Catacomb – In the Maze of Kadath (1993)

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Article by David Rosales

Straight from the peak of the death metal movement comes the French band Catacomb and their 1993 demo / EP In the Maze of Kadath. The production is suitable and enhances the vibe that any death metal band would want, saved from overproduction by the limitations of its time and probably band finances. It is the sort of release that from the time period that has all the right examples of its betters so that it can produce an appropriate atmosphere, but its capacity to create something original and valuable of its own is shaky at best.

Songs are introduced by a monochromatic piano, not unlike that of Goatcraft on All for Naught. After a short passage, the band proceeds to pick motifs from it and move on to a very consciously “progressive” treatment of the music. As I have said before, all good death metal is progressive music, in the sense of the word’s original usage when describing classic and jazz inspired rock bands of the early seventies. Bands that sound more explicitly and intentionally progressive are usually trying something closer to through-composition. The dangers of through-composition, however, can be seen in how acts such as The Chasm meander into nothingness, or in the corners of Timeghoul’s longer explorations, which they barely keep together. Catacomb is an example of a band biting off more than it can chew. While not outright offensive, one gets the feeling that the songs’ storylines get lost, and part of this is because it’s difficult to tell if Catacomb has a clearly defined style or not. It is more like a collection of atmospheric death metal tropes combined with more conventional technique closer to a traditional/speed metal approach, although Catacomb tends to perform at middling tempos.

One strength of this band on In The Maze of Kadath is their haunting use of keyboard, its sound complementing the tone of the guitar as they play in unison. This is a subtlety lost on modern bands who fail to notice how a huge and devouring guitar sound eats up the space where a keyboard would spread to get that truly haunting feeling. Less admirable are the random guitar solos with very little staying power (a lack of correspondence with the music, with which it only shares tonal coherence) and often awkward-sounding arpeggiations. All in all, this is an enjoyable but unimpressive and forgettable work music. If you wanted the progressive ‘chops’ with the dark atmosphere, Timeghoul provides a much better delivery. If that proves too gnarly and the reader only wants that spacey, desolate sound, Thergothon’s Stream from the Heavens would be a far more compelling and potent choice. In the Maze of Kadath may please momentarily and entertain for its cult status, but musically, anything it has to offer has been realized more convincingly in the works of others.

Mortuary (FRA) – Nothingless Than Nothingness (2016)

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Not to be confused with the Mortuary on the Dark Legions Archives from Mexico, this Mortuary started as a contemporary of the great Massacra, although they didn’t get a studio album out until 1996. Nothingless than Nothingness is separated from even that by 20 years, so the usual rhetoric about evolving or dramatically changing bands applies, but this band’s early material may very well have been inspired on some level by Massacra’s works; at the very least, Final Holocaust and similar was pushing Mortuary towards velocity and intricacy of individual riffs over minimal backing.

To get it out of the way – Nothingless than Nothingness has very little to do with that style, and instead takes cues from pre-Slaughter of the Soul melodic death metal; while less obvious about their melodic influences than most, material on here reminds me of… well… Thy Black Destiny, of all albums. Sacramentum’s 1999 effort may have seemingly little to do with this recording, but its similar use of monophonic melody, variety of texture, hints of contemporary black metal instrumentation, and gradual gestures towards a more rock-oriented form of songwriting (such as frequent breakdowns and vocal emphasis) make for an eerie similarity, if far from an exact one. This is backed up by a band that is technically accomplished in the pedestrian variety that I’ve long since come to expect from modern death metal. One thing that did stand out, however, the vocalist, who showcases his proficiency in adding dimensions to the songs by varying up his rhythm and the textures of his growls; the way he interacts with the drummer, in fact, is probably the strongest point of this album and something other death metal bands could learn from.

Nothingless than Nothingness arguably ends up ahead of the pack for at least having one superlative element worthy of study. Unfortunately, the compositions are afflicted by a few of the problems endemic to modern metal music. First of all, most of these tracks showcase haphazard breakdowns that enter abruptly and contribute little to the ideas of the song. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that Mortuary uses extended sections of blast beats to good effect, so hearing the band dwell on their weaknesses is disheartening. The other problem is that even though many of the individual sections are musically interesting, they’re arranged in a fashion that is attention-deflecting at best and essentially random at worst. If Mortuary put more effort into making coherent arrangements, they’d be a serious force to be reckoned with, but the lack of organization is such an enormous blow to an otherwise promising and well done album.

Mortuary’s latest album will release officially on January 18th, for those who are still interested.

Massacra – Enjoy the Violence

Know how to kill! Nothing is rarer, and everything depends on that. Know how to kill! That is to say, how to work the human body like a sculptor works his day or piece of ivory, and evoke the entire sum, every prodigy of suffering it conceals in the depths of its shadows and its mysteries. There! Science is required, variety, taste, imagination… genius, after all.

 

… So spake the lyrically impassioned and thoroughly blood-splattered master torturer from Octave Mirbeau’s exploitative allegory ‘Le Jardin des Supplices‘ — a work often regarded as the French parallel to Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ in its mutual objective towards smashing the moral edifices of Western civilization and exposing the corrupted, putrefying soul beneath. Framed in this excerpt is a rational, eloquent and yet sickeningly grotesque declaration of sadism as a fine art — or even a manifestation of divine love — which so happens to mesh very excellently with the more measured methods that Massacra had undertaken for their second opus Enjoy The Violence, an album that has historically competed with its predecessor Final Holocaust for total lordship over the death metal world. While the ivory sceptre is generally awarded to the debut by merit of its raw, inexorable and blindingly brilliant riff-saladry, an equally convincing case can be argued on behalf of Enjoy The Violence — a sophomore effort in the greatest sense of the word. No longer does songwriting resemble frantic tornadoes of jagged phrases, bewildering developments and hazardously unhinged instrumentation: here we find Massacra, having done their thorough “research of tortures”, limiting their machinations of aural infliction down to a choice but variegated selection, with all parts oiled, honed, and sharpened for excruciating efficiency.

Markedly fewer motifs are employed — a few even resurface on multiple songs — and yet it is this very spareness that imparts such character and memorability unto each composition, along with a newfound, almost cinematic command over tempo, texture, voicing and atmosphere. In addition to the familiar Destruction-esque, adrenaline-rushed thrashing fare, songs of pure death-doom are introduced, serving to showcase both the band’s ability to stage ominous and imposing dirges in the grandiosely operatic tradition, as well as the most tasteful musicianship yet to be wrought by the Duval/Tristani guitar duo and even percussionist Chris Palengat. Bassist and co-vocalist Pascal Jörgensen, whose efforts were unfortunately somewhat smothered by the crêpe-flat production on Final Holocaust, now rises to the status of an eminent narrator, complete with audible basslines and a dictatorial roar that bears with it the all the glorious and savage atavisms of the Gallic warrior spirit. A richly imagined, brutal and at times sardonic album, Enjoy The Violence is very much Massacra’s second masterpiece and — like the aforementioned Mirbeau — speaks to the undercurrent of murder and pillage that flows blackly through even the modern, safe, and plastic societies that have pleasantly stultified us in this age of oblivion.

You take pleasure
In using violence
It’s in your nature
Psychopathic sense
Psychological conflict
You’re under my influence
You can’t repress your instinct
I incite you to violence

-Thanatotron-