Catacombe - "Anna-Liisa"

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The problem with most post-rock/metal is that it is music of compromise. It wants to be heavy yet melodic. That is possible, but both conditions rarely occur together. (Slaughter of the Soul is a rare example.) Usually melodic metal bands mine a wishy-washy middle, catering to the limitations of listeners weaned on Western pop music.

The problem with most melodic bands is that they don't know to use melody. They ghettoize themselves into genres, and they wield Western music's 12 notes with little ingenuity. A sophisticated body of thought has arisen over centuries in order to maximize the mileage of those 12 notes. Bands don't need to be avant-garde serialists to be interesting; Miles Davis did well with a limited modal vocabulary. But he knew what he was doing. Most melodic bands don't, so they end up running laps around the same minor and major scales.

Catacombe solves these problems. I reviewed this Portuguese act's debut two years ago. Since then, it has acquired a human drummer and a surer hand. Kinetic (Slow Burn, 2010) is a heartbreaking work of staggering prettiness, and I mean those words in the best way.

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This record does not try to be two things at once. It only wants to be pretty. It has no pretensions about growing a beard and trying to be heavy. Occasionally it does step on the fuzz pedal, but only for effect - to turn the screws on the heartstrings. Most of the time, clean tones form webs of conversation and counterpoint. These dewdrops of melody are so gorgeous, it's almost obscene.

Isis' last two records went for a similar vibe but failed, due to the abovementioned problems. They got sidetracked by concerns of heaviness, and they didn't have the finesse to make their melodies sing. My music theory is weak, but from being able to sit through these album repeatedly - for weeks, in fact - without getting bored, I know that Catacombe have that finesse. Their melodies sing. Through harmony and rhythm, tension and release is constantly occurring. Subtle forces are at work to make prosaic ingredients poetic.

A good example is "Anna-Liisa". The images in its video above come from the Finnish silent film of the same name. (See story here.) This record has no lyrics, so it has no overt narrative. Instead, it's a journey, a world, a good place to be for an hour. I've spent much time there, and you can, too. Download Kinetic for free here, and buy it here.

— Cosmo Lee

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