Apr 14, 2020

The path to Katharsis

Formed in 1994, Katharsis from Saxony came to life at a time when the black metal scene was still growing in Germany, and only a handful of bands had released a full length album (namely, the infamous Ungod and Bethlehem debuts in 1993 and 1994 respectively, as well as Dawnfall and Lvx Occulta). During their early years, they had some small line-up changes mainly keeping two or three members at the time, yet Scorn and Drakh were the two people mainly behind all the music of Katharsis from the beginning to the end of the project. Notably, the band was one of the first two release a record with a label that was put together in France at the early 00’s and would later grow to be one of the most admired labels of the whole scene.

Of course, talking about Norma Evangelium Diaboli, which during the year of 2003 had some of their first releases: Watain’s Casus Luciferi, Funeral Mist’s Salvation and Kruzifixxion by Katharsis. The band built its fame by maintaining a rather unrelenting and stiff-necked style, and while their discography is by no means perfect, getting into their music couldn’t be characterized as easy business and there’s a lot of pure quality to be missed out from someone who decides to discard them during a superficial listen. Katharsis have, among numerous mini-releases, three (or four…) full lengths, during a time of thirteen years, between 1996 and 2009.

Early years 1996 – 1999: The first demo Terror, Storm and Darkest Arts came around naturally clamorous in 1996, at a time when the band hadn’t formed its sound yet. The songs are short, influenced from the colder side of the Norwegian scene, the mix is not the same in all of them and it generally makes a good case of a sloppy but spirited mini-album. Things already started falling into place with the second and third demo (Into Endless Chaos in 1997, and The Red Eye of Wrath in 1998), where the destructive nature of the band started rising towards the surface. 

It’s a more consistent effort than Terror… and more violent as well, even though it maintains a bathroom production as many black metal demos at the time. “Thornkings” is a first notable hint of the potential of Katharsis, they experiment with middle speeds in “Ashes”, as well as furious hitters like “Hellstorm”. There are several weak points in their compositions as the band still needed some work on their skills, but the energy is all there even from the first recordings. On the 1999 rehearsal, you can listen to them cover Black Magic by Slayer (listen mainly the end of the song) and Horus Aggressor by Helhammer, and then comes one of the better recorded pieces up to that time, “Murder in the Halls of Heaven”. Initially there was a twenty-five second noise in the debut demo with the same title, but in that rehearsal they jammed some more and made it into a two minute song. Plus, the last track “Nazarene (Into the Flame)” was written during a day the guys were listening to Abruptum. From the two splits of that era, the one with Deathcult (Scorn’s side project) basically sums up the same songs from the first demo of each band, except a couple of new recordings by Katharsis which also can be skipped, yet their side at the split with Nhaavah is definitely worth it for a meticulous listener of this band. Up to this point, Katharsis had shown their good signs with a few notable demos, but they wouldn’t stick into memory with just that, so the next step was vital.

2000 – release of the debut, 666: Neatly named. Katharsis always maintained one lyrical theme, strongly focused on satanism, and the choice of the title 666 for their debut put a stamp on that fact but at the same time, could confuse a stricter part of the scene, which would have been curious to see the band’s validity. The band crushes all doubt with the first track “666 (Hohelied Der Wiedererweckung)”, one of their best when looking back to their whole discography. The sound is razor-sharp, instruments and high-pitched vocals are screeching alike. The guitar riffs are insane, maybe the most interesting in that particular album, the Darkthrone vein is there but Katharsis hammer it down their own way, which is brilliant. 666 starts the best way possible, highlights can be found in “The Black Grail” and “Nazarene – Into the Flame”, the second time the band uses the same title for a track, but now it much much improved from what was on the 99’ rehearsal, not only the black metal but the noise / ambient in its introduction. A lost hybrid of Panzer Division-era Marduk and Urgehal is played in “Raped By Demons / Massacrament” and the shorterst track in 666, “Thy Horror”, holds a strong Norwegian scent, in between Ulver’s Nattens Madrigal and the Darkthrone / Gorgoroth debuts. It is not the most original album ever, but their passion and directness is soaring, making it recognizable and wholly pleasing. Extra bonus should be given to the above average drumming, as well as the lyrics (… I bathe in flames, eternal journey – into the cauldrons, history melted…), some of the best texts that could be found in black metal at the time and still today. It contains exactly the lyrics a great record of its kind would have, sincerely dark and chaotic (don’t forget that Scorn has contributed with lyrics to Watain’s Casus Luciferi). 666’s cover is a bit confusing and what it’s showing is not totally clear, there was some editing done but the black / white aesthetics is apparent, and finally Katharsis had found their own logo. This release was a great beginning for the band, one of the albums of that decade you have to listen to, and a good indication overall to see if someone actually likes this music, is to see if they appreciate this record. With this move and by taking advantage of the momentum the group had from their series of demos, they established their name in the underground.

Split releases during 2001 – 2002: A couple of years just before their second full length, Katharsis released a couple of splits with other bands from Sombre Records, the German black metal label that had released their debut as well. There’s a four-way split with Svest, Warloghe and Black Witchery, where the band contributed with a track they had written much earlier, “Lacerating the Angels”, which was originally included in their first demo Terror, Storm and Darkest Arts. In case you liked that track from the demo, this is the chance to listen to it with a slightly better production. I don’t see why they would release a separate split in 2002 with Black Witchery only, a generally worthless band in my opinion, yet the tracks in both sides are bearable. Even less material is on the mini-split with Moonblood, released a year before in 2001, not so much for the music (both sides have standard material from each artist) but for the fact that it exists. Other than the rehearsals or the splits, Katharsis took part in a compilation called Black Metal Blitzkrieg in 2001 with a number of amazing bands, so if you want to listen to early Deathspell Omega, underground mammoths like Clandestine Blaze, Altar of Perversion, or the Finnish unsung heroes Musta Surma, this VA is for you. Katharsis offer a three-minute relentless track “Extermination”, which is repetitive, and features highlights in the vocals, but still this whole compilation works as a lesson for the genre at the same time.

