Interview + Video Premiere: Catafalque – “Gnarled Limbs”

HARSH NOISE DRONE DOOM METAL

That’s what it says under the ‘About’ section on Catafalque‘s Facebook page. A collaboration between Thomas Ozers of harsh noise wall project The Dead Yesterdays and Mastiff bassist Dan Dolby, the description fits their music in more ways than one – it’s direct, blunt, and carries the implicit promise of pain. What it leaves out, though, is how shockingly engaging their music manages to be, despite the fact that it’s trying to gnaw your face off like a Florida man on bath salts.

The duo’s self-titled debut will be available on July 26 on Digital + CD (limited to 50) from Trepanation Recordings (preorder here) and on CS (limited to 25) from Akashic Envoy Records (watch for ordering info here). We’re premiering the video for the album’s second single “Gnarled Limbs” here today at Clandestine Sounds, and it’s just as fucked up as you’d expect. Watch it below, and then check out my conversation with Thomas and Dan afterwards, while you’re trying to calm yourself back down.

Clandestine Sounds: First off, thanks for the interview. This Catafalque record is remarkably unpleasant, which I naturally mean as a compliment. The two of you make for an interesting combination: Thomas does harsh noise wall stuff as The Dead Yesterdays, Dan plays bass for UK sludgesters Mastiff, and Catafalque is…a bit of both, but really neither? How did you two end up collaborating on this nasty piece of work?

Thomas:  Dan’s a man of many talents and seemingly limitless energy! We ‘met’ through his web label Throne of Bael Records, as I contributed tracks to some of his compilations and he kindly released a couple of my albums.

Through the label I’d also heard and really liked Dan’s (now defunct) drone-doom project Mostly Hair and Bones. It reminded me of some of the bands that first inspired me to start recording. When he approached me to do a collab, I immediately took him up on it. I was in no doubt that the combination of sounds was going to create something pretty special, but ‘Corpses,’ the result, surpassed even my high expectations! I suggested maybe we should make it a permanent project, fully expecting Dan to politely decline due to the multitude of other projects he had on the go. Obviously I was wrong there, and the result is Catafalque!

Dan:  Pretty much as Thomas says really. He’d sent me some The Dead Yesterdays tracks for past compilations that I’d really enjoyed, and he’d listened to my Mostly Hair and Bones albums and said that he’s liked them. So I thought it would be ace to collaborate.

Once we did, it became obvious to us that it was something that we’d be stupid not to continue and Catafalque was born. That birth has resulted in me discontinuing the many solo projects I had and devoting my non-Mastiff to composing new monstrosities. I’ve always preferred working with others in a musical sense. It’s great to bounce ideas off one another.

CS: Right on – so basically a mutual admiration thing turned full-blown project. I always appreciate hearing about those sorts of things – I think people tend to forget sometimes that musicians are also fans themselves. Since your backgrounds are somewhat different…well, or are they? I’m not familiar with much of your other work aside from Mastiff and The Dead Yesterdays. Can you give a quick rundown of your other projects, both for my sake and for the sake of our readers? 

Thomas: I hadn’t done much of note prior to The Dead Yesterdays, and that really was the driving force behind that project. I had a long running project called The Nightingale Project, which funnily enough started off as drone-doom before meandering through dark ambient and into noise. Thing is, I’d spend literally years agonizing over each release, so by the time I finished anything I was completely sick of it! With TDY I wanted to break this cycle and forced myself to record and release multiple times a month. Honestly in two years of doing that I learned more, and improved more as a musician, than I had in the previous 10!

Dan: I’ve had multiple solo projects in the past, all of which are now defunct as my energy is focused solely on Catafalque and Mastiff. I’ve done noise (These Gaping Jaws), dark ambient (All Signs of Those Who Left), and drone-doom (Mostly Hair and Bones), but Catafalque lets me combine all of my favourite aspects of these projects, plus I get to share the fun with Thomas! I’ve also never been able to perform live with my solo projects, and we’re planning to take Catafalque on the road. Any interested promoters, hit us up!

