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666 (2000)
 

After forming in 1994, the German Black Metal band Katharsis went on to release a few rather low quality demos, which were considered lackluster at best. The material was not particularly strong nor were the recordings very easy on the ears. However, by 2000, the band managed to capture their raw and chaotic brand of music in the form of the 666 L.P. Released in very limited numbers by Sombre Records, this album showcases a band that had ignored all of the trends of the time period and adhered to a strict early 90s mentality.

I discovered Katharsis in late 2003, after seeing that Scorn had contributed lyrics to Watain's Casus Luciferi. At the time, I was quite open to hearing more underground Black Metal in the same vein as old Darkthrone, so I allowed a lot of sub-par stuff to pass through my hands. My first impression of this band was that they were just keeping the flame burning, but not really doing anything special. As a result, I allowed this album to collect dust for a few years, before really giving the band more attention. Even after listening to all of their albums, over the past several years, I cannot fully shake the initial feeling that I got upon first hearing them.

The album begins with "666 (Hohelied der Wiedererweckung)", which features some of the more interesting riffs of the entire album. It starts out strong, with a guitar melody that sounds like it could have come from Under A Funeral Moon. The production is somewhat similar, as the guitar tone is razor thin and possesses a cold feeling. However, the drumming stomps all over this, being more chaotic than necessary and too high in the mix. Once you get past this, the riffs are pretty decent and the vocals suit the music quite well, also. This song features a decent amount of changes and displays a good measure of variation in composition, yet it loses focus after a few minutes and becomes far too chaotic and drags on longer than it should. Drakh sounds like most other Black Metal vocalists from the Second Wave that Katharsis so strongly worships, keeping in line with the likes of Nocturno Culto. The only difference is that his sound is a little more throaty, allowing some low level of shrieking to mix in with his voice. This song loses its focus, after a few minutes, and shows one of the band's main weaknesses: they are not yet capable of maintaining the momentum that the songs build.

The next song is "Thy Horror", and it is a little shorter and less tedious to listen to. Again, the riffs are kind of generic and the overall feeling is that this has been heard before. Even worse, it was done much better the first time. That is not to say that this is not enjoyable. It fulfills the desire to hear more music in this style and keeps the old feeling alive. At a time when even the originators of this sound had given up on it and most other bands were experimenting, it was definitely a positive thing for some bands to continue on in this direction. The highlight of the song comes near the end, with a haunting riff that should have been introduced earlier on. It is far too brief, but it does show potential.

This is followed by "Raped By Demons / Massacrament", which possesses an energetic beginning, though it soon loses its appeal. The drumming is annoying on this track, and even the vocals seem too deep for the music. The slower sections are not as bad, though not all that interesting. The middle of the song hearkens back to old Slayer, particularly Show No Mercy and Hell Awaits. Things pick up a bit, after this, with a couple of decent solos. It just goes to show how much bands could benefit from tossing in guitar solos, every now and then. For music so rooted in old Bathory, it is strange how this type of thing is so uncommon.

"The Black Grail" is next, and it is the highlight of the album. All in all, it is the most solid track to be found here, and includes some of the best riffs as well. The songwriting really comes together for this one, and it helps salvage the album. The atmosphere is dark, but not as utterly black as the band may have hoped. Still, the riffs are cold and manage to slice through you. Late in the song, the drumming ceases for a few moments, allowing the guitar and the vocals to really pull you in. The desperation in Drakh's voice goes well with the epic melody, enabling this song to really stand out from the rest. The lyrics for this album are more along the lines of Orthodox Black Metal (whatever the hell that is supposed to mean), instead of more traditional subject matter. The themes are similar, just done in a different manner.

