Can you describe the essence of Thy Catafalque within 50 words, without using the words avant-garde, post-black metal, progressive, Hungarian and whipped cream?
Yep, it's a sort of metal in a non-traditional aspect with its own rules. The new album is pretty much metal but it's just a tool, the next one might be totally different.
Up till the previous album Thy Catafalque was a two men band. On this new album the band is decreased to a one man band with special guests on vocals and cello. What happened with the other half of the band? You killed him?
Well, the other half is called János and he had been participating less and less in the work up to the point that he didn't care this thing at all and I had to do everything alone. This situation had different reasons, and one was that he had gotten tired of the lack of recognition. You know, when all the reviews are about me and only me, never mentioning the guitar player even though lots of riffs had been written and recorded by him. That's tough and deteriorating after a while. I can understand his point of view very much indeed, but couldn't help it. The other reason was a kind of difference in our musical taste that had been widening throughout the years. Another thing was the physical distance between us, me being in Scotland, him in Hungary. Simply we were not able to operate this way anymore and now both of us do whatever we like. I wish nothing but the best to him and am really grateful for the work he had done so far.
You played also in Gire, a band that had more death metal and industrial influences, but also in a distinctive progressive way. This band split up a few years ago, due to lack of motivation of singer-guitarist Zoltán Kónya and [bassist] Balazs Hermann's move to Scotland. So a few years ago you played in (at least) two bands, but now you are on your own… And you are not only sharing bands with other people no more, no, even the amount of guests on your new album is decimated compared with the previous album 'Róka Hasa Rádió'. Just a conscious coincidence, a logical development or are you simply difficult to work with and do you have bigger ego than Yngwie Malmsteen?
Now, that's straight question. The whole situation goes down to logistical issues. Talking about Gire we are all from the very same small town of Makó, south-east of Hungary. We are childhood friends practically growing up and playing music together for twelve years. Now, the economical situation in Hungary is just like you think it is. Only from our tiny town hundreds of people have moved abroad because of the lack of jobs. These are tough times everywhere but in some places even tougher. When you have no job and you have no frame for the future at all, you won't care about playing music in the first place. We all left the country for a better life one by one and now we're all in the UK, Zoltán in England, Balázs and me in Scotland. We need to get back together in the same place again to make Gire work again and now it's not the case. I would be unbelievable happy to be together again, trust me, but I'm aware there are higher powers in life. By the way both of them participated on Róka Hasa Rádió. In Thy Catafalque it's almost the same. I'm in Scotland while János have been in the Netherlands, then Norway, now in Budapest, Hungary. We couldn't manage to work together in the last years. He's not comfortable with technology and I'm not physically there to help him in writing and recording his parts. And there are other things I've mentioned earlier. About the guest musicians, this time I wrote songs with a less experimental edge and also nailed all guitars and bass, so not too many musicians were needed. I kept it simple. However I might be a tyrant in the end of the day, but honestly I don't think I have such ambitions, I'm not that kind of person. It's just that I keep on working.
Being a sole soul or not, those (vocal) guests did a bloody excellent job anyway. Both male and female vocals are superb, which I don't say very often, especially not in the metal scene. Most vocals are done, just like on 'Róka Hasa Rádió', by one Attila Bakos, a rather unknown Hungarian singer (to me) that also sings in the Norwegian band Quadrivium since 2009. Is his move to (as in: flirt with) Norway the reason why his voice gave a Scandinavian, folk-metallic atmosphere to (or does he still live in Hungary?), and why isn't he singing in a world dominating folk/metal band?
He does have a neofolk project named Woodland Choir, his first album came out last year through Epidemie Records, check it. And he's about to release his black metal project's debut as well soon. That's Taranis. Anyway he stays in Hungary and now plans to concentrate on his own things, so it seems rather unlikely he will participate on the upcoming Thy Catafalque albums again.
