In Praise of “Vadak” by Thy Catafalque (#7 in 2021’s Top Ten)

Avant-Garde metal. A subgenre more creative, diverse, and obscure than it’s already creative, diverse, and fairly obscure parent genre of prog metal. At it’s worst, it’s poorly structured/written chaos justified in the name of high art; at it’s best, it’s Hungarian multi-instrumentalist Tamás Kátai and his collective Thy Catafalque, and 2021’s “Vadak” is a towering achievement not just for a niche corner of metal, but for music as a whole.

Calling “Vadak” a metal album is not the right place to start. Musically, the foundation of the album is certainly metal – and there are instances where that extreme/black metal foundation is more transparent than others – but consigning it to merely a form of metal puts “Vadak” in a box it doesn’t deserve. There are screams, and there are Hungarian folk chants and choirs. There are solos, but not just of the guitar, but of the piano, the trumpet, and of other instruments I don’t recognize. There are blast beats; there are also sections of Middle Eastern percussion and grooves so simple they’re almost danceable. Vadak is metal; it is also jazzy, bluesy, folksy, ethereal, mysterious, haunting, beautiful, and above all, indivisible in it’s numerous sounds.

For a genre defined by breaking boundaries, it is not fair to chide Thy Catafalque for the fact that the entire album is an exercise of fusing as many genres, styles, and influences together as possible. And yet, Vadak’s greatest strength can very easily be it’s greatest weakness – as soon as one good idea or section appears, it disappears nearly as quickly as it came. There are more good ideas and starting points here on this albums than most musicians will produce in their entire careers, and many of them beg for more development and attention than their brief role in Vadak. How Tamás Kátai is able to display so much ingenuity in a single album is a mystery, but given that he has been doing this consistently for more than two decades, there is good reason to hope that what follows Vadak will be just as spectacular as everything that has come before it.

“Vadak” by Thy Catafalque is available wherever you get your music. #6 after Christmas.

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