Freezing cold riffs introduce "Lunar Castles (Harvest)", and this song manages to carry on the momentum that was built on the previous track. The tremolo melodies are accompanied by simpler drumming patterns that really allow the guitars more room to breathe and to create a dismal atmosphere. The tempo shifts a bit, near the middle, but still maintains the feeling and does not lose focus. After speeding up again, the track ends with the guitar melody being left alone, bereft of voice or percussion, and this conveys a sense of absolute desolation. The only thing that would have improved this would have been if the riff carried on for a little longer. Otherwise, a very solid track and one of the most well-executed representations of what Katharsis is capable of.

666 ends with "Nazarene (Into the Flame)", starting out with an unsettling intro that creates a sense of tension and makes the listener a little uncomfortable. As the music rises from the fiery depths, a feeling of intense hatred can be felt. Naturally, the title says it all, and most people listening to this should share in such feelings of disgust and loathing. The song sticks to the same template as most of the others, featuring fast tremolo-picked riffs and blasting drums. The vocal delivery is great, with an added amount of venom being spewed forth and the guitar melodies burn like raging flames all around you.

"Jesus Christ! Your fucking crown is fallen
thou art doomed and I have won
King of Jews! There is no resurrection.
Nazarene - into the flame..."

What Katharsis created with 666 is an album of raw and hateful Black Metal that keeps in the tradition of old Darkthrone, yet without sounding like a carbon copy. The band, for all its faults, definitely sounds like its own entity. The songwriting is a little inconsistent, but songs like "The Black Grail" and "Lunar Castles (Harvest)" really showcase the talent and potential that the band possesses. This is not essential, yet still recommended for anyone looking for this style of music.
 
(15 Sept. 2011)

 
Moonblood / Katharsis split (2001)
 

By 2001, the mighty German Black Metal band Moonblood had already met its end, despite unreleased material continuing to appear for a couple years after the fact. Yet at the same time, another band was poised to take their place in the German underground. Though Katharsis has never reached the same level of quality, they have always done their best to keep the black flame burning. As is often the case with split releases, a lesser-know band is aided by one that is more established, enabling them to get their name out there and to reach an audience that may have otherwise neglected to take notice. In this case, it was almost like a passing of the torch, since Moonblood was winding down. The resulting album is not exactly groundbreaking, but does well to offer up a couple tracks of raw Black Metal were like a fist in the face of the multitude of symphonic / experimental bands that were putting out records around that time.

The Moonblood track, "Supreme Black Forces of Steel", sounds quite similar to the material that they contributed to the split album with Deathspell Omega. This is understandable, as all of the songs were recorded during the same session back in November 1997. It is fast-paced and very straightforward, with little variation in tempo. The tremolo melody possesses an epic quality, as is often the case with this band, and the guitar tone manages to cut through the fuzzy and distorted production. The drums are, mostly, buried enough to not detract from the guitars and the vocals are at a perfect level to be heard quite well without being too high in the mix. While the main riff is very memorable, some of the others lack the clarity to really stand out and affect the overall atmosphere. At any rate, this is a solid offering from a legendary band.

Side B of this 7" E.P. features the Katharsis song "Watchtowers of Darkness Part II". After a slow build, reminiscent of early Slayer, the song bursts forth at top speed. To contrast the production of the previous song, here the guitar is buried under the vocals and drums. Odd that the older song would have the better sound quality. In trying to maintain a grim and underground approach to recording, the band actually undermined their own efforts and ensured that the song was unable to have the full effect that it should have had. Near the middle, the pace slows down a bit, being somewhat reminiscent of old Celtic Frost or some other 80's band. Not long after, things speed up again and Katharsis does their best to imitate Darkthrone, though not nearly as impressive. The track grows on you as it goes along, and is not bad at all. Still, one would think that they had stronger material than this. Despite the fact that the E.P. was limited to 666 copies, they should have considered a better song.

This split does not present anything revolutionary from either band, but it is solid and should appeal to fans of either. While it goes without saying that the Moonblood song is the superior of the two, Katharsis makes a decent enough showing to perhaps warrant further investigation into their discography.
 
