THY CATAFALQUE “When Mountains Sing” 

By Dr. Abner Mality

I first experienced Thy Catafalque in 2011 with their album “Rengeteg”. That was one eye-opening experience, I’ll tell you! I had never heard such a dense and mystical combination of sounds. Heavy metal formed the base of Thy Catafalque but it ranged over the entire metal map with no regard for subgenre or classification Black metal, doom metal, death metal were all part of the equation. And then you might hear European folk music, electronic/ambient music and even pop. It was a transcendental album.

Tamas Katai of Hungary is the mastermind behind Thy Catafalque. This man will allow no cage on his creativity. That’s been proven on the new TC album “Sgurr”, which retains much of the spirit of “Rengeteg” and yet is wholly different. Katai is a wizard, an alchemist. So I knew I had to speak to him and learn the secrets of his magic.

He’s relocated to the highlands of Scotland, which has had a profound affect on “Sgurr”.  He’ll tell you about it here and much else of what influences him. Hang on…

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Thanks for talking to us. I understand “Sgurr” is primarily inspired by the concept of mountains. How exactly did mountains come to influence your music?

TAMAS KATAI: As I live in Scotland I have the opportunity to hike in the Scottish Highlands more or less regularly so I have experience first-handedly. I was growing up in a rather flat area of South-East Hungary and coming to Scotland has had a huge impact on me in geographical terms among others.

WC: Do you receive your inspiration strictly from the natural world or does the inner mind play a part in the band also?

TK: I get inspiration from everything, I don’t limit it merely to nature. Reality is filtered through our perception so inner mind indeed has its role. 

WC: Thy Catafalque always has a very “Hungarian” sound to it. Does all the music of the band have to have a connection to Hungary? Or is possible to draw from other nations and traditions?

TK: I’m not forcing this Hungarian thing at all. Thy Catafalque is not folk metal or some sort of tradition-saving project. Hungary is the place I’ve been raised and grown. It’s inside me and probably has its mark in everything I do whatever it is. I’m fine with this but I’m not a folklorist. Anything can influence me, I’m pretty open-minded but there’s no way it will ever be as strong as my homeland culture.

WC: What was it that you wanted to do differently with “Sgurr” than previous album like “Rengeteg”?

TK: Attila, the vocalist on “Róka Hasa Rádió” and “Rengeteg” left the project and I didn’t want to replace him with another clean vocalist this time. Also I was keen to dwell into more experimental stuff now. I didn’t feel like I needed to write these 3-4 minutes long hit-like metal songs. I was aiming to be more adventurous.

WC: Are the traditional music and culture of Hungary being preserved in the modern day? Or are those traditions in danger of fading away?

TK: I don’t really know how traditional music exactly goes nowadays in Hungary but most probably it’s fine. Of course it never will be as strong as mainstream music but it does exist and flourish for sure.

WC: Thy Catafalque doesn’t have many lyrics yet each song tells a story. When you compose the music, does it “write itself”or do have an exact idea of where you want it to go?

TK: Well, in case of the latest album, mostly the music had written itself. It was the music coming first and then I tried to find the right words for the mood. At the start of the songs I didn’t know where I was about to arrive.

WC: What helps you determine whether a song is epic in length or shorter?

TK: Some of the songs build themselves up, there are guitar riffs or motifs that can be developed or discussed more, variations, more and more layers and they are going to result in a whole story, a lengthy piece. On the other hand sometimes you just need to be focused. It all depends on your instincts. The rule is there is no rule. I don’t limit myself, why not have a song with 20 seconds or 20 minutes? All can go.

WC: What’s your favorite instrument to work with? What is the most natural for you to write with?

TK: I started as a programmer because I had no instrument at home and couldn’t play any. Then I got a synth, a Korg N5 and I still have it. Many years later I bought a guitar and finally a bass. The thing is I’m awkward on all of them. I’m just not a good instrumentalist, probably that’s why I’m not interested in playing live nowadays. Recently most of the music coming from the guitar but I try to change that.

WC: What criteria do you use to select the musicians you work with in Thy Catafalque? Would it be possible for anyone else to contribute to the songwriting?

TK: Sometimes I feel like violin would sound fitting here, or cello there and then I try to find someone available to play. The songwriting is my sole responsibility but for example on Sgúrr the violin parts were mostly improvised by Dimitris. They were superb, so I left them like that. I’m not insisting on all my ideas at all. If someone comes up with better, I’ll be happy to choose that path.

WC: “Sgurr” begins and ends with two brief passages both called “Zugo”. What’s the meaning behind that? 

TK: These are two short texts both are in connection of water and they summarize the lyrical world of the whole album quite nicely in a simple way. It’s Hungarian, sorry ...

WC: You include some electronic and techno touches to your music. Who are the artists from these genres that inspire you?

TK: Kraftwerk and similar old-school electronic acts and also the early experimental electronic scene. Tom Dissevelt & Kid Baltan, Klaus Schulze, Stockhausen. I loved the first two Jean-Michel Jarre albums, too

WC: How do you see Thy Catafalque evolving in the years to come?

TK: Have no clue. Anything can go.

WC: Are there any other musical bands or projects you’re involved with?

TK: Not currently. It’s only TC now.

WC: The cover art on “Sgurr” is cool. Is there a kind of face behind all the wavy lines? What was the idea behind the artwork?

TK: Ah no, there was no face intended there but it`s great if you still see that. This is a water painting symbolizing water. The blue lines are waves and the three triangles are mountains also in a minimalistic, stylized way.  I wanted something not obvious and something looking different than the metal artworks in general.

WC: Any chance of Thy Catafalque playing live?

TK: No chance at the moment. I`m not motivated.

WC: What was the last CD or release you got just because you wanted to hear it?

TK: Perhelion: 'Zeng",.. The Underground Youth: "Haunted"… Slayer: "Repentless".

WC: Has there ever been a “Spinal Tap” moment in the history of Thy Catafalque that you could share with us?

TK: When the first CD edition of “Róka Hasa Rádió” was released on Epidemie Records, after an awkward misunderstanding all the text inside the digipak was mirrored, they were upside down and from right to the left. Many customers thought it was done on purpose because we’re avant-garde guys so much but it was only a stupid mistake in fact.

WC: Any last words for fans in the States?

TK: Thank you very much for the interest. Take care, guys.