Based in Lisbon, Portugal, Katabatic released their first EP “Vago” in 2006. After touring the country and providing support for a number of Portuguese bands, their first full length release “Heavy Water” is symptomatic of a band that are secure now with their identity and confident to release an album of ambitious instrumentals.
The opening ‘Wonder Room’ enters the consciousness with a clang of guitar, bass and drum. Held together on a solid bass line foundation, the tune swerves in a number of directions, with wordless vocals sweeping ghost like across the mix, and strident guitar progressions providing a variety of textures and colours. There are spaces left to allow reflection and there are changes in mood to keep the listener attentive. The tune does, however, end abruptly before ‘Light Hexagons’ takes over. Similar in atmosphere and riding along on similar hypnotic instrumental motifs, the listener is taken on a wordless journey, sometimes delicate and caressing, sometimes untamed and imposing.
Correspondingly ‘Morsa’ is an expedition through the emotions, carried along on the momentum of crashing cymbals and fragile guitar lines. One of the longer pieces on the album, ‘Anova’ at eleven minutes, has the space to expand and explore further territory. Again, wordless vocals lend the tune not only an ethereal quality, but a sense of humanity. Relying less on expansive riffs and driving chord progressions, ‘Anova’ feels more contemplative and brooding. Music labelled “post rock” can often be criticised for following the standard quiet-loud-louder-quieter-quiet formula, which, to some extent is true here. What Katabatic do achieve, with some success, is that the pattern never appears contrived, and each piece seems to swell and contract organically.
The title track ‘Heavy Water’ appears an innocent pause in proceedings before ‘Girlaxia’, featuring a variety of grubby guitar riffs, and soaring guitar lines, and, like a katabatic wind, brushes any melancholia to one side and returns to leading the listener hand in hand on their voyage through Katabatic’s psyche. Indeed, both ‘Girlaxia’ and the final track ‘Abandonica’, feature some of the most uplifting music on this release, and leave one to consider how the familiar formula for “post rock” can be mutated to break boundaries and keep the name attractive.
The band themselves tag the music as “shoe gaze” on their Bandcamp site, but listening to this album the listener would be looking to the stars and considering their very being, rather than gazing at their shoes. There are a number of bands around the world who produce epic, elongated sound sculptures in this style, think of bands such as Pelican and Isis. “Heavy Water” is, however, successful in keeping this genre of music fresh, and hopefully Katabatic will work on that ability and push the borders that little bit further in future.