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The title for the record, ‘Anonymous Ballads’ seems almost like a ploy on the part of the band themselves and a relatively humorous one at that. Its a cruel irony that has been staring them in the face since their introduction to black metal, which wasn’t that long ago. The simple fact is, not many people know about this band. Or, at least, if people do know about them, they keep them on the down-low. There’s something strange about black metal fans which struck me a long time ago and still remains. When they find a totally outrageous band who’re awesome in every way possible, they like to keep it quiet because its “kvlt” to like a band who have a small fan base and its “kvlt” to be one of the first fans that the band has. Its all rather irksome since, as a small musical community, we should be able to share interests and recommend one another the best bands, especially from smaller scenes. I wouldn’t necessarily say Spain is a small scene, but it certainly isn’t thriving the same way that the German scene is, for example. However, the positive side of things suggests that bands like Kathaarsys are perhaps willing to follow in the footsteps of a famous man who goes by the name of Harold Macmillan and enforce a Wind of Change in regards to public opinions on Spain and Spanish black metal. Having previously self-released ‘Portrait of Wind and Sorrow’, which is my ultimate favourite Kathaarsys record, Silent Tree Productions have wisely snapped up this monumental band. Smart work.
Slight alteration in vocals from the previous efforts, but generally, a lot of the instrumentation has taken a similar shape, which is positive since the material present on the last two records were fantastic. The harsh vocals are beginning to sound more and more like Akerfeldt’s deep growls for Opeth, even the song structures resemble them slightly, which isn’t any sort of inconvenience since Kathaarsys are a million times more innovative than Opeth have ever been, even when including the offbeat ‘Damnation’. The innovation, however, can cause some mild irritations. Like an annoying rash that will not just disappear, Kathaarsys seek to use numerous genre’s for their gain. Melodic death, progressive and technical death and black metal all sit graciously alongside the simplistic black metal elements, though there is sometimes a call for some form of normality as the Spanish act like to intrigue and surprise, especially on songs like ‘The Advent Of Madness’ with its quirky guitars and inspiring bass that commits itself whole heartedly towards enhancing the emotional readout, whilst smoothing over the connection with the avid listener. The intrigue in their sound is more than a match for most bands to compete with. The mystique and unusual style has been taken a step further this time around, as opposed to other occasions where Kathaarsys seemed to believe the combinational style of clean vs. harsh vocals made them more avant-gardé than most other bands which, in actual fact, it did.
Reaches the emotional heights of bands like Anathema with its desireable clean vocals and effective bass lines that hover beneath the surface of the soundscapes, ominously showing signs of a emotional breakdown. Luckily for the emotional side, which begins to spiral and spill over onto the soundscapes, influencing their every move, the crushing distortion of the guitars, which are the biggest black metal aspect, keeping everything together like Prozac for the mentally unstable. Musically, Kathaarsys can’t often be compare to Anathema, but there are stages where the two seem to meet and greet with conversational pleasantries about how to structure convincing emotional songs, and both do it fantastically, though in two contrasting ways. There are even times when the stylish Spanish band can be compared to acts like England’s Akercocke, a black/death hybrid who have pioneered such a seductive sound of late with massive improvements on their earlier pieces. The vocals, in particular, resemble that of Akercocke’s vocalist, as well as the infamous leader behind Opeth, another progressive black who may contain some ties to the black metal scene in their varied music. At times, its odd how Kathaarsys seem to blend the three bands together and produce a devilishly slick sound that, at points, surpasses anything that any of the aforementioned bands have produced since their individual creations. Production wise, the sound is a bit murky, though it doesn’t manage to hinder the progress of elements like bass and such. Even the subtle symphonies are accounted for.
‘No Guide’ is a supreme example of the splendiferous nature of the Paganism inspired bands sound. References to Akercocke and Opeth can be found in the deep grunts of the gruesome vocals, and though these are not the most experimental element, they fit superbly alongside the faster tempos that includes an increased presence from the instrumentation and tickling the fancies of traditional fans with tremolo efforts that dig furiously away at the beaten path in order to uncover the more negative emotional aspects that Kathaarsys may tinker with. However much Kathaarsys may take influence from bands like this, they forge their own distinctive sound through perseverance with experimentation. Whilst one guitarist lays down a doom laden riff, the other spurts out a solo of superlative proportions, as shown again on the enigmatic ‘No Guide’, with its brilliant technical abilities. In terms of the comparisons to Anathema, these are sparse and mainly formed from the emotional aspects that hit deep like any of the best Anathema tracks. The clean vocals of ‘Thoughts About Worthless Things and the Future’ even remind me of Anathema’s laid back vocalist, Vincent Cavanagh. The emotional vulnerability of his voice is comparable to the aforementioned front man, both of which lead terrifically well, despite being laid back and relaxed. There’s an honesty that you cannot buy within the songs that makes it instantly likeable.
