CATALEPTIC – The Tragedy (2021)REVIEW

But as he willed ’tis ordered all, / And woes, by heaven ordained, must fall / Unsoothed by tears or spilth of wine / Poured forth too late, the wrath divine / Glares vengeance on the flameless shrine.” Aeschylus, Agamemnon

Betrayed in gore-stained and bronze glinting theater of war, the killing artist and central warrior figure depicted within southwest Finnish melodic death/doom metal quartet Cataleptic‘s third full-length album spreads the miserable aftermath of violent heroism thicker with each slash of his sword in vengeance. ‘The Tragedy‘ may be set in the elder days and presage the fall of man within a close-quarters fought and Ridley Scott-sized epic but its skeleton and spectacle is yet that of classic hard-charging and heavy-breathing epic heavy metal dressed in the titanic flesh of classicist melodic death/doom metal. Shield-banging shouts and hardest swung riff progressions meld in forge of eerily memorable ‘dark metal’ hooks herein, providing what may be the most brawny example of the exposed romanticist heart of melo-death/doom available in recent memory.

Though the long history of Cataleptic from 2003 ’til today isn’t particularly dramatic in terms of line-up shifts and stylistic modification the more resent transition from a band long lost in the glory of their own internalized majesty to an professional spectacle directly conveying theme visually, sonically and with heightened emotional timbre is a dramatic leap to a fresh plateau, or, a step beyond the cave into natural light. I wouldn’t go as far as considering the original conception of the band as a Solothus side project, that band formed 4-5 years later to be clear, but it seems that each group had been doing their best to take turns in feature as guitarist/vocalist Sami Iivonen and drummer Juha Karjalainen sought the right sound and the right line-up. You won’t be lost in the woods in approaching their second official demo ‘Secluded Paths‘ (2010) and in fact it is an entirely appropriate path and primer for what Cataleptic are doing today although their songcraft was yet a bit rigid in creation of 10+ minute opuses, larger chunks of sympathy-drunk immersion honing in on the still death metal-gilded dismay of early Katatonia and My Dying Bride. Iivonen‘s vocals were full-throated from the start, barked from the end of a rope with some stirring distinction that’d made their full-length debut ‘Strength Within‘ (2011) a bit of an underrated spectacle, garnering some comparisons to Ophis in terms of plodding destruction and Saturnus in terms of sentimental emotional dissolve. Their approach a decade ago is probably more “gothic” than many would remember in hindsight and perhaps blurred by the impressive slow-motion churn of that debut. By most accounts this was the defining moment for Cataleptic but this “first one, best one” narrative leans into all too normative tastes and standards from my point of view.

After several years of working with a new rhythm guitarist the long-awaited follow-up, ‘Forward‘ (2017), would lean all of Cataleptic‘s body weight into deeper extremes, a sort of self-produced idealism that found the band “cranking everything to ten” with an approach beyond the oppressive funereal-yet-melodic death/doomed station of Mourning Beloveth and Ophis unto a loudest, mind-crippling spectacle which, for my own taste, is abrasive to the point of thrill. Nonetheless the focus and intent of the band wasn’t where it’d intended and I can only assume a major line-up change was the result circa 2020 as the band regrouped for album number three. This found ’em matched up well with Gorephilia‘s bassist and Lie in Ruins/Perdition Winds‘ guitarist whom are each quality over quantity sort of fellowes in terms of resume and well, in some of the best active Finnish death metal bands. The larger statement to make at this point is that ‘Forward’ isn’t a bad album, not at all, some of the melodies are incredible and the experience is flattening in a most satisfying way but — ‘The Tragedy’ is certainly on another level in terms of songcraft, rendering (Matti Mäkelä / Furnace 5034, Henri Sorvali / Trollhouse Audio) and its larger presentation (album artwork from Lauri Laaksonen). It hasn’t taken a village to rebuild Cataleptic into a newly fearsome beast but a fresh perspective, handful of the right folks, and a way better logo.

