Catharsis - Passion
“Holy terror” is one of the most intriguing strands in the metalcore tapestry. It’s all but forgotten today, its traditions carried on by bands influenced by the militant, nihilistic tone of holy terror acts more than by their ideology - and no, the term does not refer to bands signed to Holy Terror Records. Bloodlet is one of the movement’s most prominent artists and were signed to Victory Records, home of the movement’s originators, who were none other than Integrity - although it’s a bit of a misnomer to call it a “movement.” With Those Who Fear Tomorrow in 1991, Integrity blueprinted an intersection of thrash and hardcore and introduced the world to frontman Dwid Hellion, who is every bit as weird and ostentatious as his name. Among his weirdest exploits is the founding of the Church of Holy Terror (hello, catchy moniker), whose eschatological bent was pivotal to understanding Integrity’s pitch-black outlook and the development of many impressionable young minds in the hardcore scene of the 90s. Pavel, writing for the wonderful Trial By Ordeal, frames it better than I can:
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.
In effect, holy terror metalcore was a fringe cult shouting down the powers-that-be and accepting into their ranks any who bought into their fantastical stances on religion (which means Christianity) and politics (which means “anarchy”). Pavel delves a little deeper, teasing a political agenda out of this charming stew, but intriguing as it all is, it’s pointless to try to find a throughline to the holy terror movement or to seek any sort of reliable doctrine beyond the "stark brutality and lofty drama” that characterizes the sound of these bands. Unless everyone is as hardline as Dwid himself, something as flamboyant as “eschatological hardcore” is rapidly going to turn into an arms race.
As Pavel notes, Catharsis easily take the lead, “[evoking] the most classically ‘apocalyptic’ atmosphere” of the holy terror bands. Passion is regarded as the best example of their abilities and is frequently ranked high in the echelons of holy terror for good reason: it ups the ante established on their first record, Samsara, and pushes extremes not typically found to be worth pushing in hardcore and metalcore. Everything is big on Passion: the production is deep and dark and the songs are intricate and adventurous. Catharsis seem to be wobbling on the brink of some kind of emotional dissolution for the duration of the album, but not in the way a Saetia or The Saddest Landscape wobble. Catharsis seem to be fully in control of the shape and direction of their work no matter how convoluted it all gets. Generals must exude calm and authority even in the face of annihilation.
It’s throaty, anthemic shouting, barbed-wire riffing, and galloping drumwork from front to back, but it’s the way Catharsis arranges this barrage, and all the diversions they wedge in between, that elevates Passion above the ordinary. “Obsession” and “Panoptikon” leap up and down the volume scale, slinging chunky riffs and ominous build-ups, spoken-word, and double-bass. “Into the Eyeless Sockets of the Night” plumbs the low end of Catharsis’s sound with distorted bass grooves, corrosive harmonics, and pick-slide squiggles that turn the screws more efficiently than any doom metal song I can imagine. All through the album, it’s these touches - a phased riff foreshadowing a delayed explosion; snare hits panning from one ear to the other; phantasmagoric guitar harmonies - that hint at some awful conclusion, a fate that waits beyond the thirty-six minutes of Passion. Interestingly, it’s the shorter songs that oppress, and longer cuts like “The Witch’s Heart” and “Duende” that provide release through through cinematic structuring. Both offer back-to-back scenes of fist-pumping chuggery and haunted monologuing. “Duende” even pays tribute to Neurosis with an extended back-half of tribal tom rolling, zigzagging guitarlines, and leaden assertions that “this world is an evil place." It leads, with a strangled cry, into “Desert Without Mirages.”
“Probably the most shocking thing on the Passion record is the reggae song,”* Brian D. acknowledged several years after Catharsis dissolved, and he’s right: while both Nausea and The Clash beat Catharsis to the reggae-on-a-punk-record punch, the novelty of “Desert Without Mirages” remains intact, bolstered by the the fact that Catharsis is far heavier than either of those bands and part of a notoriously humorless genre niche. They pull this experiment off with aplomb, acing every reggae trope, providing both a respite from Passion’s grim metalcore and sustaining - even escalating - its doomsday mood through consistent lyrical work. “Sabbat” slams the shutters on this ray of light, plunging us back into despairing anti-Christian darkness with a subversive choir intro. Despite an uptempo pace and some war-anthem guitar melodies, every second seems doomed, every instrument oriented toward destruction. When the drumming launches into a blast section near the end of the track, it sounds like it’s speeding up to escape the return of the ghostly choir. When it does, everything slows down, the guitars vanish, and Brian D. goes quiet. The choir fades, leaving only the pounding of a lone drum to lead us into thunderous silence.
However silly this holy terror thing is conceptually, there’s no denying the thrill and, yeah, passion that the very best in the style can evoke. There’s a type of theatricality at which Catharsis excel that is sorely missing from bands too reliant on genre-bending and elaborate performances to simply write and play more challenging music. Although well within the constraints of hardcore and metalcore, Passion is venerated as a classic in virtually all circles aware of holy terror’s subliminal impact on the shape of metalcore to come. It stretches those lines and expand the ground the genre can cover by doing nothing more than that.
“The way you carry forward a tradition is by challenging it,” says Brian D. “It dies unless you challenge it at every link in the chain.”
Wherein Brian hilariously overanalyzes a subgenre of metal!