Thy Catafalque: Folk Music in Metal Done Right – by Adam Thometz

After hearing Róka Hasa Rádio, I was sold. Thy Catafalque is an avant-garde metal band originally from Makó, a small town in southeastern Hungary of all places. They mainly sing in Hungarian but please don’t let that chase you away. I don’t speak a word of Hungarian, I don’t have the patience to learn a language as difficult and limited in use as Hungarian, and, with the exception of an ex-coworker that I don’t really speak to anymore, I don’t know any Hungarian people that I could ask to translate but Thy Catafalque still managed to make my Top 10. Besides, Tamás Kátai, the founder of Thy Catafalque, said that the lyrics would sound lame in English anyway. Tamás Kátai (also “Kátai Tamás” sometimes, due to Hungarian naming conventions) does everything on the records. Everything. One of his former bandmates from the band Gort, János Juhász, contributes somewhat in the guitar and bass department but it’s safe to say that Kátai is responsible for Thy Catafalque. He even programs the drums.

This band had originally started out as a black metal project but as time progressed, their sound started to embrace a more experimental dimension. By the time Róka Hasa Rádio was released, the stylistic change had been set. They took a more experimental turn by introducing electronic elements and incorporating Hungarian folk melodies while still keeping the black metal sound in tact. While it does use folk melodies, it’s not the kind of superficial use like you would hear in the current wave of folk metal where the band would just adapt the melody for guitar and bass. It’s the kind of use that captures the musical roots and folklore of Hungary. Now, I don’t know a whole lot about Hungarian folk music but you can tell that the use of Hungarian folk music here is not superficial and that it actually means something special to Kátai. It creates a hauntingly melodic sound and feel. It’s not necessarily a groundbreaking sound but it’s extremely beautiful regardless. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: “Köd Utánam” (“Fog Behind Me”) from Róka Hasa Rádio (“Fox Belly Radio” according to Google Translate. What it really means, I don’t know):

This song is also a good example of the lyrics sounding better in Hungarian. I don’t know what the lyrics translate to but I was curious enough to look them up in the original Hungarian and the words flow very nicely. It’s almost poetic. That might be lost after a translation into English.

And here’s a 19-minute song from the same album, “Molekuláris gépezetek” (“Molecular Machineries”). Go ahead and leave it on while you’re doing something else. It’s brutal and soothing at the same time. Mesmerizing all around. Quality metal can do that (in my ears that is). The breakdown is just too chill. Listen at 720p for maximum greatness.

The band has been picking up steam lately, which makes me happy. Last year, they signed on to Season of Mist, a major metal label that is the current home of other trailblazing metal bands like Cynic and Gorguts. They recently released their latest album through Season of Mist, Rengeteg, which is ALL Tamás Kátai without any help from János Juhász.

Unfortunately, even though Thy Catafalque is active, they don’t do live performances and don’t plan on it. Kátai thinks that, because he lives in Edinburgh and his mates remain in Hungary, even a rehearsal would be too much of a hassle. It’s understandable. Rehearsal is a big enough hassle when everyone lives in the same city! Besides, Tamás said in an interview that he gets more of a kick out of composing and creating his music than performing it in front of an audience.

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