(21 Sept. 2011)

 
 

Kruzifixxion is the second full-length album from the German Black Metal band Katharsis. Released in November 2003, though Norma Evangelium Diaboli. In the years since their debut L.P., 666, not much changed with this band. The sound is still very much in line with their previous material and even the flaws that existed back then are still present.

It begins with "The Last Wound", which takes a couple minutes to really get going. The intro section is rather boring and useless, but once things get moving the atmosphere takes on a dark and almost melancholic feel. The band follows the same formula as before, keeping within the guidelines set forth by the early Darkthrone material. It consists of fast tremolo-picked guitar melodies and intense drumming that maintains a hectic feeling, for the most part. Unfortunately, the best melody of the whole song comes near the end, which means that there is little time to fully appreciate the misery that it conveys. Drakh's vocals add a sense of desperation to the final moments and the song manages to end strongly. This track could have been a little more concise, but it is decent enough to start things out.

"Painlike Paradise" gets right to the point, though it does not do very well to imbue the listener with any kind of feeling, evil or otherwise. The pace changes a little, but this does not have much of an effect on anything. A really nice tremolo riff emerges in the latter half of the song, bereft of drums or vocals, somewhat salvaging things. It may not even be that spectacular, but it sounds much nicer without the drums stomping all over it. Not a bad song, but it is mostly filler.

This is followed by "The Chosen One", which features a bit of a melancholic feeling. As with the rest of the album, the drums are too high in the mix and take away some of the attention from the sombre guitar riffs. However, it is something that one is able to get used to with time, to an extent. The song is kind of repetitive, but this works within the context of the album and it suits the dreary atmosphere. The vocals take on more of a shrieking sound, as the track moves along, adding to the aura of torment. The tension builds in the later part of the song, but the climax never really comes. It just sort of deflates, without reaching the expected conclusion, with the melodies unable to live up to their potential.

"Blood Staineth the Temple Stones" starts with a horror intro, though the song does little to build upon this. One gets the impression that they attempted to follow through with this, but the riffs are just a little too generic to do much more than fill time. On its own, the song is not bad, but it does not hold up well under close scrutiny. It, more or less, seems like an excuse to throw together a handful of Hellhammer and Darkthrone-inspired riffs, without really doing much with them. The tormented vocals do not really do much for this type of atmosphere, either, coming off as a little overdone for a song like this. Clocking it at over eleven minutes, this one fails to hold the listener's attention and thus does not warrant such a length. The final moments hint at a melody that sounds kind of familiar, but it ends before I can quite put my finger on it. Either way, the last twenty seconds beat out the rest of the song.

The next song is "Luziferion", which is much shorted but no less uninspiring. It is almost reminiscent of "Inn I De Dype Skogers Favn", from Under A Funeral Moon, in the sense that it offers almost no variation and the main riff is completely devoid of any kind of feeling, whatsoever. In other words, this is more filler.

The album reaches its merciful conclusion with "Infernal Solar Vortexx (A Vision in Three Parts)". This is another lengthy track, approaching the ten-minute mark. It is filled with riffs that are highly derivative of other bands, almost to the point of plagiarism. Speaking of which, the mid-paced section is completely lifted from another song, note-for-note, though the source eludes me at the moment. Not only is this piece not interesting enough to justify going for so long, but it consists of stolen ideas as well.

While Kruzifixxion contains nearly 45 minutes of raw Black Metal, it comes off as dull and generic, and making it through the entire album is actually quite tedious. There are only two decent songs on here, and even those are unable to live up to their potential. The rest is simply filler, which is unacceptable. One would think that the band was capable of much more than this. Rather than improving upon the shortcomings of 666, the band opted to play it safe and put forth minimal effort; therefore, I would not recommend anyone to invest much energy in listening to this. Laziness and mediocrity should not be rewarded.
 