Only the first part of the epicentre of the album, 'Vashegyek', contains the vocals of the enchanting Anges Tóth. It reminded me of those two ancient Anathema songs 'Everwake' & 'J'ai Fait Une Promesse' of their first releases. You worked with her before on 'Róka Hasa Rádió' and on the Gire album, so besides her hypnotizing voice, is there any other reason why you work with her so often and aren't you afraid Mihaly Szabo becomes jealous?
It's her hypnotizing voice and that they are lovely people together with Mihály. We met them in 2000, when Gire and their then active band EvenSong had a gig together. Then in 2005 we decided to record our album at their studio in Békéscsaba and we did so, this is why Ágnes plays violin on the Gire album. Then we had some gigs with The Moon And The Nightspirit and I asked Ágnes to sing on Róka Hasa Rádió. She kindly agreed and did so this time, too. They both are very nice persons, I just love them. And those early Anathema songs you brought up are brilliant, thanks for the comparison.
Is it difficult to write, record and complete an album of your own? Aren't you afraid that it lacks 'the organic feel of a band' and you don't have 'the distance' to judge the album of its quality, or is this not a problem with modern technology, and being a self-critical multi instrumentalist?
It's totally different to a normal band process and requires a different mindset. In Gire we had had rehearsals, gigs and all the stuff metal bands usually do. In TC there's nothing like this and I had to learn how to deal with this situation. I don't want to simulate a real band. This not a real band and not rock and roll either, it has nothing to do with it at all. The hard part is the distance, yes. I have nobody to decide if this or that works or not. I have to trust in myself and that's how it goes. Sometimes I'm full of doubts about it, then I try to put that particular song aside for a time, then visit it again with a clear mind some days later and it helps in judging and to keep on going.
Your music contains a lot, a LOT of musical directions and influences. I hear folk, neo-classical music, doom-sludge, darkwave, film music and off course still a lot of various metal genres: all combined into one flowing, sometimes even touching musical journey. Now I can suggest that it sounds like a bukkake with Ulver, Drudkh, Agalloch and Arcturus over the lovely face of Kari Rueslåtten (The 3rd And The Mortal), but I think it's more appropriate that you tell yourself what and who your inspirations are.
Jesus Christ, man, that was some description! I pretty much love those bands you mentioned and especially love Miss Rueslåtten, that goes without question of course. Anyway I just try to create something without considering any stylistic rules and traditions, that's all. I have my own inner rules, a frame to paint my paintings in. I listen to lots of different music, and also have keen interest in all forms of art and this is my source.
You also released a solo album, a beautiful one by the way, which is more like a crossover between ambient, (neo)folk, darkwave and film music. It brought Preisner, Max Richter but above all Yann Tiersen in mind. What's the story behind that album and can we expect more of this in the future?
I wrote it in 2005, released by an Italian label Ars Benevola Mater in 2006. The title is Erika Szobája meaning Erika's Room. I just needed to create more silent and intimate music at that time, that's the story. I was after Thy Catafalque's Tűnő Idő Tárlat and we were preparing to go to studio with Gire so it was plenty of metal and I needed a break then. And also the main driving force was some issues in my private life. I don't know if I'll ever have another album like that. The next Thy Catafalque maybe?
On this 'solo' album the sparse spoken words are done by Krisztina Tóth. The big sister of…? If so, it suggests that the musical scene in which you operates is a rather small one. Is this correct?
Not exactly. Tóth is a rather common surname in Hungary. It means Slovakian. Our nations have a history to share, a lot of Hungarians live in Slovakia and vice versa and this shows in the names as well. Ágnes and Krisztina are not relatives, they don't even know each other I'm afraid. If you have a look at the credits of Róka Hasa Rádió, you'll even find there Ádám Tóth on violin. Again, he's not a kin of either of the girls. And they are all Hungarian.
How ''(im)popular'' is the musical entity Tamás Kátai in Hungary? Can you make a living out of it for instance, or do you have a regular boring nine-to-five day job to sponsor your musical creativity?
