Interview Exclusive – Thy Catafalque

Photograph courtesy of Orsolya Karancz.

When you think of modern avant-garde metal, the chances are the name of Thy Catafalque will be one of the first artists that spring to mind. Led by the Hungarian photographer and language interpreter, Tamás Kátai, the group started off as an experimental black metal duo but morphed into a one-man project after guitarist and bassist, János Juhász, left in 2011. 

Like Igorrr, The Catafalque is impossible to categorise and even harder to market, but the last decade saw Kátai establish himself as one of the most respected avant-garde composers in extreme metal thanks to classics albums such as 2016’s Meta and 2019’s critically acclaimed Naiv record. Nowadays his sound includes everything from native folk music to jazz and electronica while keeping a firm foot in the metal camp. His current LP, Vadak, might just be the most guitar-inspired in his repertoire, boasting a plethora of technical thrash riffs and head-banging Ministry beats among the angelic female harmonies and arpeggiated synth patterns. Season of Mist are proud to have Thy Catafalque spearheading the future of experimental metal alongside newer artists such as Erdve, Altarage and Autarkh. It’s a relationship that works for Tamás Kátai and allowed him to relocate to Scotland in the 2010s before moving back to Hungary in 2018.

We spoke to the mastermind behind the music to discuss the past, the present and the future of Thy Catafalque…

Before we start with your excellent new album, Vadak, let’s talk about your ‘Best Of…’ box set, Köd utánam – The Complete Works of Thy Catafalque, 1998-2020, which came out in November 2020. Congratulations on this milestone in your career. What are your favourite three studio albums from this nine-album collection, and why?

Thank you very much. First of all, this box set was not my idea, but GS Productions offered the chance, and finally I went on with it. It’s a bit weird, though. I mean bands or artists usually release such stuff after their retirement or after their death, and one year after the publication I came out with the next album. About my favourite albums, it’s pretty tough. All of those are important and dear for me for different reasons. They represent a certain period of my life, and I can clearly remember those times with the help of these records. I’d say my favourite one is Sgúrr, though. It’s dark, cold, heavy, unfriendly and spiky, somewhat different to all of the others but very evocative, and I think I managed to catch the beautiful and fierce atmosphere of the Scottish Highlands. It’s not a popular one, but I’m happy I did it. I also love Róka hasa rádió, although probably that’s the complete opposite of Sgúrr – warm and nice, full of old memories and peaceful moments. It reminds me of my childhood, and it is about my childhood. It even has a family photograph on the cover art from that time.

Thy Catafalque first came to the attention of the staff at Scream Blast Repeat with 2016’s Meta LP. At the time, there was nothing like it in extreme metal. Of course, your music now receives the avant-garde metal categorisation, but how would you describe your art?

I’m no good in this, and I cannot come up with anything better than avant-garde metal myself. Not because it’s so much avant-garde in the broader sense because it’s far from anything and really unconventional. It’s just a bit odd for metal, and it’s enough to call it avant-garde metal. But let me be clear, there are much more experimental bands even within this genre, let alone other genres. And I’m not interested in being weird, anyway. I just try to make good songs without considering any limitations. Some of my tracks are downright primitive or old-school, and that’s totally fine.

Moving on to your latest album, Vadak. You’ve rediscovered your love of thrash metal rhythms and technical riffs among the cacophony of other influences on this record. What inspired you to ramp up the extreme metal element of Vadak?

I always loved the power of the riff and riffing never went missing on any of the previous albums. This time I just enjoyed them even more, and probably I got a bit better on the guitar, so I could do more. And, you know, it’s pure enjoyment, so I was riffing a lot. Anyway, I am working now on the next one, and it’s nothing but riffs.

Photograph courtesy of Orsolya Karancz.

To what extent would it be fair to say Thy Catafalque belong in the same category as Igorrr in terms of contemporary metal?

I have a connection to Igorrr the way Gautierre did the vinyl masters for three of the TC albums, and I know Laure [Le Prunenec] as well, even though probably she is not in the band anymore. Musically, I think Igorrr is way more experimental, eclectic and extrovert with more virtuosity. Yeah, it’s more avant-garde than TC.