(22 Sept. 2011)

 
 

World Without End, the third full-length album from Germany's Katharsis, represented an even deeper descent into pure chaos. Released in August 2006 on Norma Evangelium Diaboli, this record witnessed the band finding their own identity, more than ever, for better or worse. While not exactly following through with what began on 666, Katharsis certainly developed quite a hellish sound.

"Eden Below" bursts forth like a torrent from Hell, possessed with utter chaotic fury. From the guitar riffs to Drakh's maniacal vocals to the intense drumming, hearing this is like the equivalent of a nuclear explosion in your skull. The riffs are quite frenetic and the drumming is thunderous, if not a bit high in the mix. The vocals have a little too much reverb for my taste, but this should not pose a problem for most. As the song progresses, the guitar melodies become a little more focused, though M.K. distracts from this, somewhat, with his overactive percussion. The pace slows down, around the middle, accompanied by some demonic screams that do well to convey a sense of trepidation. They fail to capitalize on this, returning to the faster theme for the remainder of the song.

The next song, "Kross Fyre", rises from the maelstrom and gradually builds up before unleashing a merciless onslaught of raw Black Metal. Though the influence is still felt, it is safe to say that the band had come a long way from sounding like a mere Darkthrone clone. The foundation is still the same, but the manner in which Katharsis built upon it is what made the difference. That said, this track never seems to get the momentum going. Just when it appears that they might, it ends.

"Wytchdance" is a lengthy song, clocking in at eleven minutes. The otherworldly guitar riffs are accentuated by an absolutely eerie vocal performance, really coming together to create a dark and hellish atmosphere. The drumming is similar to Gorgoroth's "Possessed (By Satan)", at times. After a few minutes, things slow down and the listener is filled with dread at the coming darkness. The inhuman wailing is joined by riffs of an more old school approach, lasting a few minutes. This bears a really ugly and primitive feeling, which is exactly what most people that listen to this are looking for to begin with. As the song fades out, one gets the sense of being pulled right into Hell, so much that you can feel the flames lick your flesh.

This is followed by "Ascent from Ghoulgotha", which starts out with typical Katharsis riffs, interrupted by a brief pause, before proceeding with the hideous attack on the listener's senses. The first few minutes almost have more of a primitive Bathory feeling, before transitioning to something more akin to the Second Wave bands that so strongly influenced them. There are some decent tremolo riffs around the middle of the song, though the production lessens the overall impact. Later on, the pace slows down and the down-tempo feeling adds yet another layer of darkness to the track. It all ends with a strange sample that inscreases the lost and desolate feeling of the listener, as if you are in a waiting room near the gates of Hell.

"Kosmik Sacrifice" is a strange track in that the ending sample from the previous track continues in the background, while the band blasts through a brief track, more for effect than anything else. It is less than two minutes, yet serves its purpose well and is quite interesting.

The album reaches its conclusion with the sixteen-minute long title track. The slow riffs create a very morbid atmosphere, hearkening back to Hellhammer's "Triumph of Death", with Drakh doing a good job in matching the type of misery found in Satanic Slaughter's voice, all those years before. The following riffs are like a nightmarish twist on Celtic Frost. The brief guitar solos that are added in are a nice touch, something that a lot of other bands should think of utilizing. The bass also seems more noticeable on this track, adding to the dismal feeling though doing little more than shadowing the main riffs. It takes about six minutes for the song to really get underway, but every bit of the build up was certainly essential. By this point, the riffs show a mixture of Bathory and Celtic Frost, though one has to wonder if this is as much out of real appreciation for those bands or because they are so strongly influenced by Darkthrone, thus being somewhat unaware of what they are even doing. The grim and primitive riffs then transition to a lone tremolo melody that is soon mated with more ghastly moans and intense drumming. This section of the song openly betrays the Darkthrone influence, yet again; nonetheless, all of these various elements flow together quite well and the end result is the lengthy epic that Katharsis had hoped to create for some time before this. The final minutes see the introduction of clean vocals that join Drakh's normal voice, albeit buried for the most part, and a very memorable riff to lead the song toward its demise. The Celtic Frost riff returns, fading into obscurity and bringing things to an end.

