Promising sizzle in need of explosion
Liars Record is a record label founded by Amigo the Devil, which for a while has only consisted of himself and raucous bluegrass duo Tejon Street Corner Thieves. Given that pedigree, any new signing would be exciting. Enter Katacombs, an Austin-based artist firmly entrenched in Amigo’s murderfolk-schtick. With this debut EP, Katerina Kiranos utilizes a swath of guitar layers, slamming drums and various effects and orchestral instrumentation to create a foreboding atmosphere. The skeleton for a great EP is here, but a third-act sag hangs over most of the songs as there is not enough to drive them home.
This is an instrumentally dense experience: guitars ranging from overdriven distortion to knotted twang, plinking pianos and slamming drums. Outside of some synthetic percussion in the form of a cracking handclap on “Rip Torn” that might’ve sounded good if they weren’t buried so deep in the mix, it all sounds great. The electronic and organic elements work well together and the sheer variety of guitar textures within each song is something to behold. The opening clanging steel guitar of “You Will Not” sets the stage for punctual power chords. There’s a ton of interesting texture to mine from each track as well, such as the beautiful flute halfway through “Rip Torn.” On a sonic level, You Will Not is a keeper.
Kiranos’ huskier tone is a natural fit for this music, adding to the eeriness without feeling like she’s over-singing. The backing vocals on “Rip Torn” and “Como un Rayo” add intimacy and precision in the deluge of musical tones and the transition between Spanish and English feels natural. Right from the opening track “Blue Beard,” Kiranos shows a knack for vivid imagery as she buries her bones with her mother’s, visualizing that she is falling victim to the same misogynistic cruelty as her mother. Perhaps she could afford to cut loose once in a while, but she’s got a smoky allure and charisma that is well-supported by the subtle multi-tracking and the eerie lyrics.
Sadly, for an album going for catharsis, a lot of the songs are lacking a climax or crescendo to bring it all together. Take the opener, “Blue Beard,” which has a wonderful build with its steady drums and tense, looping guitar notes only to end with a minute-long spoken word passage. Such a decision would make sense if it ended on a final hook or was the capstone to a 7 or 8-minute long epic suite, but neither of these reflects the song. It’s not like any of it is boring; the pianos becoming more prominent against the twisting acoustics and distant cooing on “Rip Torn” is very pretty, and the two main guitar leads on “Swamp Song” hypnotically curl around each other in the bridge. They just do not rise in intensity enough, either in terms of volume or Kiranos’ delivery.
The final song, “Long Way Home,” starts off a little lethargic, with drums that don’t have the same slamming impact as previous tracks and no interesting instrumental layers to help it stand out. Then, after a few meandering minutes, Katakombs delivers what the rest of the record has desperately needed: an overblown guitar solo that brings the song together. In a strange twist, this is a Tom Waits cover, and that guitar solo is not in the original; Kiranos had sharp creative instincts to make this addition. It’s these kinds of crescendos that would make this record feel complete, whether it be through guitar, piano solos or Kiranos going for more extreme vocals. Going down the route of a Chelsea Wolfe, who gradually added harrowing screams to her gothic atmosphere, would serve her well.
Regardless of a lack of payoff, Katacombs is definitely someone to watch out for, as You Will Not showcases a potent singular vision unbefitting a debut EP. The atmosphere, charisma and writing are ready; all it needs is slightly more developed compositions to put it over the top, which she’s proven capable of with the additions to “Long Way Home.”