Hungarian avantgarde prog metal project Thy Catafalque and his multi-instrumental mastermind Tamás Kátai are around for almost two decades, but only in the latest years he managed to finally reach suitable audience. Very crucial role played an album Rengeteg (2011), which was the first release, after he got signed to Season Of Mist and also proving he settled well in his new home in Scotland. I spoke to Tamás earlier this year to discuss previous release Sgúrr (2015) for Czech readers at The Aardvark.cz and now I provide you our talk regarding his latest release Meta, where we also discuss his guests musicians, life philosophy and diverse music inspirations.
Hey Tamás, glad to speak to you again.
Hi Daniel, it’s good to see you again.
First of all, while listening to the piece 10^(-20) Ångström, I would like to ask you, how are the storms in your new home in Scotland? Are they as apocalyptic as those in South Hungary? One caught me there this summer and I spent plenty of summers at my grandmothers in North Croatia in Vinkovci.
No, storms are totally different in Scotland. It must be the maritime climate instead of the good old continental one we have in Central Europe. There are not really storms here. Winds, yes, huge, powerful winds I mean, especially close to the sea. Rain, yes, torrential rains, drizzle, shower. But we extremely rarely have thunder and lightning. I miss the summer thunderstorms when skies are getting dark, lightning flashes in the distant horizon, soft, deep murmur rolls out and storm is nearing in the air full of electricity: You sense a sort of excitement at the upcoming display of massive power filling the atmosphere. We have this at home, this is a wonderful phenomenon. The sea ruins the fun here.
Your latest album Meta is once again a musical journey. As you love hiking, I was wondering, if you can hear the sound of wind and mountains – and then present it on the album?
I hear them for sure occasionally, but really it was Sgúrr dedicated to the mountains. Metais not as much a Highland album as Sgúrr was. Though Mezolit was also heavily inspired by mountains.
Could you also mention some topics, which are included in the lyrics?
The album starts with Uránia, representing a sort of cosmic loneliness. Sirálymeans seagull and it is an allegory of passing away. In fact, most of the songs are indirectly about death in a way like a change of state. This is what “Meta” means – through something. We live in our current life form, it will change, ‘I’ will dissolve but the physical pieces of our body will reconfigure themselves into many new forms and live on in different ways. No matter will be lost.
I miss the summer thunderstorms when skies are getting dark
Ixión Düün piece has some hell of drums starting at 1:55! Are you still relying on a computer, or did you manage to finally bring some real drummer?
Of course it’s still programmed drums. It’s convenient for me, though I know a good drummer makes huge difference. But it’s really a pain to record a drum set sounding properly. I choose the easy path. But you know, nothing is set in stone.
Did you do all the grunt/growl vocals yourself on the album? In Ixión Düün, I can hear even some grind core growls – 3:15 – 3:17.
Hell no! Well, in Ixión Düün it’s me but in Malmok Járnak, Zoltán provides raw vocals and in Mezolit it’s Lambert growling. I’m not a good vocalist in any style. Sometimes I manage to pull out acceptable lines but mostly I suck big time and that’s why I need good singers. I’m very lucky to have some around me.
Could you please, introduce us some vocal guests on the album? Glad to see, Attila Bakos joined you again.
Actually Attila is not back. That’s his vocals recorded in 2010 during the Rengetegsessions. I have already had Urániaat that time, well, at least an early version of it but it didn’t make it to that album as it would have been too long. Attila is unlikely to come back, he’s happy with his solo project and his other activities. Ágnes’s vocals on Sirály are also older recordings, from 2013 I think. She is of course well known from The Moon And The Nightspirit and her vocals on Róka Hasa Rádió and Rengeteg. Orsolya Fogarasi sings in Malmok Járnak. I met her here, in Edinburgh, she moved back to Hungary since, she has no underground music background whatsoever. Gyula is from Perihelion, a great fellow Hungarian band, really nice person and Lambert is a very well respected vocalist from black/death/thrash metal acts like Ahriman, Mörbid Carnage and Tyrant Goatgaldrakona, We’ve been knowing each other for more than 20 years. I even played on the second Ahriman demo back in 1995 and he was appearing on the Gire album more than a decade later, we shared the stage on some occasion around that time. Zoltán is from Gire obviously, my old band.
Sometimes I manage to pull out acceptable lines but mostly I suck big time and that’s why I need good singers
How did the cooperation look like? Did you meet in Scotland or everything was done online?
Everything was done online with the exception of Orsolya’s lines, we recorded her vocals at my place as she was living in Edinburgh. Everyone else managed to record their own parts at their place.
Do you give your guests complete artistic freedom or you give them instructions in advance, what you demand?
