Four years of deep diving into international rock and metal at Apocalypse Later Music has brought me in touch not only with the new stuff that's coming out everywhere but also with old stuff that's either still going strong or being brought back into the light. If I'm translating websites correctly, I think this album counts as two cases in point: both the hard rock band Karthago, who recorded for a few years in the early eighties and the music of a Hungarian pop singer called Máté Péter, a cult figure in his native country for a couple of decades from the mid-sixties to his death in 1984 at only thirty-seven years old.
Now, Karthago aren't entirely new to me but I've only heard one of their songs, courtesy of Milan Hubláček from the then Czechoslovakia who kindly sent Tommy Vance a copy of their first album in 1982, from which he played Do Not Stop on the Friday Rock Show. I didn't hear it until recently on a shared recording, as I didn't find that show until 1984, but I enjoyed it and other Euro-rockers that Tommy hauled out for that particular episode. It looks like they released five studio albums in the early eighties before splitting up in 1985, but they got back together in 1990 and eventually found their way back into the studio for ValóságRock in 2004. This is their second studio album since then.
However, if I'm still understanding correctly, none of this one is original material. Everything here is a Máté Péter song, reinterpreted within a rock framework. This works surprisingly well for me, even not knowing nothing at all about Máté and not a heck of a lot more about Karthago. At least I have Discogs to hand, so I can see that there are four tracks here from Máté's 1976 debut album, Éjszakák és nappalok, nothing at all from its follow-up, Magány... és együttlét—which does seem telling—but a trio of songs from each of Máté's two other albums, Szívhangok and Keretek között, the latter of which was released in 1982 at a time when Karthago were active. The rest, I presume, were originally singles.
What matters is that this material rocks, whether that was inherent in the originals or whether it was infused during the translation between genres. Zene nélkül, which opens up the album, is like Deep Purple taking on a Scorpions power ballad, and Elmegyek seems like that too. Egy darabot a szívemböl is a hard rocker out of the gate and stays that way, while Minden szónál többet ér ramps up nicely. To keep the variety in play, Otthonom a nagyvilág, which is old school bluesy rock 'n' roll.
Other tracks feel more like the ballads I'm assuming they were to begin with, even rocked up with a strong guitar like Most élsz or a harmonica like Szülöi ház. Some end up with a Nazareth feel, an epitome perhaps being Azért vannak a jóbarátok, but they're all powerful, even when they're not delivered with as much emphasis. Part of that is that Takáts Tamás's lead vocal, which didn't grab me on the opener, is particularly strong on these power ballads. It's interesting how he went from my least favourite aspect of the band to my favourite literally from one song to another.
It's fair to say here that by power ballads, I don't necessarily mean Still Loving You; many of these are closer to Bridge Over Troubled Water, especially Ott állsz az út végén, which features a highly recognisable four note section on the piano, even if it's also little bit country, as if it's translated a second time. It's not a million miles from a Johnny Hallyday cover of a Merle Haggard cover of the Simon and Garfunkel song.
I should mention here that the entire band is clearly very capable, even though I don't know if any of them have been with Karthago for their entire run or just the last five minutes. The guitars are by Szigeti Ferenc and Gidófalvy Attila, the latter of whom also provides the excellent keyboards, a background instrument here for sure but one that manifests in different ways throughout. There are delicate piano parts over here, texture swells over there, Jon Lord here and there and even a bit of Dire Straits on Szülöi ház. There's a neat bass section on Egy darabot a szívemböl too.
So Kathargo may not have stayed the course like Ossian, but they've hung in there and remained relevant over four decades. On an important Hungarian national holiday last year, the members were given the Máté Péter Award, which is presumably why they decided to record this album. I'm very happy that they did, because it was a discovery for me.
And that may be another reason why the most emotional song is the closer, Emlékezz rám, which I noticed was also the closer on Keretek között, Máté Péter's final album before his death. It really doesn't need three reasons to be there, the third being that it inherently sounds like a memorial, even if it never was until now. And, hey, it did its job, as did this album.