Through golden doorways passing late
At sunset. Coming to where I cling:
The town which I possess in my dreams"
One Word Review: Mesmerizing
From far shores of deepest tranquility to stormy peaks of maddening crescendos, this is one of the rare albums that has it all.
Kadath Decoded is truly a hidden gem, one that, to my best knowledge, is almost impossible to find, as the band has ceased to exist and the album is long out of print. I got my hands on it by purchasing it directly from the band and was only made aware of it's existence by reading a glowing review in the Danish metal magazine Metalized back in 1995 (Thanks Claus).
When I got the album I was in for a surprise. Never had I heard anything like it. It was extreme and unique in every way. Extreme in the way that the band went to emotional and musical extremes to convey their message. It felt like they wore their heart on their sleeve and put true honesty into their music, without thinking about anything else than how to convey their music in the best way. Unique in the way that no other band I had ever heard sounded like this and the band did not sound like they were inspired by any other band in particular. They sounded completely like themselves and captured such a rich atmosphere, one that has never been bettered. For a debut album, this is astounding.
I've been struggling with this review for many years. How was I to put into words, the magical essence I felt whilst listening to the album, that spine tingling sensation? How could I possibly extract that without hurting its innermost core? I'm still not sure, but I have waited long enough.
Kadath Decoded is a concept album, based upon the work of H.P. Lovecraft. To say that the album captures a Lovecraftian atmosphere would be a lie, since I have never actually read any of his work, so I can't say, but what I can say is that the album captures a deep and instantly recognizable atmosphere, unlike anything I have experienced before. This is brought to life among layers of enchanting musical passages, where listening to the music adheres to going on a long journey, starting out as a peaceful, tranquil experience, slowly picking up speed and taking flight as immense musical complexity takes over and suddenly you find yourself falling through the infinite vastness of space, passing through wondrous yet foreboding imagery on your way to an unknown ending.
Several key elements make Payne's Gray really special:
One is Haluk Balicki and Hagen Schmidt, who share vocal duties and have very similar voices, using this semblance to conjure some incredibly powerful harmonies, borderline magical and unlike anything I have heard in this genre. I find the effect of their voices combined to be extraordinary. They go all-in and on rare occasions they reach highs which feel forced, an example is during the climax to The Cavern of Flame. This grates slightly, but the advantage of this approach is that it feels completely honest and has a tendency to underline the atmosphere in a most dramatic way. Hagen and Haluk are really unique and bring the album to a whole other level. I wish more bands would experiment with something like this.
Another specialty of the band is their occasional use of flute to bring just the right touch to the atmosphere.
The album's artwork is another element, perfectly capturing the ominous, dreamlike atmosphere. The cover unfolds to a big poster on one side and the other has the lyrics and what I think is a German tribute to H.P. Lovecraft.
Yet another is a sense I get, that the band has a joy of playing. They are not in a rush and take their time to make each song reach its potential. Each instrument holds intricate detail and each holds part of the key to the unique atmosphere. Tomek Turek's keyboard and piano work establish the mystical surroundings, while Jan Schröder's guitar work, both acoustic and electric, and Martin Manhardt's bass breathe life into the music, with Daniel Hermann's drums and percussion delivering an effective groove, keeping things tight, yet relaxed.
Bringing all these elements together to form a special unity, is a marvelous production, which delivers a truly dynamic sound, rising and falling in tune with the music. In addition to that, the sound is clear, layered and each instrument has a place. This makes it a joy to focus on just one instrument or the whole thing at once. The dynamic sound often brings extra intensity to the album. Sunset City is a good example of this.
Before I briefly touch upon a few of the songs, I will say that together they provide the means to which this journey succeeds. None of them could be left out, but I have a few favorites.
Dream Sequence and Sunset City deliver a tranquil introduction to the album. These two songs put the listener in a state of complete relaxation and eases you into a very special state of mind, I find myself transfixed by the intricate musical tapestry these two songs weave. I love that deep pounding drum in the background of Dream Sequence. It works up an ominous atmosphere. The use of flute brings the atmosphere to another level and there is just a special vibe to the whole thing.
Sunset City adds numerous elements to the atmosphere, with the two singers' playful harmonies being a highlight, as they slowly rise in grandeur through the song. Bass, drums, piano and guitar hold vast detail and the song just has a special flow, perfectly captured, as the sound rises in strength and intensity until the end. What an introduction!
After The Cavern of Flame ups the intensity several notches, Moonlight Waters takes you that final step to another dimension. A dreamy, mystical atmosphere reigns throughout the song and the music is like a maze of intricate detail, where you have no idea what will await you around the next corner. Atmosphere, vocal harmonies and musical intensity all convene into a single, excuse my wording, motherfucker of a song, the likes of which has not been heard since. Moonlight Waters truly is a remarkable song and an incredible achievement.
A Hymn To The Cats and Reaching Kadath are other favorites.
Several instrumentals litter the album, especially in its later part and each of these add to the atmosphere.
Unfortunately, Payne's Gray is no more. This was their first full length album and along with a five track EP, their only output. In this light, it is rather incredible, the effect this album has made on my musical universe, and I feel sort of blessed to have discovered it when I did.
Bottom line: Kadath Decoded is a rare musical journey. Essential for fans of Fates Warning, Dream Theater and Psychotic Waltz, but of worth to anyone with an interest in good music. If you manage to find it, you are in for a unique and very special experience.
"For you know that your gold and marble city of wonder
Is only the sum of what you have seen and loved in youth.
This loveliness, moulded, crystallised and polished by years
Of memory and dreaming is your terraced wonder of elusive sunsets"
Written By Steen
Online: Sunday, February 14, 2016