The clenched arm, swing and release on impact of each riff that “Alpha Strike” leads with becomes perpetual motion as Cataleptic ride on horseback unto a tumbling, blood-spraying clash of swords hammering and stamping out two full minutes of imposing and energizing riff kinesis only simmering as the shouts of warriors and clattering of blades intensify beneath a lead which echoes the cadence of those opening riffs. The suggested comparisons of Temple Of Void alongside early Tiamat begin to make good sense in this moment as we get a wallop of hi-fi extreme doom metal alchemy in terms of sound but a dynamic, fittingly tragedian expressivity up front. The anxious motion of early 90’s melodic death/doom is certainly held within their muscle memory but with emphasis on an, eh, muscular attack. Iivonen‘s vocals are no longer a hardcorish wall of brutality but a wounded beast reacting to trauma in seemingly complete sentences, not exactly late 90’s Therion levels of satanic werewolf reciting Shakespeare but a directive voice that is positioned within a reactive headspace and, as such, acts as a fine point of leadership for the launch ahead. “Disarmed. Disowned. Betrayed” is then a chaotic reaction in the wake of “Alpha Strike”, an account of injustice and turmoil which moves in tarantella forms while still basking in the previous piece’s momentum. This is honestly impressive enough an introduction that most melodic death/doom metal fans will likely be on board but I’d personally appreciated how much Cataleptic continue to develop their sound and work with an unexpectedly variety of melodic device as the album progresses.

“Whipped to Drudgery” and its central rhythm is the sort of pre-’93 Peaceville three moment the keener-eared listener will be expecting (note the clean/spoken vocal sections) and no doubt you can instantly imagine that riff and the progression resultant being a lot of fun to either pick up on guitar or experience live, a body-high inducing amount of synchronized movement which only a giant amp and a couple of death metal guitarists could effectively manage. “Lost” is the final low before the spark of vengeance and perhaps the most stunning juxtaposition of dark/light, hard/soft positioning via an gloomed over sad-rocking melodic doom guitar track and defiantly stated vocals, often peaking into group shouts for certain verses which is, for my own taste, damned brilliant in the moment. The lead guitar melody is right on the verge of sugared melodeath squelch as it develops but the desired reaction is all that matters here, not only is Cataleptic presenting a well-rounded heavy metal album in terms of tone and timbre but they’re conveying an tale of vengeful reprisal first and foremost. “Recompense in Death” is the deepest point of turmoil on the album and album closer “To Burn This World (Omega Campaign)” is the actual physical reprisal unto apocalyptic destruction. This final piece pulls in the main riff from “Whipped to Drudgery” for the sake of reprising the sentiment of motivation in the larger experience though the ~13 minute journey of the song itself does not dwell in place for long. It is a strong end to the full listen which manages to reprise some of the “Alpha Strike” energy that’d kept me engaged with the record to start and build upon the group-shouted bits of “Lost” with a full chorale as it peaks. At this point the larger offensive has been achieved and the finale is really just a spectacle in flames.

‘The Tragedy’ is the sort of semi-taxing and brutally engaging death/doom metal record that I can easily spin twice in a row and then need a couple day’s distance to best appreciate the next return to its wiles. Leaving the album on repeat was at times energizing, inspiring and others irritating for its head-clubbing “sweet” brutality. Sitting with Cataleptic‘s third album nonetheless left me with a covetous eye for its physical contents and aesthetic appeal and I’d not get to that point if the music wasn’t valuable and memorable to some reasonable degree. Could they improve upon the greater experience? Sure, give me a few more riffs per song, even more ganged-up vocals/chorales, and a cello somewhere in the mix and I’m on board for whatever comes next. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (78/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:The Tragedy
LABEL(S):F.D.A. Records
RELEASE DATE:October 1st, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Melodic Death/Doom Metal

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