What Katharsis accomplished with World Without End was a vast improvement over Kruzifixxion. The songwriting is far superior, maintaining the listener's interest and making the most of their abilities. There are times where their influences show through more than others, but the overall impression is that the band developed their own style by this point, one that was easily recognizable. Though the best tracks here may not match up to the very best of their debut album, World Without End is probably the stronger of the two, as a whole. Seek this out with confidence.
 
(5 Nov. 2011)

 
 

Despite surpassing 45 minutes in length, Katharsis seems to consider Fourth Reich to be an E.P. rather than their fourth full-length album. However they wish to look at it, this is the follow-up effort to World Without End and it displays even more proficiency in songwriting and execution. Released in May 2009, this record has taken the band to an even higher level, finally realizing the potential that they demonstrated on their debut album.

It all begins with "So Nail the Hearts", a song that goes straight for the throat, wasting no time in assaulting the listener in the most vicious method imaginable. Though quite intense, the music seems much more focused and less chaotic than the previous L.P. The guitar melodies sound more natural, flowing from one to the next with no abrupt changes. The drumming is more primitive and less obnoxious as well, which is certainly a good thing. As for the vocals, there is less reverb, thus enabling Drakh's voice to better suit the music. He still possesses a style similar to Nocturno Culto's old work, and the music itself is reminiscent of old Darkthrone, to a degree. The atmosphere is quite hellish; there is nothing cold about this, as one can almost feel the flames of Satan's realm. Clocking in at over thirteen minutes, this track has a lot to live up to and it delivers.

The infernal onslaught ensues with "Eucharistick Funereal", getting underway with straightforward tremolo melodies that are carried forward by blast beats and demonic vocals. This track also hearkens back to Transilvanian Hunger, though much less minimalist. The song is dynamic and features logical transitions from one riff to the next, with the percussion serving only to support the guitars and never taking over. M.K. even makes use of some old school drumming rhythms, helping to give the music a dirtier feel. It would appear that, along the way, he learned that less is more, sometimes. Improvement such as this is a very welcome thing. Near the end of the song, the tempo decreases and the atmosphere becomes darker. A morose lead melody rises from the crypt, searching for fresh blood.

"Reckoning" continues the merciless bludgeoning, during the initial moments, before launching into an old school approach that calls forth the spirit of old Bathory. This is rather brief, as Katharsis soon returns to a more comfortable style, something akin to a nuclear explosion. More 80s-inspired riffs are mixed in, giving this a raw and ugly quality. Later in the song, the tone becomes somewhat sombre, just before the next blitz.

The momentum of the record is halted a bit by the instrumental track, "Emeralde Graves". This synth-based piece works well to give the listener a well-earned break, in order to rest up for the coming battle. In most cases, it would seem more natural to place something like this at the end, but considering the intense style of Katharsis, it may be perfectly timed.

The coffin lid finally closes on this release with "Sinn Koronation". This track possesses a morbid atmosphere, accentuated by the tormented screams. The primary musical influence is Hellhammer / Celtic Frost, though more likely filtered through Darkthrone's interpretation of those early works. The pace is slow and one gets the feeling of being dragged through the foggy night, unable to resist, soon to be tossed into an open grave and forgotten. By the middle of the song, the pace becomes more frenetic for a bit. However, it slows down and allows an eerie lead solo to slither through, infecting your mind with a poisonous gloom that shall rot you from inside. A great number of bands miss the opportunity to add so much more to their music by employing guitar solos, and Katharsis exhibits just how effective this can be.

Fourth Reich is the most solid release that Katharsis has ever offered up and they should be quite proud of what they accomplished with this. It bears all of the elements that have placed them at the top of the German underground scene since the demise of Moonblood. This record takes every flaw from their past and corrects it with stunning efficiency. Seek this out and make haste in doing so.
 
(8 Nov. 2011)
















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