Really, this is more than expected of the guys, especially after the epics found on Verses In Vain. Though, the title I posted is only relative to the first two songs and parts of the rest of the album...
Now that I look back upon my two earlier reviews, I see they were weak and were general. But, anyways, enough with that. Let's talk about Kathaarsys and their new album:
Even the song titles seem to be of a darker, less pagan sort than what Kathaarsys usually put out. From the beginning of the opening track, we see they have indeed adopted depressive rock influences, akin to Katatonia, but far heavier than what their modern work consists of. Another slam dunk for this album is the increase in bass volume, and J.L.'s vocal prowess.
Over the years, his voice has gone through changes. From the first album, he was amateurish but it had a very attractive flair to it nonetheless. With the second foray, his vocals became more focused on growls and cleans, and eventually with this album, they became almost entirely based upon his cleans.
Gone are the ferocious, yet amateurish, growls and the Ihsahn-clone black metal shrieks have gotten much better and less harsh. In are the clean vocals that are somewhat derivitive of Jonas Renske and Ihsahn, but with a strangely unique touch. The growls and shrieks are still in, but cleans dominate.
Onto the music. Kathaarsys's music has stayed relatively similar to what it was before, the heavy use of tremolo picked chords harmonized on top of each other and clean guitars played some twiddly melody with a chord backing and bass rumbling a strangely fitting line or two. The drums are possibly the biggest improvement over the two albums, almost as much as the vocals.
Knowing my complaint with the first album, far too many blasts, and my complaints with the second album, far too few simple bits, this album was a blessing. Their is a wide variety of short blast beats, and faster double kick moments, and then the extremely simple but effective parts found almost entirely throughout the clean sections.
Now, one could say many things about the guitars. But, I will begin that. The tone is almost the same as it was on the sophomore, just slightly more refined. The style of play is almost the same, just a little more progressive and leaning towards classic heavy metal riffing.
The guitars occaisionally play some wildly confusing riff, such as near the end of Sadness and Hopelessness. Sometimes they will play an actual death metal riff, such as in the beginning of the third track, where you find yourself headbanging your arse off. The only thing wrong with the second track,t hough, is the abrupt ending when J.L. does his wicked falsettos that are obviously too much for him.
The third song, The Advent of Madness, is absolutely the heaviest here. Filled with the aforementioned evil riff in the intro, blasting drums, and wild bass and gutiar solos, this song is wicked fun. Not to mention the Teutonic vocals in the verse parts. This song is just possibly Kathaarsys's best creation in recent times, as it blends so well their musical stylings. The song ranges from absolutely bestial black/death riffery akin to Akercocke, to a suddenly more epic and traditional, even doomy, harmonized riff. This song is Kathaarsys fan's wet dream, and it literally crushed me.
Another to note easily, is the basswork. Dear god, they finally realized Ms. Barcia's immense talent, and used it to avail! Increasing her volume, and also increasing her importance with even more countermelodies and a gorgeous tone, we are treated to the Kathaarsys I think we'll come to know for a few albums.
Speaking of albums, the production. Similar to Verses In Vain's production, this album is slick without being ridiculously shiny and compressed. Their is a bit of life within the sleek production, and there is no hollow shell of a guitar tone. The drum tone is similar to the sophomore's, and the overall atmosphere is that of evil and depressing, something I think Kathaarsys have been trying to acheive since the get-go.
Although there is a huge similarity to Akercocke within the music, this album is nonetheless unique in it's own right, and the only real similarites are the guitar tone and growls, since they are apparently akin to Jason's dog barks.
Well, the final, and most integral part of this album: SONGWRITING. Now, I know this review must be starting to get boring for those of you wall-of-text haters, but this is where shit gets real. J.L. and M. Barcia have stepped up their songwriting processes. Mixing the crushing doom sections, and the backbreaking death metal sections, and even the darker rocky clean sections, they have pushed the ante and have recharged their music after the somewhat dissapointing Verses In Vain.
While the music is still Kathaarsys, there is just some sort of energy injected into the music, that the sophomore release was missing dearly, due to its monumental song length and ridiculously varying song structures.
So, this is recommended to fans of extreme metal with depressive rock tendencies, progressive influences and tidbits everywhere, and Akercocke fans.
An excellent album, all five songs are much better than anything I've heard from the guys and gal since Gnostic Seasons and the title track off the first record.