Thursday, 31 October 2019

Katharos XIII - Palindrome (2019)



Country: Romania
Style: Black/Doom Metal, Dark Jazz
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 14 Oct 2019
Sites: Facebook | Metal Archives

I have no idea how to describe what Katharos XIII do, but I'm thankful that I'm struggling with that task now because it means that I've finally found them. I wasn't particularly looking for them but I'm always looking for the sort of music that I've never heard before and they're a great example. They really are an answer to questions you don't know you have.

I came upon them described as black/doom metal and it seems that they moved into that from depressive black metal, which really isn't light years away. However, if you imagine black/doom metal, you're not likely to imagine this. It's certainly not the bastard child of Mayhem and Candlemass and it's not remotely like other black/doom bands I've heard, like Barathrum.

I was sold on the album just listening to the bass of Hanos-Puskai Péter at the beginning of the opening song, Vidma, because it's dark and doomy but it has a warm and inviting tone. It's like telling us that things are going to be deadly but come on in anyway, because the water's warm. Then the ethereal voice of Manuela Marchis takes over, soft and melodic but always with power, like Tori Amos if her cover of Slayer's Raining Blood had been her biggest hit. Drummer Sabat refuses to play the expected rhythms, almost improvising over the other musicians. And then...

And then, three minutes in, it shifts from folky jazz into somewhere utterly unique. It's not just the eruption into black metal shrieks, presumably the work of the guitarist and keyboardist who goes only by F., over an achingly low and slow backdrop of exquisite doom, it's the fact that it's accompanied by a saxophone soloing over the whole thing. Yeah, you heard me. Except that the result is much better than you're currently imagining. It's courtesy of Alex Iovan who's the tenor saxophonist in Katharos XIII, adding an enticing and highly unusual element to their sound.

He's not the only one. A couple of minutes later, it all drops back into an ambient darkness, with jangling bells behind Marchis's haunting voice. I may be listening on Hallowe'en entirely by accident, but this sounds exactly like the house you don't want to trick or treat at, because there's no way you're going to leave. Her voice also splits into different tracks, that weave into something new, like a dark ambient take on Linda Perhacs where the abundant sky around us has fallen and everything's gone except whatever's grinning in the darkness in front of us.

Vidma is over far too quickly, even at eight minutes and change. It caught me so much by surprise that I hadn't quite grasped what was happening until it was done and I had to prepare myself for the next song. Instead, I went back to Vidma and listened to that a few times before moving onwards. That kept on happening too, as I had to fully devour To a Secret Voyage before I moved on to Caloian Voices and so on. By the time I got to Xavernah Glory, the last of the five tracks on offer which, between them, amount to almost an hour of running time, I'd been listening for most of a day.

And I'll be listening to this a lot more, including on headphones tonight in the wee hours with no distractions. There are a lot of parts that could slip easily into the background because they're so ambient, but that's deceptive because there's a lot going on even when it doesn't seem like it. The first couple of minutes of No Sun Swims Thundered fit that bill, but pay attention and they reveal their secrets. This song builds organically and incessantly to what I believe is a theremin solo. That's not a guitar effects pedal, right?

Katharos XIII are from Timișoara and this is their third studio album, with a demo and a split album with fellow Romanians Ordinul Negru to their name before it. Their Facebook page calls what they doom/black metal, but also dark jazz, a genre also known as doom jazz. How have I not heard of this before? It apparently grew out of a merger of film noir soundtracks and dark ambient music. I will be exploring. In the meantime, this is something the likes of which I've never heard before and I like that just because as much as because it's immersive and powerful stuff.

Just like the Ultima Radio album I reviewed earlier this week, this review may or may not help you understand whether it's for you or not. Just check out Caloian Voices on YouTube. If it leaves you dry, this isn't your music. If it wows you the way it wowed me, you'll have found another new favourite band.

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