CS: It seems like there was a bit more common ground in your musical backgrounds than I was aware. Did that make for a fairly smooth first attempt at collaboration with “Corpses,” or was there some trial-and-error as you got used to each other’s approaches to making music?

Thomas: It was definitely one factor that led to a pretty smooth first attempt. With “Corpses,” I sent Dan three tracks to play around with. I’d listened to a lot of Mostly Hair and Bones for a few days before recording to really try and get a feel for it. Two of those tracks were based around sounds and textures I thought would sit well with MHAB, while the third was a straight up harsh noise wall as a truer representation of the kind of noise I was making at the time.

With all of it, though, there was no master plan or song structure, etc. It was more like an exquisite corpse. I’d complete my bit and then I just sat back to see where Dan would take it. This has become our collaborative style, one of us starts a track, and the other finishes it. Occasionally we might add some final elements, but typically we take one pass each, and I think the tracks on the album speak to how well this is working for us!

I think the only slight snag we’ve ever hit so far is my needing to remember I’m not mixing HNW and to calm the aggression of my mixes down

Dan: As Thomas said, it was pretty smooth sailing. We’re both pretty adaptable, and I personally find it exciting and challenging to receive a file with no idea what it’s going to be and mould it into a track. On the flip side, it’s great seeing what Thomas does to the sounds I send. It’s a completely different approach to songwriting than I’m used to. There is an element of trial and error, though, as the ideas I have when first listening to the track may not translate well when I put them into practice. I think I speak for Thomas too when I say I’d love to try and write in a more conventional way sometimes, but we live over 250 miles apart so a regular practice is a bit tricky to say the least.

CS: I had a feeling that most of your collaborating is done via the Internet. Do you have any sort of set routine as far as how you go about structuring songs – for example, does one of you generally write the first bit – or is it more of a free-flowing collaboration?

Thomas: I’d definitely say free-flowing collaboration is our set routine! Dan regularly takes tracks in a direction I didn’t expect and would have never thought of myself – like the drums on ‘Gnarled Limbs’ – but it totally makes the track.

Dan: I’d agree with Thomas, free flowing is the name of our game. Obviously we have a shared aesthetic of what we’re trying to achieve with Catafalque’s music. Atmosphere is paramount in our recordings, as it will be when we take Catafalque on the road. We’re highly influenced by noise music and drone so I think we try to ensure the tracks are unsettling and hypnotic but (hopefully in the listeners view) never boring.

CS: I was going to ask about this later, but since you brought it up here – you do intend for Catafalque to be a live project as well? Have you given much thought yet as to how you may translate these recordings in a live setting? Does that ‘never boring’ include not wanting to rely too heavily on loops?

Thomas: We definitely plan for this to be a live project, too. I think our dense, hypnotic music, played at organ-rupturing volumes and combined with Dan’s videos, will be a pretty compelling live spectacle!

We’ve discussed it a bit and will probably take an improvisational approach to our live sets. Rather than trying to reproduce the album tracks note for note, we’ll pick key riffs and textures from a few of the tracks and structure the set around those.

Loops are a key component of my musical approach, and this will be true live, too. I don’t think there’s anything inherently boring about loops, but like any technique they definitely can be boring if used poorly! I use loops to create density in my sound, and to free me up to focus on adding more parts to the wall of sound!

Dan: As Thomas said, we do indeed intend for Catafalque to transition in to live performances. We’ve discussed it, and whilst the basis of the track will be there, there’ll be a lot of embellishment. Ideally it’ll be performed entirely live using loop pedals rather than a backing track on a laptop. Catafalque live will be a much more vicious beast than Catafalque on record.

CS: Looking at the song titles on Catafalque, I can’t help but notice a common theme. At what point in the writing process did you decide that was the direction you wanted to take with the album?    

