Kataklysm – Unconquered


Is there a band more curious than Quebec death metal giants, Kataklysm? Now on their fourteenth studio album and with three decades under their belt, they have two Canadian Independent Music Awards, a Juno Award and sizeable chart success in Europe to their name. Yet seldom do you hear them mentioned at the end of the album and tour cycle for each release. Few reviewers reference Kataklysm as an influence on other artists but all agree they’re a consistent band who can be trusted to carry the flame of death metal no matter what trends are ripping through the wider scene.

Let’s address some of these shibboleths. Kataklysm kept death metal alive during the rocky years of the late 90s and early 2000s and were one of the first to pioneer extreme blasting with grooves and melodic choruses. Their 2006 effort, In the Arms of Devastation, is an undisputed classic and their mid-90s output is just as impressive. They have a place among the contemporary greats and deserve more than their status as one of the most reliable and consistent bands in extreme metal.

With this is mind, it will come as a surprise that the Canadian veterans employed seven string guitars on their latest record and aped the Meshuggah guitar tone from Koloss. Long-term fans might be alarmed but there is nothing to fear, for this is still a Kataklysm album and a damn good one. One listen to ‘The Killshot’ and ‘Cut Me Down’ is enough to convince that the band are not going soft. Jean-François Dagenais’ riffs are even heavier with the switch to a drop-F tuning and looser strings to attack with his plectrum. Unfortunately, drum colossus, Oli Beaudoin, announced his departure just weeks before the album release, but his performance is exquisite behind the kit. The ratio between groove, standard thrashing and lightning quick rhythms is more tilted towards the latter two, yet Beaudoin’s drums have even more room to dazzle with the guitars opting for open-string riffing as well as fast alternate picking.

Frontman, Maurizio Iacono, has always had a fierce bark but his muscular throat voice is as ferocious as his fry screams. You can hear every lyric behind the aggression and will need only one listen to the chorus of ‘The Way Back Home’ to chant “I’ll dig your grave on my way back home/ I’ll gut you out like the pig that you are” with shaking fists and a furious snarl. We even get a Tom G. Warrior death grunt and an extended “Ooooooh, come on!” to bring in the breakdown riff.

“Breakdown riff?”, you say. Yes, they throw in a few of these. Why wouldn’t you when you’re playing in such a low tuning? It doesn’t mean they dumbed down their sound. Check out ‘Defiant’ if you want 3 minutes and 59 seconds of chaotic blast beats and rapid guitar triplets. This is what we mean when we use the term extreme metal. The music is like a tsunami swallowing up everything in its path.

Like most albums, Unconquered has its flaws. The Meshuggah guitar tone will invite accusations of imitation. On closing track, ‘When It’s Over’, they come close to replicating ‘Demiurge’ in the verses, and ‘Stitches’ is like something you’d expect Soulfly to write on their next album when Max Cavalera reassess whether they’re a Nu metal band at heart. The piano refrain at the beginning and end of ‘Icarus Falling’ will also remind some of the ‘Nu Metalcore’ sound doing the rounds among the younger bands, especially the sampled drum parts.

Yet at nine tracks in length and forty minutes in duration, Unconquered never tires and establishes a favourable response on repeat listens. It’s heavier than the bongs of Big Ben, yet retains an anthemic and, at times, melodic counterbalance to the chaos. Kataklysm have never been an underrated band, but they ought to get the respect they deserve as one of the best metal artists of the twenty-first century. So be it if this record alienates a few of the die hards. You can’t continue with business as usual when you get to your fourteenth record.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 25/09/2020

Record Label: Nuclear Blast

Standout tracks: The Killshot, The Way Back Home, Defiant

Suggested Further Listening: Meshuggah – Koloss (2012), Cytotoxin – Nuklearth (2020), Lamb Of God – Sacrament (2006)