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This is one of those truly inexplicable releases you come across once in a while. Having totally changed your sound - to tepid reception - your options are to forge on and try to make something of it, or shift back and hope no-one notices anything, right? Add to that the fact that for some reason your entire band has just left you, including the closest things you had to long-term members over the past ten years, and you're up a certain creek without a certain instrument. Some sort of awesome comeback is in order for Riku Hopeakoski, surely.
Why the obvious choice would be to rerecord your old material, which is primarily in your old epically inclined blasteriffic style, I can't fathom. Having turned your back on the change in sound you recently made (which wasn't too bad), you go back a couple of evolutions, remake keyboard-led melodic black metal in the black metal style you attempted a couple albums ago, for... fuck, this is going in circles. At any rate Catamenia, former slightly folky melodic black metal showstealers, followed up the iffy Cavalcade with this dry and useless set of revisited oldies. I would say read on, but personally I wouldn't bother.
What is amazing about this dire compilation is that they have gone one-up on the tradition of pissing all over your greatest hits, by rerecording their crowd pleasers so badly that you start to wonder how these songs could ever have sounded any good in the first place. That in itself is almost inexplicable. How can 'Coldbound' be a tiring trawl rather than a pounding stride? How do you make 'My Blood Stained Path' and 'Lost in Bitterness' sound so lazy? How do those powering riffs and triumphant motifs get so half-arsed? These people aren't trying. Or they are trying but they're really, really untalented. 'Hollow Out - Chaos Born' is another example. Sounds like its being phoned in from another continent. Nowhere are the guitars spiky or the drums powerful.
The sound is pretty lame in general. Not only are the drums fairly uninspiring in their execution, lacking any of the hammering precision this band has benefited from with various drummers in the past, but they sound muffled and flat. The bass guitar sounds ridiculous, as if they are trying to get a heavy sound in there, but just don't have the right equipment or expertise. The guitars meanwhile, where once they were piercing and noble, are just thin and irritating.
They also give their new "black metal" (pfff) treatment to recent songs. The most confusing is 'Cavalcade', where they re-do it with harsh vocals. What are they trying to say? What are they aiming for? Fuck knows. They top off this cavalcade (HA!! Yeah, fuck you!!) of twattishness with a metalcore-as-hell sounding Bon Jovi cover, just to show you they're taking this all totally seriously and that the new Catamenia really deserves your hard-earned.
In the interest of fairness, 'Pimeä Yö' sounds about alright. Nothing on the original but not actually offensive in the same way most of this tripe is. But in general the band are finally living up to their ill-chosen name: having lost their tastiness and tightness, they are now just spattering rancid menstrual spew all over the place. Although calling the people responsible for this "the band" is pretty fucking silly at this point considering the rotating line-up Riku has found himself surrounded by for years now. Anyway, it sucks. Nothing to see here, people.
And the wolf is back on the cover but the artwork is really, really terrible. Damn.
This album was destined to fail. In fact there are so many things against it, I don’t know where to start. The most obvious is the fact that every time a band decides to re-record songs with a new singer, you end up with what sounds like a cover band. Maybe a very good and very polished cover band – but still a cover band. Man it’s a hard sell. So let’s see how Catamenia managed to sell ice to the Eskimoes.
The one thing working in favour of the band is their regularly touted concerns about the production of their early albums. Personally I don’t agree, but then again i’m not a member of the greatest melodic black metal band on the planet. But there’s no arguing with the fact that the old stuff redone is something special.
The band haven’t tried to rearrange anything in any major way, and about the only definitely dramatic difference is new frontman Juha-Matti Perttunen. The guy can sing alright, but it’s just way too early to tell if he’s the goods. And half the reason for that, of course, is the fact that ex-shrieker Mika Tonning is one hell of a hard act to follow.
Incidentally, when they first announced this album, the rumour going around was that all the previous vocalist would be guesting. I didn’t sleep for a week.
The album opener is “Hollow Out (Chaos Born)”. The original is a crushing monument to shred and blastbeats. This time around it’s both those things but with the sound kinda turned up, if you know what I mean. Let’s call it 2012 production values.
The same might be said of the new version of “Blackmension”. The original did something with keyboards that black metal isn’t meant to do. Jaws didn’t just drop, they dropped while heads were banging. This new take magnificently preserves the melding of symphonic black grandeur with the rawest black intensity you can think of.
“Morning Crimson” and “Eskhata” are also from fairly early in the band career. And once again we get reborn without being reworked. All of which is managed by an absolutely terror fuelled delivery by the all new band line-up, who appear to have wasted no time mastering the Catamenia signature trick of playing fast like you were born evil, and playing angry like you were born too late. Just take a look at what they do to “Passing Moment Of Twilight Time”. Yet another early redo that does the resurrection thing by way of melodic violence and black metal brutal.
Incidentally, there’s a very good reason I keep going back to just how black metal this black metal band is. The last two albums saw the band add a clean vocalist to the mix and also lace their sound with gothic leanings. Apparently some fans required urgent counselling. I’m also pretty sure it spelled a decline in the band’s fortunes and contributed to the very quiet implosion that saw all members except the band founder depart last year.
Well rest assured, the band appear to have got the message. The band “sound” can now once again be found in the dictionary under the word “devastation”. Me personally, I’m pretty sure the band could go acapella and still deliver.
But there is one final controversy attached to this most controversial of albums. Half the tracks are off releases that are so damn recent, that it seems to make no sense whatsoever to have re-recorded them so soon. But re-recorded they are and for only one reason. Yep, you guessed it. As per the paragraph above, black metal fans aren’t good with change.
Or to put it another way, how many other metal genres out there include a sub-genre of one-man bedroom projects that couldn’t grow up if they tried? Anyway, Catamenia need to put food on the table. So the end result is a band mercilessly smashing their way through slight reworkings of a whole bunch of recent classics that aren’t too harmed by the exercise. Except one.
“Cavalcade” is the title track off the last Catamenia album. It's also a song that may never be surpassed when it comes to what happens when black, death and clean vocals are miraculously fused in a lava flow of smouldering metal condemnation. Okay now forgot all that and go back to my opening comment about the dangers of sounding like a cover band. Because that’s exactly what happens here. The band slip on a banana peel of their own making by quickening things up just to prove they’re still very black, and drop the clean vocals just to prove they can get blacker yet. It doesn’t work.
But just about everything else on this album does work. The production is beyond sharp. The song collection keeps the peace. The new line up is metal. And so on and so on. Hell, even the wolf is back on the cover. But you know what, Catamenia never really went away. And even if they seemed to, these guys planted the flag a long time ago.