You must be joking, mate. I work shifts in a factory. I have had about two or three weeks wage income from Thy Catafalque so far and I'm talking about minimum wage here. Now with the new album released by Season Of Mist, with a better distribution and promotion, the name is getting obviously wider known but it still doesn't mean any more currently.
You've come from a long way since your first releases in the late nineties. How do you look back upon your first releases, which were more traditional kinda black metal with a (hideous sounding!) drum computer?
Yeah, the first two albums had pretty ridiculous production, particularly the first one. But at least it had interesting riffs and melodies. Everything else sucked big time on Sublunary Tragedies. However the second album, 'Microcosmos' is much better, I like that record. The sound is improved to a fairly listenable level and the songs are enjoyable. At that time that was the maximum we could achieve and I can tell you that was a heroic fight.
What's the reason to write your lyrics in your native language? Can you express your feelings better, gives it the music a more authentic (for English listeners a more exotic) fragrance, or do you simply hate/can't write English?
I'm fine with English. It's just that I can express myself more naturally, freely and clearly in my native language, it's simple as that. The first two albums were in English and they sucked in that aspect. I don't regard those lyrics to be nowhere good enough, I feel nothing at all when reading them again now. However the Hungarian words work well. I know that the world loses one dimension of TC because of it, sorry about that, guys, but I don't care.
Is there a red thread, a general feel, in your lyrics? The atmosphere and melody lines suggests a lot of melancholy, soul searching and dark feelings, but with a glimpse of light and hope…
I can't really judge. There are motifs and themes that keep coming back always, like the autumn, the woodlands, the leaves, the rain. I'm a bit nuts about autumn and winter for some reason and plenty of the words deal with this theme in a way or another. And it's not all doom and gloom.
What does death means to you? (regarding the name of the band)
The name of the band came from the time I was starting reading Literature in the college and I was mad about William Shakespeare. This expression is not actually from him but reflects the Shakespearean universe, at least what I loved about the Shakespearean universe. It's rather theatrical and extreme emotionally reflecting an incurable loss. Now I think I would choose something else, but never mind, I'm fine with it.
Your music frustrates me quite a lot. I like to see music on stage, especially the music that moves me (and your music moves me a lot!), but I don't think you have the ability nor the ambition to play live. I'm quite the stubborn, pigheaded kind of guy who like to know it better, but this time I do hope I am completely wrong. Am I?
You are absolutely right, mate! I have neither the ability, nor the ambition. Besides I'm practically alone here, there's not even Attila around any more which makes the situation quite clear.
Can you recommend some other bands from Hungary that play metal in different way than the paved ones? Besides obviously the rather traditional Sear Bliss, at least compared with Thy Catafalque, I've heard about bands like Damned Spirits' Dance and Guilthee, but are there more? Or do you live in your own musical world and you don't have the slightest idea?
Yes, we have DSD and Guilthee playing in a bit similar vein. I personally love VHK and encourage you to check them even if it's not metal. Actually that's the reason to check them. That's the way how to weave folklore into your music without being ridiculous. Moreover my faves are Ahriman playing black metal, Tyrant Goatgaldrakona, some pretty ugly death/doom darkness, OneHeadedMan, interesting untraditional female fronted weirdness, Félix Lajkó violin virtuoso and Kampec Dolores for some more exotic touch.
Your album competes with Opeth's latest album 'Heritage' for my 'best album of the year' award. Can you convince me that I should award you for best album of 2011, and not Opeth (again)?
I must say I was attending to an Opeth gig two weeks ago here in Edinburgh and it completely blew my mind away. I love the new album and listen to it a lot, would definitely choose that one.
Is there anything you like to say to our readers?
Thanks a lot for reading this through and reaching this point. Lend an ear for Thy Catafalque, you won't understand a single syllable.
Thanks for your time and especially for 'Rengeteg', a ridiculously magnificent album!
Let me thank you for this great interview! Take care!