Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Long Hundred 003/100: Catharsis - Samsara

…in which a group of anarchists created a molotov cocktail of death metal, crust, and doom, accidentally inventing metalcore as we know it.

[This is part of a series of posts dedicated to 100 albums I feel lucky to have heard. The full list and a more detailed explanation of the series can be found here.]

When people hear that I saw Catharsis at CBGBs in 1997, some assume that I'm lying. The funny thing is, back in 1997, no one cared.

It was soon after I moved to NY for college, and had started attending CB's Sunday matinee shows. I had never heard of any of the bands on the bill that night; but since the previous weeks introduced me to the Slayerized hardcore of All Out War and the apocalyptic crust of Logical Nonsense, I figured I could do worse than show up and see a few bands I'd never heard of. [If I remember correctly, two of the other acts that played that day were groundbreaking in their own right: The crushingly heavy hardcore of Jesuit and the weepy screamo of Saetia. And I don't remember seeing more than a couple dozen people at that show.]

But that bill was all about Catharsis. As a metalhead in a one-sided love affair with hardcore, they were an amalgamation of everything that was new and exciting to me at the time: Single chord chugging, abrasive crust speed, and an irate everyman yelling socially conscious lyrics. Even the fact that some of their members had long hair like me was unusual, and ingratiated them to me further.

By the mid-90's, pilfered Slayer parts and palm muted chugging had already become a regular part of hardcore albums, thanks to bands like Earth Crisis and Integrity; but Samsara took the metal influence further than any of their contemporaries. Phrygian scale riffs that sounded like they fell off a Dismember album jutted up against extended doom jams - the kind that Black Flag introduced to hardcore when they let their own metal freak flag fly. Tribal drums that would have been equally at home on a Sepultura or Neurosis album rumbled underneath ominous basslines. The lyrics - venomous anti-Christian screeds - were more on the wavelength of bands like Deicide and Entombed than the myopic scene-related whining of late 90's hardcore.

In the great anarchist tradition, Catharsis mixed different ingredients based on their incendiary properties. They weren't out to form a new sub-genre; they were simply ignoring the rules that were already in place. None of the songs on Samsara resemble any of the others. Their next release, Passion, is in many ways even heavier than its predecessor; but Samsara is the Catharsis album nearest and dearest to my heart.

As well read anarchists, the members of Catharsis were no doubt aware that revolution devours its children; not long after their demise, newer bands like Shadows Fall appropriated what was incendiary about Catharsis, watering it down and cleaning it up for the consumption of a more conservative (read: metal) audience. Later, Killswitch Engage and As I Lay Dying would refine the formula, and then doggedly stick to it like they were making blue meth. More gallingly, metal, as re-imagined by a visionary hardcore band, was being repackaged and resold to clueless noobs as "hardcore" - an Ouroboros of recycled influences and forgotten history.
But it doesn't matter. As the vast majority of metalcore bands disappear in the rear-view mirror, relics of a previous decade as embarrassing as Myspace or Napoleon Dynamite quotes, Samsara stands head and shoulders above everything that came after it. It's also a reminder of a time in my life when every week-end brought with it exciting new bands, new sounds, and seemingly new forms of heavy music, and when all I had to do to watch history being made was show up.