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When Black Metal met Jazz and Progressive. - 70%

Perplexed_Sjel, April 4th, 2010

I often think of any progressive music as a potential mine field. The genre and its sub-genres contain a number of overly technical bands whose talents are limited to showboating and spectacle but, when one delves deeper into the inner workings of a bands material when they fall into this category, then there isn’t much depth and because of such, there isn’t a feeling of worthiness in said material due to its arrogance before genuine musicianship policy. Upon entering into the world of enigmatic band Kathaarsys, I had a sense of trepidation that I couldn’t shake off. Progressive black metal, as a whole, is a weak sub-genre that doesn’t carry itself well, or as well as other progressive tinted genres, including the main genre of progressive metal. I can stomach some degree of showboating, but when it isn’t back up by song writing that isn’t in any way memorable, then where is the sense? Spanish band Kathaarsys, on the other hand, don’t free fall into this category as they place a huge importance of song writing and creativity which controls the emotions and allows the imagination to run wild through achingly beautiful landscapes and worlds beyond worlds where magic and mystery still play a part in day-to-day life.

This is how I felt before I came across Kathaarsys’ latest full-length record, entitled ‘Intuition’. Before listening to it, I had the distinct impression that Kathaarsys would adopt new methods and tactics of drawing in their audience since their previous record, ‘Anonymous Ballad’, parted ways with the older style of the band which saw long, epic songs and affirmed my belief this Spanish Armada were one of the major forces in progressive based black metal. ‘Intuition’ is a different kind of black metal unlike many others. Though bands like Klabautamann, for example, adopt a black metal meets jazz fusion style, their records don’t deem it necessary to carry on developing different kinds of attachments to other styles, unlike Kathaarsys who blend jazz and progressive music, not necessarily metal based, into their 2010 released record. ‘Intuition’ doesn’t break the bonds of affection that Kathaarsys drew towards black metal on earlier records like ‘Portrait of Sorrow and Wind’ and ‘Versus in Veins’, but it does strip down the black metal aspirations and takes on a new façade which could potentially drew in a new set of fans, whilst perhaps alienating the older fans who have been fed a different meal from the modern one.

‘Anonymous Ballads’ definitely highlighted a potential change in the tides and this comes to life with ‘Intuition’ superbly. The previous record still had the quintessential use of distorted guitars and occasionally fast tempos, two particular assets which define a number of black metal bands past and present, but the record also began to experiment with clean vocals, slower tempos and a focus on emotional atmospherics, which were perhaps restricted on older records due to the long winded nature of the songs on majestic pieces like ‘Portrait of Wind and Sorrow’. If the opening song to this record doesn’t give you an idea of how much Kathaarsys have altered their sound, then nothing will. ‘Preconsciencia, Ciclo Iniciatico Vital’ begins in extraordinary fashion with a blues/jazz fusion as if the Spanish trio have now altered into the French neoclassical influenced black metal band Pensées Nocturnes. The bass isn’t as striking in the background of the song, as the guitars technically play over the top of them. However, the bass is an aspect which features prominently throughout the course of the record. Not only on this unusual opening song, but on most songs, if not all.

The production, which has been cleansed since the olden days, affording more sense of audibility to the cleaner aspects, plays a significant role in allowing it to also come to the forefront of the soundscapes, despite the occasional use of distorted riffs and fast tempos on percussion, as shown well on songs like ‘Consciencia, Duda-Apatia-Duda-Depresion’. In fact, this song, when slowed down to a mid-pace, shows an extreme contrast to older material by allowing the bass to repetitively force itself into the foreground of the instrumentation and although it is a more repetitive aspect than the guitars, which usually become the repetitive force in black metal, it remains jazzy and often infectious alongside the sharp bursts of clean guitars. This quality continues on to the next song and the rest of them, though it can alter its own projection by playing a much lower and deeper sound on songs like ‘Pesadelo, Transicion, Evolucion, Constatacion Reiterada’. The guitars themselves adopt similar methods by occasionally playing sharp notes, allowing the listener to feel every pluck themselves and the pain that was thrown into making the sweet sounding riffs, before swiftly moving on to distorted passages which make the black metal customs feel more at home.

Kathaarsys have surprised me in a number of areas with their unusual release ‘Intuition’. The one aspect which has largely remained the same is Montáns vocals. The growls are probably better suited to death metal, or at least black/death hybrids, but I suppose that’s part of the Kathaarsys show of experimentation. His vocals have been likened to that of Akercocke’s vocalist and I do tend to agree with that comparison. However, as with Jason’s vocals, Montáns’ are better suited to his cleaner style. The growls are however sparse and only come into the equation when songs like ‘Paralise, fases esquizoides, locura psicotropica autoinducida’ take on fiercer shapes than other songs. However, once again, there are several passages whereby the cleaner aspects come into play and these are simply terrific. From the clean, emotional vocals, to the jazz fusion of the bass and guitars, Kathaarsys have dealt a truly formidable hand in a game where they’ve bluffed their way to glory. Seemingly they were on a road towards a metallic destination, but these black metal roots which have served them so well have been stripped down and the outside factors have started to dominate.

As well as these bigger changes, Kathaarsys have also altered a number of small details, such as song lengths. If you take the time to evaluate their past and present, you should notice that the first two records, in particular, consist mostly of long epics, but not anymore. The songs have been condensed and yet they contain a lot more experimentation than previous. There was always an emphasis on creation through innovation, but steps have been taken to further the plot immensely. Shorter, but action-packed songs have made the band perhaps a bit more accessible than previous. The accessibility is definitely challenged by the material, which even takes on slow, doomier styles on songs like ‘Estraño e Contradictorio Intervalo de Lucidez’, and then the aforementioned blends of jazz and black metal, with some hints of death metal thrown in there, too. ‘Intuition’, I imagine, will be a record that will divide public opinion. Its grand scale of experimentation will probably make its audience fall on one side of the fence, or the other, limiting the amount of people who will simply call this average. It’s anything but average. It’s extraordinary.