Wednesday, 8 November 2017

ALBUM REVIEW: Catapult the Dead - "A Universal Emptiness"

By: Mark Ambrose

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released:15/11/2017
Label: Doom Stew Records



“A Universal Emptiness” is a nihilistic record that is thrilling and disconcerting in equal measure.  With their second release, California sextet Catapult the Dead have emerged as brutally heavy hitters who display musical might and audio finesse.


“A Universal Emptiness” CS//CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. Till It Goes Away
2. Anti-Aether
3. Last Breath
4. Burning Womb

The Review:

Think about the last time you felt sheer, unabashed terror.  I’m not talking about the controlled violence of a roller coaster or rickety carnival ride, but the “holy shit I could have died” nausea that floods your organs after you spin out across a highway doing 65 and somehow avoiding that oncoming tractor trailer.  You know that giddy joy between nervous laughter and bursting into tears?  A Universal Emptiness” is the soundtrack to that feeling – a nihilistic record that is thrilling and disconcerting in equal measure.  With their second release, California sextet Catapult the Dead have emerged as brutally heavy hitters who display musical might and audio finesse.

Multi-instrumentalist Garrick O’Connor opens “Till It Goes Away” with a piano melody straight from a horror soundtrack, foreshadowing the extreme dynamics of “A Universal Emptiness” – at one moment the album can be quiet and nearly tranquil, before thrusting into pure dissonance.  Vocalist Ben Hiteman shows remarkable facility from his first lines.  Though he punctuates certain phrases with high register shrieks or even melodic, chant-like notes, Hiteman’s delivery is usually a low-end shout that is gruff but intelligible.  And that qualifier rings true with every element of Catapult the Dead: each layer of instrumentation is heavy but clear.  For once I could believe there were three separate guitars actively playing in each song because I could make out the variations in tone and style.  The combined effect is classically sublime: breath taking verging on overwhelming.

“Anti-Aether”, a personal favorite, again hinges on musical diversity, opening as a folky, dark dirge, bordering on balladry that never drops emotional sincerity once the full band kicks in.  After frenzied tremolo picking the tempo crawls to a standstill at the midway point before sliding into a lurching, lumbering stomp.  Patrick Spain’s brutal, multifaceted talent behind the kit cannot be discounted throughout “A Universal Emptiness”, but his work here is particularly invigorating.  The mix of low end guitar crunch, Brownson’s thick bass riffs, O’Connor’s subtle keyboard work, and the sitar-like, psychedelic guitar leads builds towards a hypnotic closing refrain –  “Swim against the sea” – the perfect counterpoint to the elemental, tidal power surging underneath.

“Last Breath” opens with a double fakeout: angelic organ music that segues to lo-fi cacophony, before the fa├žade drops and the band launches into HD brutality.  The tremolo guitar work here is particularly noteworthy, as it recalls the pipe organ intro, but with a decaying, blackened edge.  The shifting roles and transposed melodies shared by Dajani, Lilliston, and O’Connor belies a keenly honed collaborative ethos that permeates the whole of the record. 

It’s remarkable that in the midst of this group onslaught, album closer “Burning Womb” is as effective a metaphor for agonizing solitude as I’ve ever heard.  Hiteman’s lone voice, still shouting but dropped to a murmur in the mix, is less a defiant scream than an impotent cry of rage.  When the volume normalizes and the pummeling resumes, complete with memorable, sludgy riffs and shimmering, open chords, you can almost forget the dark melancholy that anchors the song.  As the band crescendos, the urge to joyfully, masochistically beat your head into the concrete may be too much for some listeners.  For those that can stomach it, treasure the scars “A Universal Emptiness” leaves you.

“A Universal Emptiness” is available to preorder/buy here




Band info: bandcamp || facebook