Dan: This is probably one for me. The theme of death and decay started with ‘Corpses,’ really. I really like bands that have an aesthetic and carry it through their releases. The Body, for one, have totally nailed that and it stretches from their song titles through to their merch. The same goes for Godflesh. I have always had a fascination with the morbid, so I just wanted to bring that to Catafalque. It felt natural.

CS: Considering the ‘organ-rupturing’ qualities of your music, I definitely agree with you about how naturally that aesthetic fits Catafalque. This question is a bit more abstract, so bear with me if I meander a bit in the asking: for more ‘traditional’ bands that use vocals, it’s relatively easy to establish and carry a theme throughout a record. How did the theme of ‘death and decay’ factor into your songwriting? Basically, how did you know that “Ruptured Spleen” wasn’t actually “Fractured Sternum,” if that makes any sense?

Dan: Well, both Thomas and myself come up with the track names independently, so I can’t really speak for him. For my part, the titles tend to come to me whilst working on a track. It’ll totally depend on the feeling the track instills in me. For instance, I chose ‘Trepanning’ as Thomas’ sounds were drilling in to my head when I was adding my parts, and ‘Fractured Sternum’ reminded me of when I actually fractured my sternum, with the harsh parts representing the painful intake of breath and the quieter lulls the relief of breathing out.

Thomas: I think that’s a really good question! It’s pretty clichéd, but I’ve always been inspired by the darker side of things, so the themes of death and decay were pretty natural for me. I find the process of making music really cathartic, particularly when writing and recording, as it’s a way of processing and channeling negative emotions.

In terms of how songs are named, for me it really comes back to creating those enveloping atmospheres we’ve both discussed. For me, each has a particular ‘feel’ and has associations based around whatever it was I was channeling at that particular moment, and this combination tends to point towards a name. For instance, with ‘Ruptured Spleen’ I really find it evokes a feeling of intense pressure. It has this dense, pummeling atmosphere, which to me really made me think of that moment of intensity before something ruptures. Combine that with some of the bitterness I was feeling at the time, and you have ‘Ruptured Spleen.’

Of course, we share naming duties, and Dan actually named “Fractured Sternum,” but for me the atmospheres on that track are sharper and more brittle, while still retaining a percussive element, which lends itself to that name. This is why in my mind the track names weren’t arbitrary, but without the obvious sign posting provided by lyrics I could see why someone might think that! I think that’s a real benefit of our approach, it allows the listener to develop their own interpretation of what the track is about based on how it sounds and the minimal guidance of the title, and I think that’s a much more meaningful experience than saying it’s about this or that.  

CS: We’re premiering the video for “Gnarled Limbs” along with this interview. Can you tell us a bit about what to expect when hitting play?

Dan: “Gnarled Limbs” it a departure from the Catafalque tracks we’ve shared before. It embraces our industrial influences and is very beat driven. We’ve been told it has an early Godflesh/Killing Joke vibe, which pleased us immensely.  It also features vocals (barely intelligible though!). The video is as dark as the others we’ve released, but not in a gruesome way!

Thomas: The full immersive experience! Turn it up loud and sink into our darkly hypnotic world!

CS: What’s on the horizon for the both of you after Catafalque drops on July 26, either as Catafalque or separately?

Dan: Catafalque has a few things exciting that we’re working on, and we’ve already begun discussing the next album. The great thing is we don’t have the usual constraints and can do a lot of recording ourselves. I’ve personally got a lot of gigs with Mastiff, including a run of dates in Scotland and few festival appearances. Mastiff is also currently in the process of writing the follow up to Plague.

Thomas: The album is only the beginning! There are a few other Catafalque offerings in the pipeline, which may also include the follow-up. I’m also hoping that we’ll be able to take our horrible sounds on the road in the near future.

While it has been sorely neglected while I’ve been focusing on Catafalque, The Dead Yesterdays continues to churn out releases, including a full length that will be out on Void Singularity Records in the next couple of months.

CS: Thanks again for being willing to answer a few questions. I like to leave the final word to the artists – anything else you’d like to add?

Catafalque: Long live the new flesh.

 

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