Record Revisited: Catharsis / ‘Samsara’ (2000)
Revisited by: Spencer Ackerman (Spencer writes about things that make us totally think about like, important stuff, and junk. You can find his musings on punk rock and national security on his website. He is a senior writer for WIRED.com so we follow him closely for any news of cyborgs rising up and killing us all.)
How does it hold up?
In retrospect, Catharsis was a prog band.
See if this distillation of the spirit of prog doesn’t apply for North Carolina’s best anarcho-metalcore band. This is from Dave Weigel’s excellent Slate series on prog rock, quoting the singer of some UK proto-prog band called The Nice: “We’re improvising on European structures. Improvisation can be around any form of music, so we’re taking European work. We’re not American Negros, so we can’t really improvise and feel the way they can.”
Fine, Catharsis’ first LP doesn’t go quite that far. This is still your standard bass/drums/guitar/vocals combination. But perhaps more than any other hardcore band besides Neurosis, Catharsis went very far down the rabbit hole leading away from blues-based rock. The songs on Samsara are more likely to contain movements than verses: guitar patterns shade into variations rather than switching from verses to choruses. Drummer Alexi was a hardcore version of Neil Peart: whether it’s frenetic double kicks or weird tom patterns, he’s never not doing something. Catharsis doesn’t get nearly the credit it deserves for being an improvisational band that’s woven tightly, and Samsara was that band’s high-water mark, with guitarist Live Fast Dan Young and bassist Matt riding on Alexi’s earth-shaking drums. They preferred to play a song for eight minutes rather than two, and why not start it off with some weird orchestral sample of a creepy woman singing something in French or whatever? “Bow Down” is the closest this record has to a straightforward hardcore song, and it feels like an accessible entrance point to a very unconventional record. Samsara is an aria with gallopy beats and breakdowns.
The amazing thing about Catharsis was that the music was besides the point. There’s “B.,” as he credited himself here, the mysterious singer and CrimethInc. propagandist, using his musicians to lure in the audience to overcomplicated disquisitions about abandoning the bourgeois vale of tears that America bequeathed you. B. was really trying to build an army of homeless anarchists out of kids who showed up to mosh next to a friend’s mom’s washer-dryer. “Under a carnivorous god of deceit,” he asked, “could it be perhaps you feel incomplete?” And here the kids answered: Maybe, I guess? Could you play “Bow Down” already, because you’re weirding me out, especially the way you enjoy spitting at the ceiling.
That is Catharsis’ prog legacy: for all of Samsara’s fetishization of raw emotion, it’s intensely cerebral and difficult to access. (Not the best strategy for recruiting that army.) I’ve loved this record for half my life, down to the photocopied insert full of lyrics I still don’t understand, and the apology “You do not have the original lyric sheet to the ‘Samsara’ record because Good Life [the Euro label that released it] decided not to include them” scrawled in B.’s adorably childlike handwriting. I last listened to this LP while doing the least Catharsis-y thing I could think of: reading tips for increasing deadlift yield in an issue of Men’s Health on my new Google Nexus 7 tablet on my expensive couch nestled in my high-rise condo building. Samsara sounded great — you know, for a prog album.
Re-buy / Download / Pretend you never owned it:
Download immediately. Catharsis would disapprove of you spending money for its music.