testen túl”, and “Néma vermek”.
Recorded in Budapest with a dozen guest vocalists and musicians, it turns out to be one of most exciting releases in the metal underground. Tamás reveals a few secrets behind Alföld and the project’s current status.
Hi Tamás! How are you? Are you already well-occupied with the promotion of Thy Catafalque’s new album Alföld?
Hello! Thanks very much, I’m doing all right. Yes, there are the usual things with the upcoming album but more importantly we’ll have a massive gig tomorrow, and it takes a lot of time and energy to get through stuff these days.
There were two official videos released for the promotion of Alföld – the creepy and hostile “A csend hegyei” and a bit more straightforward yet abstract one as well for “Néma vermek”. What inspired you to create these images? How are they connected to the pastoral themes of the lyrics?
“Néma vermek” was shot at the farmlands of Makó-Bogarzó, just a couple of kilometers away from my hometown, Makó in the Great Plains of Hungary. It was an obvious choice to shoot the video there. The cover photo had been taken at the same place two months earlier and the title of the album, Alföld, means “the Great Plains”. The song itself is practically about passing away, becoming one with the earth, and the video was influenced by the art of Béla Tarr, a critically important film director from Hungary. I really love his works and the world he creates.
“A csend hegyei” on the other hand was shot in the North of Sweden, I was not there at the shooting but we had discussed the details and the general atmosphere of the visuals that conveys the mood of the song itself. “A csend hegyei” means “The Mountains Of Silence,” and yes, it’s dark and tough, pretty much old school death metal.
I read that you work with guest musicians in different ways: some just perform the lines you already composed and others should write their own parts individually. How was it during recording of Alföld?
I always tell them to play the way they feel like, and there are occasions when they come up with better ideas than I would have thought of, because obviously they know their instruments much better than I do and I’d be crazy to let these ideas slip away just because they were not coming straight from myself. The music is what counts at the end of the day.
This time you recorded the material with twelve guest musicians. Most of your guests are Hungarian musicians, but there are a few guests from Brazil, Israel, Italy, and Latvia. How did you orchestrate the recording session? What was the most difficult part of the process?
Well, most of the time it’s easy peasy and everything goes on the internet, sending files back and forth. The only exception was a lot of vocal tracks that were recorded here in Budapest and we went to the studio together. It was totally doable, but when you live in another continent you just record the thing and send it over. But anyway these recordings are the minority. 90 percent of the album was recorded by me, I needed the extra instruments for spicing up the music a bit, and vocal-wise, well, I don’t really like doing the vocals. I can do some if needed but there are much more talented people out there for this.
Thy Catafalque is an amalgam of a few different rock and metal genres, and these proportions change from album to album. How would you summarize the Alföld content?
This is extreme metal and not much more this time. Sure, you can still find some unexpected instruments and motifs here and there, so there is some avant-garde and folk flavor to it, but generally speaking it’s like ’90s extreme metal for me with a wee twist.
The album was mastered by Colin Davis who also mastered the Vadak album. How did you learn about him? How did you collaborate with him?
After finishing the mixing process of Vadak I was not sure about the mastering. Usually I do it but I always have doubts about the masters and I didn’t want to fuck it up and was looking for someone pro on this matter. I asked an old friend from Scotland and he advised me to ask Colin, who was playing guitar in the US death metal band Vile. They had played in Scotland and that’s how they knew each other. So I contacted him and we could work pretty fast and efficiently, so I asked him to do the mastering for Alföld as well. I recommend him, he knows what he’s doing and has a great working morale.
Thy Catafalque’s debut Sublunary Tragedies was released 24 years ago – in 1999. How much of that original Thy Catafalque do you feel in the Alföld songs?
Man, I love Sublunary Tragedies, I would even love to re-record it because the songs would deserve a decent mix. Of course it was way different back then. I had János in the band playing the guitars and we were very young and inexperienced, but those black metal roots are still in TC and I think they will always be there in the deep. I explored many more colours since then, sure but black is one solid piece of the picture.
The new album is being released on vinyl and CD-digibook editions. What can you tell us about these editions? How will they attract collectors of rarities?
Season Of Mist is releasing them on mediabook CD and vinyls in four colours and I think GS Productions will also release them on CD in Russia. I don’t know much about the marketing part of this whole story and frankly, I’m not very interested in that. I mean I’m glad we have so many releases and versions, I enjoy collecting them for my archives, and I already have a good number of boxes at home in Makó with different copies of my releases, but this is the area of Season Of Mist and I’m sure they know their field. But again, it’s really cool that I can design everything and it’s an exciting activity for me, working constantly on packaging, layouts, and designs of my own albums. Man, I’m one lucky bastard.
