Catafalque – Dybbuk


You can thank Dan Dolby for cultivating the UK noise metal scene when he formed Trepanation Recordings in 2019 to release the debut Catafalque record. His label is now the most respected name in British post-metal, sludge and doom following the demise of Holy Roar Records, and he has released modern classics by the likes of Still, Everest Queen, and Wallowing as well as recent innovations from Mairu and Novere. As the bassist for English sludge-grind titans, Mastiff, it’s fair to say that Dolby’s influence at the extreme end of metal and dark experimental music in the UK is immense. Catafalque started as a collaborative project between three veteran noise explorers and now encompasses a live band with the addition of a vocalist. Album number three lives up to Trepanation’s mission to release the darkest music that no other label would dare to touch.

Does Catafalque’s output qualify as music, sound design, or noise? Opener, ‘Manifestation’, creates a painful throb of hallucinatory sensations that aim to scramble your brain and break your strength to survive. Harsh incinerator effects and distant monkish chants merge with screeching machines and the blast of furnace heat for two minutes and two seconds. The grimy boiler room claustrophobia will leave you with a layer of sweat on your forehead and reddened skin on your arms.

There’s no respite on ‘Infestation’, which breaks through the thirteen-minute mark and leaves you wondering if a shift raking out the cremators at a crematorium would be any easier. You’ll hear tom drums and hi-hat measures waiting to force their way into the soundscape. Refuelling a flame-thrower in a live theatre of war demands the same concentration and attention to details as the layers of atmospheric ambience piled up here. Pedal loops multiply; synth drones harmonise in a gleeful apocalyptic fantasy; a female vocal harmony injects a strain of light under the muffled wave of oppressive noise. To call this sinister is an understatement. Kristin Hayter aka Lingua Ignota would enjoy this music. If hell exists, it probably sounds like this once you get used to the ubiquitous cries and whelps of agony. The gradual volume creep of the drums reminds you of the fustigating hand of the tormentors in Pauline Reage’s classic S&M novel, The Story of O. Have you ever wondered what it would feel like wandering around the ruins of a nuclear-obliterated city, wearing a gas mask, in search of human survivors? Clearly, the members of Catafalque have given it some thought.

Are Catafalque being ironic by calling track number three, ‘Oppression’? The message is clear in this composition. Turn up the heating. Plug in all electronic devices. Switch on all gas stoves in the kitchen. We’re going to ignite this house. Echo effects and quirky gadget bleeps add to the stress as you try to keep your mind clear of pollution. A surprise baritone voice emerges from this intense humming as if somebody plugged in a Christian Death record, sampled the vocals of Valor Kand, and mixed them with Peter Murphy of Bauhaus. You sense an opportunity to tap your foot, but heavy drums erupt with no warning at 03:46 and pave the way for a thick wall of distorted bass and guitar to overwhelm the recording microphones. The overflow of electricity conjures images of loose cables torn apart by a storm. This is doom metal from a damaged power station. Can you hear the guitar chords change under this avalanche of low-end pressure? Are there any chords? You only hear vocal screams like these from people who abandoned hope long ago.

Clearly, Dybbuk is not for the music listener who values melody and memorable repetition. You wouldn’t play closing track, ‘Possession’, in the company of another human being unless you wanted them to be worried about your state of mind. At a push, you could use the unnerving drones and dark layering here as an alternative version of ‘John the Revelator’ by Depeche Mode. Give the song a spin after this review and imagine Dave Gahan’s vocals in the mix. Does it work? It does before the atmospheric doom arrives at 03:45. Then the outpouring of trauma finds its meaning in the lashings of a droning despair. Vocalist, Frenchie, sounds like a soldier about to undergo an amputation with no anaesthetic. Perhaps avant-garde noise innovators, Whitehouse, would produce something like this if you asked them to write a doom metal record.

Did you know that the predecessor record to this was a double album? Only a masochist would delve into 2020’s We Will Always Suffer straight after this one. On the other hand, Catafalque can show you the way if you want to experience the extreme distress of searching for survivors in the aftermath of a chemical weapon attack.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 13/10/2023

Record Label: Aural Music / Code666

Standout tracks: Infestation, Oppression

Suggested Further Listening: Rorcal – Silence (2023), Sulphur Nurse – Roopkund (2022), Orme – Orme (2023)