I would say I provide the rough guidelines. The big majority of vocal lines are written and all the lyrics as well but the personal touch is important and welcomed. We need to reach the best possible result and even though most of the time I have my vision, the vocalists know much better what they can achieve and how to do it and usually I use everything sent back to me because it’s just perfect. It’s not an ego fight.
In the case of song Malmok járnak – twice repeated middle part with female voice based on traditional folk, seems almost as a riddle. Surprising, but tasty at the same time…
Yep, it’s a classic pentatonic tune, traditional Hungarian style and the interesting thing is that the vocal lines were recorded on the same music but the second verse was put to a totally different part later and it worked out perfectly. It’s a rather old poem of mine anyways, around 15 years old. We had it even in the Gire times but never could make it into an actual song.
Even though you made it clear plenty of times, folk is not your priority and you are always very careful with it, to keep it balanced; it is part of your nature! I went to see let say Skyharbor from India, few days ago. They play progressive metal, but I feel Indian elements in the core.
Culture of the homeland is in the blood of the man. It’s a natural gift. I would preferably call it folklore instead of folk. It’s not only music, but the wholeness of the cultural heritage. Literature, fine art, music, geography, history of the homeland. The richness of this culture is what gives you a strong base on who you are and what you do in every minute. This a defining guiding power even when you are far from the actual place.
Where do you want listeners to enjoy the album? Steven Wilson tends to be very strict about it. ;D To be honest, I found a place – long journey in a train.
No way I will tell you where or how to enjoy any music. It’s up to you. I can imagine my stuff works well with travel though.
We can agree, in order to appreciate the album, one has to be in an appropriate mood a give it plenty of time…
It’s all up to the listener. After the album is done, it’s not my business any more.
Some listeners might be however pushed away by it. How many listens do you believe are appropriate?
No rule, your call
Any examples of your experience in this sense – Dan Briggs (Between The Buried And Me, Trioscapes) told me recently, that fans do appreciate his albums on the first listen only partially. It takes plenty of time to appreciate the albums and his favorite albums are also those, he had to listen for number of times: Genesis, Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream…
Music works in mysterious ways. I mean there are times I can listen to a certain album anytime, anywhere, many times and it won’t click because it’s not there for me, for my feelings, for my life. I listen to it 10 years later and it shows itself right away. It’s weird, the music is exactly the same – I need to change, to experience things to comprehend what it has always been talking about. And sometimes it works backwards. Some stuff loses its magic after a time, but again, because of my shifting perspective.
In Ősszel otthon, I feel huge 80’s atmosphere. Do you like Ultravox and have you heard by any chance a band called Kayo Dot? I can feel some interesting similarities…
I like Kayo Dot, just as I liked Maudlin Of The Well. I was lucky enough to catch Kayo Dot on stage in Edinburgh last year. I respect Toby Driver’s creative mind. Ultravox however is not something I have been listening to. I love Solar Lovers from Celestial Season and on that album they covered Viennafrom Ultravox which is a pretty sweet song that way. Anyway I am influenced by the 80s electronic music which is quite obvious when you listen to Neolunar, another project of mine, rooted in the 80s. http://neolunar.bandcamp.com
What were some of your most interesting music discoveries from the recent months?
I am mostly re-visiting old favorites. Like I enjoy Pan-Thy-Monium very much, they were creating some truly weird stuff in the early 90s. Or I should mention Elementsfrom Atheist, that’s a beauty. There is an old Hungarian dark wave band called Nulladik Változat, I was listening to them recently regularly.
I work as a marketing guy and to be honest, I’m freaking out from a noise in an open space. I have to keep headphones with music all the time, seek empty conference rooms and keep healthy lifestyle, in order not be moody after work. What do you do personally to keep the concentration? I have started earlier this year with a meditation and it helped me incredibly. There are number of musicians, I spoke to recently, whom meditation is helping as well – Gojira, Animals As Leaders, Chelsea Wolfe etc.
It’s paramount to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I pay attention to my diet – I have been vegetarian for I don’t even remember, 5 or 6 years, I drink only water and certainly never smoked. Apart from these, I regularly run, 5, 10, sometimes 20 kilometers twice or three times a week. I have been doing this for years, it makes me feel much lighter, calmer and focused, and I also usually work out after running. As you grow older, physical activity is getting more vital in order to keep your body and mind in sharp shape.
I remember you saying, it’s a battle to finish an album. You love it, but you want to get rid of it at the same time. Personally, I also believe in my book-diary, I am writing about the rough days, I spent in Serbia during my high school studies. (Soon after NATO bombing, hate from kids everywhere, growing love for metal etc.) I have plenty of notes to finish and I also have an editor to help me, to give it a format, but I just can’t get to it – too much work, music journalism obligations. Any tips?
Nothing will be done if you don’t start on it. Get started, this is the hardest step but that’s the way. Just do it, simple as that. People tend to think too much instead of acting. Do the thing.