Originally planned for release in July, 2013, Catharsis Absolute, the third album from Avichi’s sole architect Andrew Markuszewski (a.k.a. Aamonael), ended up being pushed back until 2014, as its creator continued to toil away until he was completely satisfied with how the end result was presented. Such perfectionist tendencies are nothing new within the arts, but it’s commendable to see a modern-day musician disregard the trivial trappings of release schedules—strictly speaking from an artistic point of view, of course—in order to fully indulge himself. It also has to be said that Avichi’s label, Profound Lore, came out looking all the better because of its understanding and patience in this matter, further cementing its reputation as being a label that allows its artists full control to satisfy their creative yearnings.
Markuszewski’s pedigree in extreme metal is well known to anyone who has followed US black metal, specifically his work as a member of the now-defunct Nachtmystium, as well as the despicable Lord Mantis (who will also have an album out this year) and the subject of this piece, Avichi. Prior to Catharsis Absolute, Avichi released two studio albums, which gave Markuszewski an outlet outside of his other ventures to further explore dissonant and melodic black metal riffs and elaborate arrangements with little input from other individuals. Also released by Profound Lore, 2011’s The Devil’s Fractal showed signs of sophistication edging its way into Avichi’s compositions, while, thematically, Markuszewski delved into the history of Lucifer across seven chapters. Taking influence from USBM’s signature players—bands like Krieg or Judas Iscariot—and France’s black metal luminaries—bands like Deathspell Omega or Arkhon Infaustus—Markuszewski’s sought purity through the collision of the orthodox and unorthodox characteristics of black metal, which bore an album raging with difficult moments and moments of palatable melodicism. Catharsis Absolute is a further refinement of this paradigm, an album that is a showcase of Markuszewski’s well-rounded multi-instrumental skills and strengthened spirit as a songwriting/orchestrator.
For the first time under Avichi’s burning flag, Markuszewski handles every instrument himself (this is the first ever recording to feature him on drums). Through the use training manuals and intense lessons, Markuszewski put himself “through a Spartan workout of drumming”, as he explained to Decibel last year, and the fruits of his labours do not go unnoticed throughout Catharsis Absolute. The major problem with one-man black metal projects usually lies with inept drumming that, while it lends the music a certain mystique, sounds flat and crude: either a conveyor belt of loose blast beats or the one-two plod of 4/4 beat. Markuszewski’s drumming is a lot sharper than that of his reclusive contemporaries, and he exhibits a flexibility that suits the varied material he has written for Catharsis Absolute—especially the changes in tempo, the measured fills, and the outbursts of controlled aggression he wields beneath riffs and screams as commanding as those found in “Voice of Intuition”.
Catharsis Absolute begins and ends with two pieces of music played entirely on a Steinway piano: “Repercussion”, a short, simple but effective mood-setter; and “Catharsis Absolute”, a seven-minute piece, which is also technically simple and may be a couple of minutes too long considering the lack of ground it covers. Saying that, the title-track is in line with the hypnotic pull of the album, and its approach recalls Burzum’s synth track “Tomhet”, off Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, in that it contrasts with the music that precedes it but doesn’t sound out of place in the context of the album as a whole. Nonetheless, the music positioned within the walls of these two passive piano-led tracks should be more familiar to fans of Markuszewski’s past work. “Lightweaver”, for example, sounds like the best song Nachtmystium never wrote. Its catchiness is a new development for Avichi, with an audible post-punk bass-line (thanks to the mixing prowess of Mr. Sanford Parker) holding its ground as tremolo-heavy riffs and tight blasts grate against each other before a killer black ’n’ roll riff, propelled by a thumping back-beat, kicks out with the force of a hoofed creature from below.
What is interesting about “Lightweaver”, from a songwriting point of view, is that, the surging section is not used as the song’s focal point. Rather, it’s sparsely used, which adds to its impact, and the real focal point reveals itself as the song progresses. Deft songwriting such as this is also found in the remaining songs of Catharsis Absolute. “Flames in My Eyes” takes complete charge after the last note of “Repercussion”, and although it is built using traditional black metal traits, its considerably more condensed and purposeful than anything off The Devil’s Fractal. It’s almost comparable to Rotting Christ’s recent distillation of their sound.
It is the 12-plus minutes of “All Gods Fall”, however, that truly moves Avichi into uncharted musical territory and highlights Markuszewski’s ambitions. “All Gods Fall” is an atmospheric slow-build of a song which leans more so on the cinematic post-metal of Cult of Luna’s recent work—particularly their austere 2013 opus Vertikal—than, say, black metal bands like Katharsis or Absu. This album’s centrepiece is given time to fully develop through its uncomplicated arrangement; the song slowly enshrouds instead of swarming around the listener with tangential black metal riffs probing in ten different directions. “All Gods Fall” is also as a good a summarization as any of what Catharsis Absolute sets out to achieve (and does achieve) through decisive and meticulously crafted songs: the guitar leads are complementary and understated; the tribal tom-rhythms and chanting vocals are archaic and rousing; and most importantly, Markuszewski is confident enough not to cram in every idea he has in his head.
“Refinement” is a word that, when used to describe an artist’s later work, can turn fans off before they hear a note. The negative connotations coming from the word, especially when it’s used in the context of a grim and spiky genre like black metal, can present the wrong message: that the artist has softened and their resolve has weakened. In all actuality, “refinement” means a strengthening of wills and intelligence to channel the true essence of the artist into the music. Catharsis Absolute, as mentioned above, demands to be described as refined. This album marks the point in Markuszewski’s career where he does not need to maintain toxic relationships to excel creatively; his muse is found in the dark arts and his self-imposed isolation as well as his belief in his ever-evolving talents.
When recently questioned by Steel for Brains’ main-man Jonathan Dick about the importance of isolation during the writing process of “one-man black metal”, Markuszewski confirmed it as being “inherit to the writing process”. He further explained that “one-man black metal” is itself “unequivocally egotistical” and that “ego is by its nature an isolated form”. There is plenty of truth to this, and according to Catharsis Absolute, and the fact that Markuszewski now has firm command of every instrument necessary to craft his music, should he continue to remain egotistical with regard to his endeavours as Avichi, we certainly have yet to hear the best from one of the most exciting artists in USBM today.