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Album Reviews : Katabasis – Katabasis

By on January 4, 2012

“Each song, a journey” is the succinct summary offered by NSW progressive metal act Katabasis and it doesn’t take long for their 2011 self titled debut to demonstrate the veracity of this statement. Despite featuring only four songs the album manages to span over 41 minutes, with each track indeed aiming to cover a journey all on its own. The diversity of the album is one of the most immediate positives to jump out to the listener, as Katabasis easily flow from a scratchy black/death metal sound into a myriad of different clean passages, from mournful elegies to long brooding atmospheric compositions all of which truly serve to take the listener somewhere else. The album is not without its faults but any fan of interesting, diverse and atmospheric music would be left wanting if they were to fail to give this a listen.

The overall sound of Katabasis is hard to pin down and the uniqueness of the compositions make comparisons tough to find. One of the few that leaps out would be with Opeth’s very early material (think Orchid and Morningrise), though taken in a more atmospheric direction. What they share on the heavier end of the spectrum is the interplay between low death growls and more black metal styled shrieks and riffs constructed around chords used to build feeling and atmosphere rather than focusing on technicality or brutality. On the softer end of things the listener is treated with clean guitars plucking out soft melodies that the keyboards and vocals carefully expand upon, slow acoustic interludes backed by the sounds of falling rain and long passages dedicated to building dark, brooding atmospheres that transition slowly back into the heavier sections. Vocalist Shane Wall’s clean voice suits the band’s sound well, turning the ambience of “Aphelion” into downright creepiness, soaring along the melancholic midsection of “Avernus” and driving forward the slightly more upbeat “Hierophant”. The band really seems to work well as a unit with no one member really seeming to dominate the sound. Labelling a group as “greater than the sum of its parts” is bandied about far too loosely, but this is one instance where it is quite apt.

With that said, it is with the atmospheres of Katabasis that truly set them apart from other bands of similar style. The midsection “Avernus” sees Wall’s sorrow- laden voice murmur over nought but very soft guitar, with the keys building very subtly in the background, before the drums signal everything to shift into one massive, brooding episode with the vocal whispers soaring higher and higher and the drums getting faster and faster before everything transitions back into the heavy main riff. “Aphelion”, which gets this reviewer’s pick of the album, is a slow, morbid affair with all instruments moving everything carefully and deliberately. The samples and keys flickering in and out build the intensity of the track very slowly, and the overall atmosphere achieved is distressing, sorrowful and intensely haunting. This is not the sort of thing one wants to listen to quickly or lightly, nor if one plans to be feeling happy afterwards.

For all the intensity that certain parts of the album achieve, there are certainly aspects of the release that pull down its overall quality. First of all, the mixing and production on the album are certainly not up to professional standards. While this may seem something of an unfair thing to say of an up and coming band’s debut, it can become irritating when the drums are sitting far too low in the mix and when the guitars end up just getting lost in their own distortion. Moving on from this however, the only major issue with the writing itself is that some of the sections go for way too long. While of course there is nothing wrong with songs going longer than ten minutes (in fact I personally love really long songs) there is something wrong with having songs go so long simply because the band causes certain sections to well outstay their welcome. The main riff to “Avernus” for example, while very cool, hangs around for a long time every time it is come upon, and it is repeated more often than it should be. Katabasis have demonstrated that they are more than capable of using one section repetitively to great success (see above regarding “Aphelion”) so it would seem they just need to be more selective in their use of repetition.

None of this should inhibit fans of progressive or atmospheric metal from getting their hands on this release. The complaints listed above are minor stains on an intricate, diverse and captivating album. If Katabasis continue to produce music of this depth and substance they will rise far beyond their current status. 7.5/10

 Band: Katabasis
Album: Katabasis
Year: 2011
Genre: Progressive Metal
Origin: NSW, Australia
Label: Independent
Website: http://www.facebook.com/Katabasis

Track Listing:
1. Avernus
2. Path to Ruin
3. Hierophant
4. Aphelion    <—- Reviewer’s Choice

About

Sam Maher is Metal Obsession's resident prog reviewer. He only likes songs that are at least 15 minutes long, contain 4 guitar solos and can only be described with a genre that is at least six words long. He also plays guitar for Sydney-based groovy melodic progressive technical death metal band Apparitions of Null.