By the way, Sublunary Tragedies was re-released by GS Productions in 2021. What’s the difference between the original edition and the reissue?
Apart from the cover art, nothing at all.
Subjectively Thy Catafalque’s music associates with folk, pagan, industrial, and avant-garde themes, and sometimes the songs keep the feeling of childhood’s comfort. Which lyrical themes connect all of your albums? Have your lyrics changed much since the very beginning?
Yes, they have changed for sure. Just thinking about the first two albums were almost entirely in English and then we switched to Hungarian. The early songs were clearly influenced by medieval and romantic English poetry (hence the name of the band) and German romanticism. We quoted poetic and prosaic works from Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley, Thoreau and even more recent artists like William Butler Yeats and Wilhelm Dilthey. Switching to my native Hungarian it all ended and I navigated to more personal topics and I think my main source of inspiration is still originating from the golden era of twentieth-century Hungarian literature.
Your music obtains qualities of different genres but usually it’s tagged as “avant-garde metal” or “avant-garde black metal” regarding your roots. Do you feel Thy Catafalque is connected tightly to one of certain metal scenes indeed?
I would say it is connected to metal in general. I love metal, and looks like it will stay with me forever. I adore the power of the riff — I’m 47 and still under the spell. However it does not mean I don’t listen to anything else, oh no, very far from it. I love music, including our well-respected genre.
Thy Catafalque remained a studio project for years, but two years ago you started to perform your songs live with session musicians. What pushed you finally to make this decision?
It was a chain of coincidental events but the point is I got back from Scotland after living for 10 years in Edinburgh. I got to Budapest and here there are a lot musicians who were keen to play with me. It was something I didn’t have in Scotland. I was very much under the radar there, I was living a low-profile life and pretty much enjoyed it. Working, then making some music at home, going up to the Highlands hiking, I was satisfied and happy that way and I didn’t need the stage in my life. However when I moved back, this opportunity jumped up and I said ok, why not? Life is but an adventure, so things happened and now I am playing on a massive stage in two days in front of thousands. I’d like to do this for as long as I enjoy it and then no more. Good thing is, I’m still enjoying it.
Do you now have a constant live line-up? Or do you aim to play just from time to time without regularity? How often do you rehearse?
We do have a constant line-up since late 2021 and we have rehearsals almost on every Sunday.
Do you have plans for a tour in support of Alföld? And what are your plans for gigs for the rest of 2023?
Nah, I’m not interested in tours, not long ones for sure. It’s too much hassle and it kills the fun. We prefer one-off gigs at nice and exciting places, a couple of shows per year. So far we have 6 gigs for 2023 booked. We can have a bit more but no regular touring, I’m old for that now and never really cared. You know I love getting to sleep early, then wake up early, go for a run in the morning. Not a very tour-friendly lifestyle.
Season of Mist released a Thy Catafalque live album, Mezolit – Live at Fekete Zaj, recorded and filmed during Fekete Zaj Fesitval in August 2021. Was it a necessary thing for you to have one of your gigs recorded?
It was not just one of our gigs but it was the very first one and at that point it was not decided at all that we would organize a stable line-up and keep going. So that night was a very special one and yes, definitely, it was the right move to record and release it. And it was 26 people participating on stage altogether. That show will never be done again.
How do you build Thy Catafalque’s live sets with such a rich background of releases?
Well, this is a constant issue in regards of which songs to play and which ones to drop. We have 11 albums now, around 100 tracks to choose from. It’s a mess. Also, there are some songs some people would like to play, other ones don’t, and it’s important that everyone should be happy with the setlist in the band, we need to consider this as well.
How important is it for you to have your albums released in physical form? Are you used to the modern rules of the music business, with small runs of CDs and vinyls but with digital downloads. I just can’t stop thinking about the Köd utánam deluxe box-set!
That box-set was completely coming from GS Productions, I never thought of a box like that. They wanted to do it so we did it. But anyway, yes, I like to have physical releases even if just a small run, but please press them, otherwise somehow I cannot consider a release a release. Digital is invisible. It’s a very important medium but invisible. I want to touch it, then I’m good.
Thank you for the interview Tamás! I hope Alföld will reach as many listeners as possible. So that was the last question for today… Did we skip something important?
Thank you very much for the interview, Aleks, I think we covered many things. Take care!