Thursday, February 2, 2012
Get Into: Catharsis (and Holy Terror)
If you are a straight up Metal Dude who has never really listened to hardcore, here's some shit that should hook you in. For the last couple days I've been completely immersed in the world of Holy Terror. Unlike beatdown or crustcore or powerviolence or fastcore, Holy Terror isn't really a subgenre, because it's hard to pin down why these bands sound different from anybody else playing d-beats and breakdowns. It's more of a movement of like-minded bands, and it all radiated out from Integrity during the 90s. While Hatebreed were perfecting a streamlined, punchy brand of jock aggression, Integrity were using some similar elements to develop music with a completely different feel. They worshiped Cro-Mags and Discharge, but also paid careful attention to the sounds and symbols of early extreme metal. Even on their first album, Those Who Fear Tomorrow, Integrity were beginning to bring the stark brutality and lofty drama that have become the Holy Terror aesthetic.
The name is derived from The Church of Holy Terror, a theosophist cult founded by Integrity frontman Dwid Hellion. It has roots in the Process Church of The Final Judgment, as well as the ancient gnostic tradition, and seems like a kind of Satanic re-interpretation of Christianity. Or something like that. But being a Holy Terror band never meant toeing Dwid's ideological line, or even sounding a lot like Integrity. What these bands had in common was imagination: Hardcore had been a rigidly prosaic genre of music, obsessing over politics, scene beef, or tough-guy bravado, but Holy Terror bands pushed beyond that, striving towards a kind of spiritual revelation. They wanted to create eschatological hardcore, not just bemoaning the coming apocalypse but actively rallying the troops for the final battle.
Of everything in this vein I've heard thus far--and there's still a lot more to hear--Catharsis evoke the most classically "apocalyptic" atmosphere. Their two full-lengths, Samsara (1997) and Passion (1999), are as grandiose as hardcore gets, and do pretty much everything a good metal album should do. Catharsis can hardly be accused of aping Integrity's monolithic thrash'n'chug. Instead, they raced through intricate, through-composed songs full of exultant leads and some pretty grim tremolo harmonies. Tracks like "Choose Your Heaven" have far more genuine melody than "epic crust" ever did. They did draw on the formal tropes of primitive metallic hardcore--the thrashing fast parts, the half-time buildups, the chug breakdowns--but these show up less as discrete musical building blocks than as fleeting moments within a torrent of rage pouring over everything in its path. They did some pretty weird shit too, like the last two tracks on Passion. "Desert Without Mirages" is a surprisingly convincing cut of brooding metallic reggae, and "Sabbat" is based on a sample of that wailing Mediterranean folk singing you might know from the latest Rotting Christ album or The 300. Totally pretentious gestures, especially from the perspective of the hardcore rulebook, but this is the kind of daring, outrageous stuff that makes music fun to listen to.
Their frontman, Brian, brings some totally bestial roars that wouldn't be out of place on a black-thrash album, as well as a strongly defined anarchist agenda. He was apparently known for long-winded preachiness, but this must be based more on his monologues between songs than the lyrics themselves, which often aren't overtly political. From the song titles and moments of intelligible singing, it seems like they're mostly about the destruction and/or subversion of Christian ideals. But I think his lyrics do have a political significance. My guess is that Catharsis have less to do with today's bullshit "be nice to living things" anarchy than with the explicitly Satanic anarchy of the late 19th century, when opposition to state power was cast in religious terms. The first militant anarchists saw how conservative justifications of state power drew heavily on old theological arguments, and aligned their war against the god-like Sovereign with a war on the sovereign God. For these guys, smashing the state was just part of a broader struggle to throw off millenia of internalized servitude.
Still, despite the fact that these guys were probably militant anti-theists, this is absolutely religious music. Filled with the wrath and jubilation of single-minded fanaticism, it's a fitting soundtrack to some ragged outland prophet calling down the doom of a decadent city. But for Catharsis, as for the other Holy Terror bands, spiritual experience isn't confined to the spectral "beyond" or its miraculous intrusions on our daily life. Rather, it's about a kind of material transcendence found in the violent ecstasy of the circle pit.
While I've become more and more interested in Holy Terror shit over the last couple years, I owe a big thank you to JGD of The Living Doorway for turning me on to more bands on this scene (including Catharsis) with his post on Ascension a few days ago. He's done a number of great posts on this stuff, as well as other strange and extreme relics from the 90s, a decade that's long been a glaring gap in my hardcore chronology ("Uhh... Converge? Hope Con? Refused?"). All the relevant Mediafire links are over there, along with some pretty hilarious write-ups. Here's Passion and here's Samsara. Check that shit out.