Thursday, September 15, 2011

Katharsis - 666 (2000)

After forming in 1994, the German Black Metal band Katharsis went on to release a few rather low quality demos, which were considered lackluster at best. The material was not particularly strong nor were the recordings very easy on the ears. However, by 2000, the band managed to capture their raw and chaotic brand of music in the form of the 666 L.P. Released in very limited numbers by Sombre Records, this album showcases a band that had ignored all of the trends of the time period and adhered to a strict early 90s mentality.

I discovered Katharsis in late 2003, after seeing that Scorn had contributed lyrics to Watain's Casus Luciferi. At the time, I was quite open to hearing more underground Black Metal in the same vein as old Darkthrone, so I allowed a lot of sub-par stuff to pass through my hands. My first impression of this band was that they were just keeping the flame burning, but not really doing anything special. As a result, I allowed this album to collect dust for a few years, before really giving the band more attention. Even after listening to all of their albums, over the past several years, I cannot fully shake the initial feeling that I got upon first hearing them.

The album begins with "666 (Hohelied der Wiedererweckung)", which features some of the more interesting riffs of the entire album. It starts out strong, with a guitar melody that sounds like it could have come from Under A Funeral Moon. The production is somewhat similar, as the guitar tone is razor thin and possesses a cold feeling. However, the drumming stomps all over this, being more chaotic than necessary and too high in the mix. Once you get past this, the riffs are pretty decent and the vocals suit the music quite well, also. This song features a decent amount of changes and displays a good measure of variation in composition, yet it loses focus after a few minutes and becomes far too chaotic and drags on longer than it should. Drakh sounds like most other Black Metal vocalists from the Second Wave that Katharsis so strongly worships, keeping in line with the likes of Nocturno Culto. The only difference is that his sound is a little more throaty, allowing some low level of shrieking to mix in with his voice. This song loses its focus, after a few minutes, and shows one of the band's main weaknesses: they are not yet capable of maintaining the momentum that the songs build.

The next song is "Thy Horror", and it is a little shorter and less tedious to listen to. Again, the riffs are kind of generic and the overall feeling is that this has been heard before. Even worse, it was done much better the first time. That is not to say that this is not enjoyable. It fulfills the desire to hear more music in this style and keeps the old feeling alive. At a time when even the originators of this sound had given up on it and most other bands were experimenting, it was definitely a positive thing for some bands to continue on in this direction. The highlight of the song comes near the end, with a haunting riff that should have been introduced earlier on. It is far too brief, but it does show potential.

This is followed by "Raped By Demons / Massacrament", which possesses an energetic beginning, though it soon loses its appeal. The drumming is annoying on this track, and even the vocals seem too deep for the music. The slower sections are not as bad, though not all that interesting. The middle of the song hearkens back to old Slayer, particularly Show No Mercy and Hell Awaits. Things pick up a bit, after this, with a couple of decent solos. It just goes to show how much bands could benefit from tossing in guitar solos, every now and then. For music so rooted in old Bathory, it is strange how this type of thing is so uncommon.

"The Black Grail" is next, and it is the highlight of the album. All in all, it is the most solid track to be found here, and includes some of the best riffs as well. The songwriting really comes together for this one, and it helps salvage the album. The atmosphere is dark, but not as utterly black as the band may have hoped. Still, the riffs are cold and manage to slice through you. Late in the song, the drumming ceases for a few moments, allowing the guitar and the vocals to really pull you in. The desperation in Drakh's voice goes well with the epic melody, enabling this song to really stand out from the rest. The lyrics for this album are more along the lines of Orthodox Black Metal (whatever the hell that is supposed to mean), instead of more traditional subject matter. The themes are similar, just done in a different manner.

Freezing cold riffs introduce "Lunar Castles (Harvest)", and this song manages to carry on the momentum that was built on the previous track. The tremolo melodies are accompanied by simpler drumming patterns that really allow the guitars more room to breathe and to create a dismal atmosphere. The tempo shifts a bit, near the middle, but still maintains the feeling and does not lose focus. After speeding up again, the track ends with the guitar melody being left alone, bereft of voice or percussion, and this conveys a sense of absolute desolation. The only thing that would have improved this would have been if the riff carried on for a little longer. Otherwise, a very solid track and one of the most well-executed representations of what Katharsis is capable of.

666 ends with "Nazarene (Into the Flame)", starting out with an unsettling intro that creates a sense of tension and makes the listener a little uncomfortable. As the music rises from the fiery depths, a feeling of intense hatred can be felt. Naturally, the title says it all, and most people listening to this should share in such feelings of disgust and loathing. The song sticks to the same template as most of the others, featuring fast tremolo-picked riffs and blasting drums. The vocal delivery is great, with an added amount of venom being spewed forth and the guitar melodies burn like raging flames all around you.

"Jesus Christ! Your fucking crown is fallen
thou art doomed and I have won
King of Jews! There is no resurrection.
Nazarene - into the flame..."

What Katharsis created with 666 is an album of raw and hateful Black Metal that keeps in the tradition of old Darkthrone, yet without sounding like a carbon copy. The band, for all its faults, definitely sounds like its own entity. The songwriting is a little inconsistent, but songs like "The Black Grail" and "Lunar Castles (Harvest)" really showcase the talent and potential that the band possesses. This is not essential, yet still recommended for anyone looking for this style of music.