CATACOMB – Back to Unknown Kadath (2022)REVIEW

French “Lovecraftian death metal” quintet Catacomb caught the death metal bug in 1990 as a group of students in Toulon seeking to play the most morbid stuff they could imagine at the time and, after a self-recorded thrashing maniacal demo tape in 1991, they’d infamously take on a cosmic horror themed sound for a set of short yet well-remembered cult recordings in the early 90’s. ‘Back to Unknown Kadath‘ is a completely rerecorded and rewritten version of their most infamous demo tape ‘In the Maze of Kadath‘ (1993) and comes as the latest of many undertakings in their camp, including a remastered and digitally available catalogue via proper authorized reissues, which’d began when the project reformed in ~2019, intending a new full-length in the long run. Of course the question on the mind of the average ‘old school’ death metal fandom, doubling as the likely cynic, is whether or not their treatment of these pieces has a purpose or any particular sonic validity to add to the cult’s legacy. Perspective is an additive munition upon the expanding nature of the mind’s perception and, well, if anything this revision of an old classic places the neatest, most precise intent of these songs on display as they were perhaps meant to sound circa 1993 but, of course with thirty years of insight still mulling in the minds and hands of their creator. In plainest terms, yes, they’ve done the source material some justice while wiping its nascent, messy ass a bit.

Just over ten years ago I’d written an extended histoire of the French death metal underground for a since-desiccated blog commune and I distinctly remember entries for several bands getting all manner of response while very few took note of entries for Catacomb ’til they’d been inserted into conversations about Lovecraft, death metal, Timeghoul and the hidden realms of ‘old school’ death metal shared in the space between Nocturnus and Blood Incantation. The ‘Lurker at the Threshold‘ (1992) demo made well enough sense within this context and it has long been one of the more gnarly, exciting discoveries I’d gotten from trading recommendations with French death metal fandom, but this isn’t where the focus has been for the masses in the long run.

Instead it is the ‘In the Maze of Kadath‘ (1993) 7″ EP, originally released on the infamous Drowned Productions (pre-Xtreem Music) that captures the imagination of folks, its gleaming-eyed Cthulhu cover and plain color scheme looking appropriately cult for its time — It only contained “The Key” and “Time’s Lurker”. The release which is most coveted by collectors and folks in the know is actually a demo tape version of this release by the same name which includes the full recording session, that which we find recreated by original members Tony Derycke on guitars/vocals and bassist Ben Bussy here today. So, I’ll be just as blunt as I was a decade ago here and say up front that this release was so heavily influenced by the first two Nocturnus records at face value that it probably wasn’t worth noticing for many at the time of release. Yet today both the original version, its remaster, and now this re-recording reveal a band whom were perhaps loaded with potential but never got the chance to really show their cards to the degree that groups like Crypt of Kerberos and Eternal Dirge had nearby. We’d gotten a hint of that potential in 2001 when they’d self-released a sort of last-gasp upon first reformation with ‘We Shall Inherit‘ but again this was either ten years too late or ten years too early depending which set of ears it’d hit at the time. Also, as a side note for completionists that CD contains reworkings of some of the most feral songs from their ‘Morbid Attraction‘ (1991), well worth checking out if you’ve the provenance available.

Back to Unknown Kadath‘ does drastically rewrite some of ‘In the Maze of Kadath‘ but you shouldn’t find the two most recognizable pieces on the original demo (“The Key” and “Time’s Lurker”) too drastically mutated, maintaining a semi-hollowed guitar tone and ethereal keyboard menace in tow but of course the drumming, which is possibly programmed here, and pace are no longer so heavily draped in the shadow of the Mike Davis-esque shredding featured in each song. Catacomb‘s sound now features atmosphere dependent upon an outsized HM-2 style chainsaw’d guitar tone to shape rhythm guitar melodies and this certainly modernizes the atmosphere of each piece in an interesting way. This is even more noticeable as “Hallucinated Mountains” begins to bear the austerity of a melodic death metal piece, an celestially spun anthem rather than its somewhat shambling original voicing. And of course keeping this thread up a bit “Nemesis” was virtually unrecognizable on my part since it’d always reminded me of ‘The Karelian Isthmus‘ a bit in it stripped down form, now they’ve amped the meter and implemented an eerie keyboard (and later shred guitar + strings) melody to accompany and extended send-off for the piece. It took a few listens but I did ultimately appreciate the fine-tuned nature of Derycke‘s work throughout these sessions, it is much more than the usual plain/out of touch rerecording we often get from death metal comebacks and it shows some real love to the source material.

These four songs serve as a celebration of three decades, a chance for the artist to engage directly with their own history in a unique way, and ultimately provide a nice product for collectors but I’d more-or-less taken this as an opportunity to preview what a proposed full-length from Catacomb might sound like in 2022/2023 and I have to say this is perhaps the most exciting outcome of my time spent with ‘Return to Unknown Kadath‘, that they’ve still got plenty of reverence for old ways and a sound that isn’t completely lost in the woods within nowadays death metal. Existing or long-standing fandom should be abuzz with the possibilities for their future selves in motion, newer fandom with great appreciation for ‘old school’ death metal should take a close look in comparison of past and present to glean the most value from this experience. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (79/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Back to Unknown Kadath
RELEASE DATE:March 18th, 2022

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