No two albums are the same with Thy Catafalque. What reaction have you had from fans who were expecting a strong experimental jazz flavour to Vadak, like your last album, Naiv? Are they disappointed?

Well, there is some jazz on Vadak as well, but the thing is you cannot be everything at the same time. Some people are surely disappointed, and some are not. It’s always the same with every new record, and it’s all about the balance, but the most important thing is to keep stuff exciting for myself. The rest is about pure luck.

What are the lyrical themes on Vadak?

The loose concept is we, like all living creatures, are chased by death in a woodland of time. We are wildlings and not hunters.

Let’s talk about track number two on your album, ‘Köszöntsd a hajnalt’. We said in our review that this song ‘mixes angelic female harmonies with the drum beat from Sepultura’s ‘Territory’ and piles on the peasant folk accordion.’ Tell us what you had in mind for this song and how it turned out compared to the original conception in your head.

Ok, that’s not an accordion but a redpipe, an electric bagpipe. I didn’t think about ‘Territory’ but now as you say it, yep, the drum pattern in the beginning is similar. I wrote the main melody on keyboards, but it sounded so much like an actual bagpipe I was thinking about having someone playing it on a real instrument, and I managed to find Andrei from Romania. Later, it turned out they had already known each other with Martina when they toured together with their old bands. How small this world is… Anyway, Andrei recorded the melody perfectly, and I asked him to improvise a bit after that, and it was so good that I didn’t even touch it. Everything that has been recorded is right in the song. So, yes, it turned out much better than I expected. We felt a bit weird about that song. It’s on the edge of being too folk metallish, and I don’t like folk metal very much, but this is a nice song and if you have one of this kind of track on one album, it’s fine. Two would have been too much already.

It’s difficult to market the music of Thy Catafalque due to its wild genre-bending unpredictability, but we think The Lion’s Daughter (your label mates at Season of Mist) would be ideal collaborators. How much does Season of Mist encourage you to hook up with other artists on their roster? Are you not interested in producing or mixing some of the other bands on the record label?

I have never been approached by Season of Mist in regards to such tasks, and, generally speaking, I’m not very interested in it. I have done a remix for [Hungarian fold duo] The Moon and The Nightspirit a couple of years ago, but that’s different because we have known each other for twenty years. We played together with Gire, my old band. We recorded our album in their studio, and Ágnes was singing on three Thy Catafalque albums, and I didn’t work on anything at that time, so I gladly did the remix for them. But otherwise, I prefer to work on my own music. But if there would be an opportunity to work with someone with very exciting music, that could be fun. But it depends on my time and energy, and usually I’m buried under my own crap.

Give us an idea of what your record collection looks like. What are your five most treasured albums and why?

I don’t want to disappoint anybody, but I’m really not a collector type. I have many CDs, but I have no vinyl player, I never had. I listen to music digitally at home. I never listen to it outside. I don’t even have music on my phone, and I have no earphones at all.

Photograph courtesy of Gyöngyi Kudlik.

You relocated to Scotland in the 2010s before moving back to your native Hungary in 2020. This was a fertile period in the output of Thy Catafalque. How did the change of scenery and the experiences of living in a foreign country boost your musical creativity?

I was living in Scotland between 2008 and 2018. During this period, I released five Thy Catafalque albums and two other albums, and I can safely say Scotland had a massive impact on my life in every way, including musical creativity. The City of Edinburgh, the Highlands, the islands, woodlands, lochs and mountains provided me with enough material for a lifetime, and I cannot be grateful enough for Scotland for having me. The same applies for work, too. I took up jobs I never thought I would, and they made me a better man, someone who can appreciate physical work and the honour of labour. I will go back to visit Scotland as soon as it will be possible, and it will always be my second homeland.

Final question: You seem to have found your niche as an experimental metal musician. How do you want to be remembered as a musical artist in ten years’ time?

I hope to be healthy and well-balanced in ten years’ time. If I still play music, that’s a bonus. If I don’t but I’m still remembered, it’s cool. If not, that’s fine as well. I enjoyed it.

*** Thy Catafalque released Vadak on 25 June 2021 via Season of Mist. You can read the original SBR review here. ***