Since this is my first review of the year, it’s a good time to mention one of my annual music resolutions. I try to evolve my listening habits with a new focus come Jan. 1, with this year’s theme being to cut down on my “Lazy List.” With all the music out there that interests me, I frequently shelve artists to listen to “later,” which often never comes. I’m aiming to be more impulsive and simply press play on these artists instead of adding new names to the list.
Thy Catafalque is certainly a worthy candidate to kick off both this personal trend and another year of excellent new metal. Tamás Kátai has steered the group’s 20-year career through a myriad of genres, establishing Thy Catafalque as one of the premiere voices in avant-garde metal. The challenge for bands approaching this malleable subgenre is figuring out how to craft something that feels invigorating and experimental while still having some semblance of cohesion. During my initial foray into their discography over the last month or so, it’s abundantly clear that Kátai and his collaborators excel at achieving this balance and writing exceptional music in the process.
For newcomers and longtime fans alike, Naiv is yet another strong installment from the band that’s worth spending extra time with this year. Kátai’s tenth release with the project continues along a similar trajectory as recent Thy Catafalque records, with an extra bit of energy infused into each element of the band’s sound. All the avant-garde and progressive stylings still exhibit the same dynamic qualities heard on previous Thy Catafalque releases, but the delivery boasts some extra “oomph” with each new passage and idea.
“A bolyongás ideje” is a quality opener with nice blackened progressive themes. Yet, the album’s creativity truly takes off with “Tsitsushka” immediately after. The track’s diversity of sounds alone is impressive, but it’s the way Kátai seamlessly weaves them together that’s truly awing. The song opens with a goth-rock-tinged heavy metal riff which dives into waves of vintage, progressive electronic atmospheres. On top of it all, the midsection revolves around snapping, funky bass lines that cushion some punchy saxophone. As a chorus of trumpets and warm, whimsical synth notes appear at the conclusion of the track, you simply have to look back and appreciate what an incredible bricolage the track is.
“Embersólyom” is equally eclectic in all the best ways, blending more of that classic, John Carpenter synth magic with driving metal riffs and mystical Hungarian folk music. Tracks like this just feel so massive yet welcoming, as if Kátai and his collaborators are eagerly welcoming the listener to accompany them on an epic adventure. And whatever lies ahead on that journey, Thy Catafalque provides an incredibly fun soundtrack. Even with the sinister, black metal rasps at the center of “A valóság kazamatái,” the track has an infectious post-punk-adjacent bounce that runs through every performance. And if you’re not up and dancing along to the flute-driven beat on “Kék madár (Négy kép),” your soul must be dark and cold.
Above all else, it’s this dedication to making truly enjoyable music that sets Thy Catafalque apart, something that’s especially prominent on Naiv. There’s still plenty of weirdness on display to please avant-garde metal purists (if there are any). But unlike other bands in the genre with rigid, overly serious views of their output, Thy Catafalque manage to present bold, engaging ideas and still have fun doing it. Naiv sets the bar high for new metal in 2020, but I have a feeling we’ll be taking about this album long after this year is done.
Naiv is available Jan. 24 via Season of Mist.