Paul Catten – Themes and Variations Vol. 2 (Review)

Paul CattenPaul Catten is a prolific UK extreme metal artist and this is his latest album of electronic orchestral music.

Known for his many contributions to the UK music scene, (Lazarus Blackstar, Medulla Nocte, Murder One, Barrabus, Bedwetter, to name but a few), he also undertakes some lesser known forays into the land of electronic music.

In the artist’s own words, “A follow up to 2011’s Themes and Variations Vol. 1, this brings about more strings, electronics and orchestral related madness”. This is as good a summary as any of the music that’s contained on this release, although it doesn’t properly prepare you for how accomplished and affecting this collection of tracks can be.

You can think of this almost as soundtrack music, as it’s certainly cinematic enough both in scope and quality. Moments of this release are sincerely haunting and reflective, with beautiful piano and gorgeous strings creating some quite heavenly atmospheres. Swirling electronics frequently accompany this, making for a wonderful juxtaposition that works marvellously as each aspect of the music enhances each other, usually because they’re done in a way that’s not antagonistic to what the other one is doing. Of course, sometimes either the piano/strings or electronics take over and assume prominence, before usually commingling once more to great effect.

The music is occasionally punctuated by harsher noise, but this is a relatively rare occurrence compared to the bulk of the aforementioned content here. The last track, the 10-second Glaucoma Tinted Spectacles, even takes this to new heights, essentially being a grindcore track straight out of the Bedwetter school of grind. It should sound out of place here, and it does, but not as much as you’d think.

As I’ve stated before on this site, I’m not the biggest fan of electronic noise, as most of the time I find it fails to hold my attention or connect to me in any significant way. There are exceptions to this, of course, when it’s done very well indeed, (Gridfailure, Boris/Merzbow, for example). I can now add Paul Catten’s work to this rather exclusive list; in fact, I can actually put it at the top of said list, as not only does this album contain an engaging electronic noise component, but because it’s added to and enhanced by an orchestral score, it means that this collection of music is incredibly affecting, emotive, and engaging.

A real triumph of vision and style.

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