It’s tough for one-man projects to remain consistently exciting: often, their singular nature tends to bog down a sense of advancement or diversity across their sonic explorations. The problem with letting one mind have total creative control is that only one person is in charge, and that there’s only one real creative vision at play. Thus, the announcement of a new record from a one-man project is always a bit of a crapshoot for the audience; from a one-man project like Thy Catafalque, which has entertained large degrees of success (within their relatively small scene, anyway) for quite some time now, it’s even more of a risk, since any album could be the album the mind behind the music loses steam and releases something mired in apathy and laziness.
The last Thy Catafalque record, Sgurr, didn’t exactly showcase Tamás Kátai, the sole member, at his creative peak. It wasn’t a bad record, per se, it was just bland and lacked a certain charm previous albums had. The announcement of Meta was therefore one of trepidation among fans: following a stumble, is this the record where Catafalque falls? Who will take up Katai’s mantle for weird, avant-garde pagan black metal, especially in a world where contemporaries and fellow standard-bearers Negura Bunget are no longer operating near peak capacity either? Thankfully, these cares can be tossed aside, since Meta is back to rip-roaring business for the band, showcasing some excellent songwriting and creativity as well as a production job that brings an entirely new side of the music out.
Meta works the same way as previous Thy Catafalque albums: fiery guitars and blasting drums straddle the line between black and death metal territories before giving way to spacey, floating synths and wanderings through soaring, epic atmospheric black metal territory awash with pagan melodies and use of folk instruments. Riffs are simple enough to be enjoyable and catchy, yet complex enough to retain the level of sophistication necessary for good extreme metal, and there’s a stronger doom bent this time around than there has been in previous outings. The joy of the band lies in watching the way Kátai brings the folk melodies and instrumentation together with the energetic, acidic metal in a marriage that doesn’t sound quite like anything else out there, yet retains a level of immediate familiarity because of course the two parts go together. It’s the same gambit legendary acts like Emperor and Blind Guardian have used time and time again, and when accomplished with the same eye for subtlety and detail, it can lead to some truly resounding moments, as it does here.
This may not be a great record, or a particularly novel one, but Meta‘s certainly a good record. Thy Catafalque’s established tendency to meander through their soundscapes is still fully present here, and those who were turned off by that on previous efforts are going to find little reprieve from it on this album. On the other hand, though, all of the idiosyncrasies that have made this project so interesting to follow in the past are just as bombastic and locked in as they have been on previous efforts, and those who already have an ear for the sound Kátai has been cultivating for over fifteen years now are going to find themselves an absolute gem of a record in Meta. Pagan black metal fans, eat your heart out.
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Meta is out now via Season of Mist records! Grab it on their bandcamp here.