Longevity and perspective are assets that, by their very nature, take time to cultivate. In a genre such as death metal that has rapidly matured and evolved in the relatively short time it has existed, being a force within that chaotic paradigm and remaining that way for 21 years is no easy feat. However, it is through this challenge and consistency that a band may obtain the iconic sound and image, alongside the perspective needed to navigate further into their musical careers. The Canadian death metal anchor that is Kataklysm is that band.
Formed in 1991 within the beautiful city of Montréal, Quebec, the band set out early to be easily differentiable from the early death metal formula while still paying tribute to the bands they worshipped. “We all start with the dream of doing something you love with your life,” says Maurizio Iacono, founding member and current lead vocalist of both Kataklysm and Ex Deo.
The name Kataklysm itself evokes images of chaos, widespread destruction and untold devastation; but, also, strength, change and vicissitude. Kataklysm’s music personifies all of these concepts and reflects it through an aggressive and undeniably powerful soundscape. The duality of brutal destruction and the change that it brings is found in the heavy wall of distorted guitars, the guttural vocals and in the melodic breaks that can arouse feelings of sorrow, hope or conviction within the listener. Often, a mixture of all of these emotions can be found in any given track.
The band has earned the unique title of “Northern Hyperblast” due to their drummer’s unique approach to the typical blast beat, a staple of the death metal genre. His method incorporates a faster snare than bass drum attack, a stylistic variation has been an important element of the band from very early on.
“Our music was extremely chaotic and, at that time, we were one of the most extreme bands on earth. Death metal at that time was very traditional in a sense. Bands like Entombed and Death were very popular, but there weren’t a lot of blast beats and crazy stuff. We were one of the bands pushing that envelope,” Iacono explains.
That being said, the band has always tried to focus their music into a refined and recognizable sound. All of the chaos and hyperblasting aside, Kataklysm is known for its unique balance in the emotional onslaught. This use of two opposing concepts is found in the band’s logo, which depicts the sigil from H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon.
“It is where the band started. Sylvain (Houde), our ex-singer, was really big into the Necronomicon and his vision was the battle between good and evil. That is what he wanted to portray with Kataklysm.” Even if the directness of the message has been diluted somewhat, the general concept is still found in Kataklysm’s music. Their tenth and latest studio offering, Heaven’s Venom (2010), more or less follows this paradoxical struggle. “The message is delivered through us, but not done in a fantastical way anymore,” Iacono clarifies.
Just last year, the band celebrated two decades of Kataklysm with their DVD, The Iron Will: 20 Years Determined, chronicling the group’s history as well as treating fans to rare footage, live footage and other material from the two decades of their existence, which, despite some member changes, has been remarkably constant. Every member currently playing in Kataklysm has been in the band since the ‘90s and both Iacono and guitarist Jean-Francois Dagenais are founding members. Bassist Stephane Barbe joined in 1997 and Max Duhamel has been in and out of the band since 1994 despite being responsible for the defining hyperblast style. His position was filed by five other drummers who’ve since departed.
“We have gone through small lineup changes, but very significant ones. When you are working with people [in a band,] you are working as a family. You spend more time with the guys on the road than you do with your own family, sometimes. You have to learn to respect each other and have the same goal, because in the end that is the most important thing. Kataklysm’s strong foundation came from guys determined to do this and fight all the way through,” Iacono confirms.
Having lasted as long as they have, Kataklysm have a fairly rare viewpoint of the current state of metal. While they were a potent influence in their early days, Kataklysm has taken on a different role in recent years, shifting from influential to iconic. Their music has remained rooted in a similar formula that has worked time and time again. However, Iacono expresses his feelings on disingenuous writing and the over-technicality focused aspects of the genre.
“I think, right now, the industry is lacking that melodic aspect. Everything has become so technical with not too much feeling in it. I miss that,” he laments.
When asked to provide a recent example of an album that had left an impression on him, Iacono’s response was not all that surprising. “Out of all the modern bands right now, the only one that has turned my head and made me say, ‘Okay, this is a very strong record,’ was the new Gojira album,” referring to the French melodic death metal titans latest and fifth full-length offering, L’enfant sauvage. An emotionally-charged magnum opus, the resonance with Iacono is easily understood. “There is still hope for bands to come out with something that’s got feeling,” Iacono says.
Kataklysm will soon begin work on a new full-length, though firstly Iacono’s other project, Ex Deo, will release their sophomore record, Caligvla, beforehand. From what Iacono indicates, it seems the next Kataklysm album is looking to show the world where the band believes metal can (and should) go.
“We are going to put a monster record together,” says Iacono, who goes on to describe a “death metal Master of Puppets.” Hoping for a return to the heavy melodic riff and the conceptual structure of the early Kataklysm albums, Iacono’s tone surges with excitement as he speaks of things to come.
Through strong convictions and even stronger music, Kataklysm have asserted themselves as pillars in the death metal landscape. In doing so, they have deservedly secured an iconic status in their Canadian homeland and abroad.
Survive the Kataklysm on Saturday, August 18 with Origin, Fleshgod Apocalypse, and Rose Funeral at the Distillery.
By Tanner Wolff