2003 – Kruzifixxion: The band’s second full length marked their collaboration with then new label Norma Evangelium Diaboli, a follow-up with some reasonable expectations, after a fine debut. However, the record aches at a lot of different sections, not only in the compositions themselves, but mainly in the production. Katharsis had a harsh sound to begin with, but in Kruzifixxion something that I will never know went painfully wrong with the mixing and this can be heard from the first seconds of the first track “The Last Wound”. Hi-hats are too high, toms sound too weak, there is almost no audible bass, the vocals sound damaged, giving out an idea as if this was never properly worked on to produce a more appropriate sound. This goes on for the whole of the record and makes the tracks hard to concentrate on, tracks that otherwise have some legit moments here and there. As the album progresses, the ear gets used to the filthiness and when looking behind this thick curtain of noise, there’s a portion of it that one would enjoy, for example in the speeds of the last track “Infernal Solar Vortex” or some guitar lines in “Painlike Paradise”. The longest track “Bloodstain the Temple Stones” is the weakest, and it opens with a spooky introduction as if from an 80’s horror movie, a bit of an understatement compared with the significantly dimmer experimentation they had tried during their demo years, before introducing “Luziferion”, just a short filler. Kruzifixxion presents material from the band that is not totally focused, and whatever interesting play is crushed by the record’s problematic production. Frankly, the best thing here is the magnificent (and by now, iconic in black metal cycles) album cover, which I enjoy staring at as if it’s the first time, every time.

2006 – VvorldVVithoutEnd: Not much happened the three years prior to VvorldVVithoutEnd, which might explain the big leap forward Katharsis achieved with it. It is the longest album they have ever released, clocking up to fifty two minutes, a result of a couple of compositions being significantly longer (last track lasts 16 minutes). The band has fixed absolutely everything with their production as if it was the first time they entered an actual studio, offering a blistering and potent sound that finally glorifies their material. The tracks themselves are more aggressive, the intensity never drops, the vocals rule, they no longer live completely under the shade of their Norwegian influences and have crafted this brilliant record as a cleansing to themselves and the audience. The frenetic guitar lines in “Eden Below”, “Ascent from Ghoulgotha”, the scourging monotonous parts of “VVytchdance”, the thunderous high-pitched vocals throughout, is exactly what can make someone fall for the merit of this band. Once again, they chose to write a very short song “Kosmik Sacrifice”, but this time the madness is conveyed successfully, and the final, self-titled track is a chapter on its own. The best Katharsis guitar work up to this point, during a monstrous piece that could stand alone above the rest, totally delivering and closing this remarkable record. VvorldVVithoutEnd saved the day and the band, it put them back on track and it was now bound for them to have a respected place within black metal forever.

2009 – split with Antaeus and final EP: In my head, this was the year Katharsis released their best music, but it was also when they disappeared from the scene. A split was arranged with another great band from Norma Evangelium’s roster, Antaeus, who had also released a noteworthy album three years earlier, Blood Libels. Both these artists contribute with one song in the split, Katharsis’ side is a 9 minute long one named “Black Lust” and is as furious as you would think if you had been following so far.  It opens with chants and praising to the Dark One, and all the tricks of their trade are showcased again, especially the great vocal work as well as memorable and epic riffing throughout the whole track.
It has the ideal sound for the band, not clean and not noisy, but in the balance. It’s nine minutes of high speed playing with a slight climactic turn towards the end, yet this smaller detail of their music is more present in their last EP, Fourth Reich. While it is 45 minutes long and could have been a full length, it was released as an EP, yet the listener should not be confused and think it is a mini-release. Katharsis return with another beautiful beyond words artwork, to begin with. Their production is not polished but taken care of, it’s audible and embraces the hostility of the band. Every aspect of the release is on point, as if they had been exercising for all their active years to compose these tracks. Fourth Reich features the personal, angry sound of Katharsis, with all the golden bits and bytes of their discography aligned. From the cover, to the production, to the level of the tunes, and the vocals, they didn’t simply hit the mark, they burned it down. The opener “So Nail the Hearts”, a 13 minute opus, is the best track they have ever written in my opinion, for the majestic lyrics and the nail-biting, fierce ending part that I have hardly come across in any band, and that’s just the first track. “Eucharistik Funereal” and “Reckoning” offer an endless stream of sharp riffs and melodic solos that are introduced in the perfect balance (in “Sinn Koronation”), while the heaviness of the band is not missing from any moment. Their meddling with dark ambient / instrumental tracks has reached its maximum capacity as well, with a fine interlude “Emeralde Graves” featuring layers of minimalistic keys that draw slight influence from dungeon synth. The album should be listened to whole, not a single song skipped, as all of the content of Fourth Reich is top-notch black metal, and not only because of the music but for everything around it too.

Katharsis split up at some point after this EP, and as far as I am aware, the members haven’t been active in any other project or band during the last decade. In a way, I am satisfied with the cycle the band did and I believe they offered their own rotten bit to the scene, they went down the stage with their best work and that doesn’t have me thinking that I want more from them. In the case of Antaeus for example, I always wanted another album after Blood Libels, and I had no clue in 2015-2016 that Condemnation was coming, but the music Katharsis has offered is more than enough. Not that a new album would have been bad news in any way. The path of the band during the 00’s was sincere, it strongly held the fiery passion bursting from black metal to the world, and they never compromised.

Listen in darkness at maximum volume.

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