KATAKLYSM – Unconquered

KATAKLYSM – Unconquered

If there is one band I call "AC/DC of death metal" it is the Montréal, Quebec, French-Canadian quartet Kataklysm, in the sense that we know what to expect and that they always deliver what can be expected without much surprise or innovation to the core sound. However, on their 14th album the self-proclaimed "northern hyperblast" (to compete with Fear Factory, the original hyperblast dubbed so by "M.E.A.T." magazine ad) manage to surprise with the significant altering of their core sound due to addition of the 7th string in the sole guitarist’s Jean-François Dagenais’ guitar, for a great sounding but inconsistent affair.

Born in 1991, birth certified with "The Deathgate Cycle Of Reincarnation" demo (1992), reinforced by now legendary "Sorcery" (1995) and the experimental "Temple Of Knowledge: Kataklysm Part III" (1996), Kataklysm lost their volatile vocalist Sylvain Haude, who, according to Encyclopedia Metallum, departed from Kataklysm, his girlfriend at the time having had left him, triggering an emotional breakdown, which, in turn, created a lot of tension between Sylvain and the rest of the band, forcing his departure. Kataklysm soldiered on, bassist Maurizio Iacono stepping in permanently behind the mike leaving his spot open for Stéphane Barbe to fill. Subsequent "Victims Of This Fallen World" (1998) was my welcome point of entry into Kataklysm’s catalogue but "The Prophecy: Stigmata Of The Immaculate" didn’t stir me up as much. Not so with "Epic: The Poetry Of War" (2001), arguably their best album, which started a string of acclaimed releases regarded by many as their finest achievements including "Shadows & Dust" (2002) and "Serenity In Fire" (2004), Jean-François laying down exemplary melodeath after the manner of latter Hypocrisy and Malevolent Creation, but, again, the patchy "In The Arms Of Devastation" (2006) lost me and my ignorance persevered for "Prevail" (2008), "Heaven’s Venom" (2010), "Waiting For The End To Come" (2013), (at which point Max Duhamel was replaced by then Neuraxis drummer Olivier Beaudoin) and "Of Ghosts And Gods" (2015), although I did take note of the excellent "Meditations" (2018).

Global pandemic notwithstanding, in 2019, Kataklysm had set to writing their new opus which saw its release last Friday (September 25). The biggest change was supposed to be addition of a 7 string guitar and, indeed, Kataklysm now sounds positively (or negatively), well, cataclysmic, the core (verse) riffing thundering like an amalgamate of Sepultura’s "Roots" and Soulfly’s eponymous debut updated for modern technology. Or perhaps, more accurately, they sound like fellow countrymen’s BornBroken’s 2nd album (The Years Of Harsh Truths And Little Lies) best evidenced by the very similar "Focused To Destroy You" and the absolutely devastating "Defiant" (possibly the most brutal song in their recent history). Fortunately, they don’t just rely on power and speed to impress.

In most tracks, melody and hooks are a significant factor which brings back "Epic", "Shadows" or "Serenity" days. Of those, two deserve highest accolades, the perfect marriages of classic and modern Kataklysm. The first, "Cut Me Down" has a subtle "Demanufacture" Fear Factory vibe to it and plenty of melody at various speeds and my favorite, "The Way Back Home" is heavily "The Final Chapter", eponymous Hypocrisy-ic with frequent repetition of best moments. Frankly, if all 9 tracks were like "Cut Me Down" and "The Way Back Home" you’d be looking at a big fat 6/6 score. But they aren’t, although the first half easily earns a 5/6.

As for the 2nd half, there are some tracks with great potential, in my view, half-realized, such as "Stitches", "Icarus Falling" and "When It’s Over". The first of those has a chorus too similar to "The Way…" which perhaps wouldn’t be a problem were they not back to back, bringing back that AC/DC syndrome. The second has an excellent and very emotionally powerful piano-guitar section but, besides the moving lyrics I can definitely relate to, such as "my wings are burning, my hope is dying, save me!" it really is short-changed with immemorable verse riffs, just screaming for a fine melodic chorus. Finally, the closer "When It’s Over", a de facto prayer to God, opened by a very "Abducted" Hypocrisy-ic riff and loaded with very blackish guitar atmospherics of the same, maybe the best of the three but the melodiscism is somewhat subdued underneath the 7 string riffage. In fact, while the 7 string guitar definitely has its potential, currently it still sounds a little akward combined with the classic Kataklysm-ic stylings.

Powerful, melodic, lyrically engaging, but uneven, that is Kataklysm 2020. I think these guys are capable of creating fabulous stuff as evidenced by "Cut Me Down", "The Way Back Home" and even "Defiant" but they need to focus on expanding their songs even more while increasing the space between the infectiously melodic and overwhelmingly brutal. Let’s wait until Jean-François gets more comfortable and daring with that 7 string monster at which point I believe we may get really surprised with what Kataklysm can yet deliver.