On the 13th of December 1981, Wojciech Jaruzelski proclaimed the establishment of the martial law in Poland on the national television. In the following one and half years, the regime of the People’s Republic of Poland tried to curb the protests and strikes by the Solidarność Union. As we know today, the army, the food rationing and the curfews didn’t stop anything, on the contrary.
Artists of that time could naturally not escape the context they found themselves in; for example a lot of the very popular post-punk and new-wave of the time took a gloomier turn, but it seems that by 1984, all imposed artistic limitations started to become ineffective against the discontent but also the creative revolution setting in the minds of the youth. The most prominent manifestations of this rebellious atmosphere were the Jarocin festivals, already starting strongly in 1980 with predominantly inoffensive bands, but also a few initial music shocks, be it the new wave frantic Manaam and the punk band Nocne Szczury. In 1984 however, the festival was an epicenter of the more spectacular polish rock outbursts, attracting the interest of the censorship office.
That did not stop Kat in that year to completely conquer the Jarocin generation. This Silesian band that started in 1979 by the guitarist Piotr Luczyk, mostly playing tunes by and inspired by Black Sabbath, Deep Purple andJudas Priest, soon went faster; after all, Accept is a very attractive evolution of the original metal blueprint. It might have been in 1981 with the recruitment of Roman Kostrzewski on vocals that the squad finally went on the path to pioneer black metal. The music they presented on the festival in 1984 and 1985 was recognizable heavy metal, but darker and more aggressive than what the crowd was used to. It is worth reminding that they were already familiar with crazy performances: the stage shows of the polish heavy metal pioneers TSA were filled with half, or fully naked men throwing everything they found into the spectators, turning the volumes up as high as they could and just generally creating something similar to a riot everywhere they played.
But they didn’t have fire. Kat on the other hand, used some old national flag mast to improvise a rocket launcher for explosive material, and later on a whole arsenal of pyrotechnics and costumes, to bring the hellish escapism of their songs right in front of the audience. The songs were not oriented towards partying or social issues like their compatriots of the time. The songs were about the devil, murder, vampires, revenge, and other diverse hellish apparitions; the name of the band itself means “executioner” in polish. In 1985 the band could record an album, naming the English version as Metal and Hell and the Polish one as 666, both having slightly different song orders and release dates.
The first thing that strikes the listener is the sound of the album. It genuinely feels as if it was played and recorded in some sort of castle dungeon, especially this echo that makes every guitar screech resonate similarly to a shining knife that cuts through the thick darkness of the suffocating underground. Underneath, the drums pound relentlessly, the bass rumbles nervously and Roman Kostrzewski yells and barks blasphemous and violent lyrics with a ominous presence. It needs to be added, that most of the lyrical content of the album would have been shocking everywhere at the time of release but was especially unheard of in Poland or anywhere else in the eastern bloc.
Some of the songs do remain clearly inspired by Accept and Judas Priest, like on “Masz mnie wampirze” (translation: “You have me, vampire”), but those are not also not exempt from blood freezing screams. Even the obligatory ballad, “Czas Zemsty” (translation: “Time of Revenge”), sounds extremely ghoulish and unnerving; it is a far cry from the defining Polish heavy metal ballad: “Dorosłe Dzieci” by Turbo. It is also worth pointing out that the competent performance of the musicians allowedKat to include some very interesting but still very catchy riffs and interplay between the instruments. Take for example the closer “666” where the melodic Iron Maiden inspired riff gets progressively more tense because of the intense backdrop of the rhythmic section. This makes for a really entertaining and captivating listen, beyond just the fascination for the darkness of the album that In the Sign of Evil by Sodom provided at the time. Some songs even include disturbing choirs, as if the band members were about to perform a satanic ritual.
This is less mundane than it might seem, after one of the band performances in Jarocin in the 1980s, in a chapel nearby a group of young people performed such a ritual which led to a curious miniature satanic panic around Kat. It didn’t help that the leader openly propagated Laveyan satanism on television, even once in front of a priest, while waving an upside down cross in front of him, that came to the festival to talk to the youth.
To summarize, this album here is one of the very first black metal releases after Venom and Kat deserves a spot as a pioneer in the genre. It is fast, neck breaking, aggressive, satanic, horror evoking and completely demented album; for all of that, it remains an absolute classic.
Favorite track: 666