Perhaps one of the most prominent arguments against noise as a genre is that it’s often so formless as to be unrecognisable as music. But where extreme metal is sometimes meticulously crafted to be as stifling as possible, the best noise artists can craft freeform compositions that leave room for the imagination. This much is very much the intended goal of newcomers Catafalque, a duo comprised of Mastiff’s Dan Dolby and The Dead Yesterday’s Thomas Ozers, whose debut release revels in dark subject matter, crafting enveloping but morose tracks that are as alluring as they are frightening.
The band began when Dolby approached Ozers about a collaboration. Ozers had previously enjoyed Dolby’s short-lived solo drone/doom project Mostly Hair And Bones, and his own project The Dead Yesterdays had submitted tracks to collaborations put together by Dolby’s netlabel Throne Of Bael Records. “Mostly Hair And Bones reminded me of some of the bands which inspired me to start recording in the first place,” Ozers tells us. “So when Dan approached me about a possible collab I took him up on it immediately. I was pretty excited about the kind of sound we’d get from combining our styles, but honestly the result far exceeded my expectations.”
Their self-titled debut release was written and recorded back in April using their own home recording equipment, with the band sharing files online from across cities. They would come up with initial ideas then both take the time to build on them. “It really just extended that ethos of collaboration,” says Ozers, who notes that working with someone else is his favourite aspect of the band – after all, he did just spend a decade creating solo noise projects. “I’ve found it really liberating either laying down some ideas without any real expectations of where they should go next, and waiting to see what Dan does with them, or just listening to his tracks until I start to get a sense of what I might be able to add to them.”
For Dolby, the chance to explore something new was what he found most exciting about the project. “I love being in Mastiff but I’ve always worked on experimental music too and Catafalque give me the opportunity to fuse my experimental side with my heavy side. It’s also great working with Thomas who approaches things differently than me. Catafalque is a purely collaborative effort that would not work if it wasn’t the both of us doing it.”
The result of this collaboration is, in some ways, what you might expect looking at Ozers and Dolby’s previous output – Catafalque’s music is dank and doomy like Mastiff but formless and atmospheric like The Dead Yesterdays. However, through collaboration the duo have also crafted something completely new and enamouring in its own right, at least to those with an affinity for noise, drone and doom. “Noise music takes many forms so people who say that it’s formless or ‘not really music’ maybe need to broaden their horizons,” says Dolby. “You do need to have an open mind to listen to some of it though. I feel it’s the ultimate mode of aural expression and something you can easily get lost in.”
For Ozers, the prevailing selling point is the genre’s lack of form. “I love the way you can let it just wash over you,” he says. “And you can listen to the same track ten times and hear different elements of the mix each time, especially if you’re listening in a variety of settings! I also like how, as a genre, it can go from ludicrous and completely tongue-in-cheek to really carefully conceived and academic. There’s something for every mood.”
For Catafalque’s output, that mood is inspired by bands like Sunn O))), mid-period Ministry and The Body, whilst Ozers also cites Swans, Sumac, Full Of Hell and Endon. In a more real sense, though, the album’s dark nature comes from the everyday anxieties that come with living in such dire times. “I get out a lot of my frustrations regarding the state of the world,” Dolby tells us. “And the impact it will have on the future for my son. A lot of anguish, despair and anger.”
Ozers also mentions anger as an influence. “It’s my rage at the state of the world,” be begins. “As well as things from my personal life, which inspire me and that I channel into my music. Honestly though, there’s such a thing as too much inspiration! I mean for fucks sake as I’m writing this a sitting US President is tweeting blatantly white nationalist racist attacks on congresswomen, it’s utterly disgusting.”
It’s easy to see how the fucked state of the world is palpable in Catafalque’s music, with the ominous atmosphere acting quite perfectly as a metaphor for how the future of the world looks. But what that means to each listener may vary. You may hear the reverberating chimes and impenetrable fuzz and think of industrialisation and the death of the natural world, or you may read it as a representation of anxiety brought on by the rise of the far-right or political upheavals like Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidency. The tracks can also be read in a more personal way, of course, with Dolby noting that sorrow and loss play a big part for him personally. “Over the last ten years I have, as have many people I know, struggled with intense bouts of anxiety and depression,” he tells us. “Each day is hard and I try to convey this in the music we write.”
“I’d say struggle, entropy and isolation are three of the themes I return to most frequently,” Ozers adds. “And they all kind of intertwine. I guess it’s the classic existential dilemma and struggle to find meaning in the face of constant change and decay.”
These similar but differing inspirations perhaps reflect noise music’s best trait, with its freeform compositions allowing room for listeners to impart their own experiences onto the music and thus take from it what they will. As always, it is the subtleties that prove most effective in this regard. The cavernous static of ‘Ruptured Spleen’, for instance, would be somewhat dull were it not for the distorted clanging that loops in the background, rising and fading in the mix with an ominous echo ever-present. The mind wanders as you struggle to picture the source of the sound – but do you really want to know?
‘Gnarled Limbs’ kicks off with a beat that would seem to be heading towards a more traditional song before it’s slowly engulfed by an expanding wave of noise, the weighty hammering of the digitised percussion churning on like a machine for almost the entirety of the eleven-minute track, whilst high-pitched scratches turn an imposing aura into a downright confrontational one, their piercing tone sounding eerily similar to tortured screams. Once again, though, the noise keeps things vague enough as to make such propositions merely suggestive.
Noise music paints a picture in the listener’s mind, but as Dolby notes, that picture is drawn by the listener as well as the artist. “I totally agree with noise music painting a picture but we both like to leave things up to interpretation. I’d hate to feel like I was telling someone what they should be feeling when listening to Catafalque. Each track established different emotions in me personally whilst working on them and I know the same goes for Thomas.”
“I guess it really depends on the style of picture being painted!” Ozers adds in response. “No one could accuse us of attempting Realism, and I’d see us as being much closer to Abstract Impressionism. What we construct ultimately is an atmosphere, an experience, and I like to think that this provides a rudimentary framework on which listeners can create their own interpretation of our tracks.”
The band have their own interpretations, of course, and these may differ from those of their listeners, but there is nevertheless a consistent theme throughout the record. The cover art seems to be a skull turned into an instrument – a comment perhaps on the band’s knack for turning pain and anguish into music? Many of the tracks reference specific injuries, surely shaping the image that will form in the audience’s mind as they make their way through the songs.
“We both came up with the song titles separately to be honest,” Dolby admits. “Again, they were born out of how the tracks made us feel. ‘Fractured Sternum’, for instance, has a sharp beat that reminded me of the pain experienced when I actually fractured my sternum as a child. Breathing was fucking hard and I felt the song hints at this. The subject matter is inherently dark and this was our intended aesthetic.”
The naming of their tracks is not necessarily about shaping people’s perceptions of the songs, Ozers explains, rather about capturing a sense of the atmosphere the duo get from each track, as well as the headspace they were in whilst recording the track. “There’s no ‘right’ interpretation for those titles,” he says. “And hopefully they’ll just provide a foundation for people to create their own interpretations.”
Listeners will have time to let those interpretations take form as the duo work on a second album, which is already underway. “We’d originally planned to take a break from recording,” Ozers tells us. “But the inspiration kept coming so we’ve not stopped yet!”
They’re also working on a couple of splits and are, according to Dolby, “100% committed to taking our aural filth on the road.” And with influences like Sunn O))) and a sound that relies on enveloping waves of stuttering noise and doomy drone, those shows are guaranteed to be loud as all hell – get excited.
Catafalque is out now on Trepanation Recordings. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr