KATAKLYSM - Bludgeoned By The Black Sheep
August 3, 2015, 6 years ago
Kataklysm has gotten fat. Monstrously fat. And frontman Maurizio Iacono couldn't be happier.
We are, of course, referring to Kataklysm's latest slab of violence Of Ghosts And Gods, a thundering, seething fuck off of an album if there ever was one in the band's catalogue. As melodic death metal goes it has rightfully been tagged as being on par with At The Gates' stellar comeback, At War With Reality. As a Kataklysm album it has been dubbed their strongest in years, taking into account that the shock and excitement of being nailed to the wall has blown some minds into paste. Either way, the accolades can be attributed to Kataklysm burning whatever tattered rulebook they've been using for the last several years, and the addition of producer Andy Sneap (Testament, Accept, Arch Enemy, you name 'em...) to their creative arsenal.
"The reason we went to Andy Sneap to do this is because we thought the combination of him with J-F (Dagenais/guitars, producer) would be great," Iacono begins. "J-F is a great engineer, but when you do everything yourself sometimes you lose the ability to be 100% on the ball because recording and mixing is such a long process. There are so many details. We wanted someone that has a good name, sure, but we also wanted someone we're a fan of. We were lucky he even picked us because Andy is in high demand, and he's turned down some big bands. For him to grab the new Kataklysm record was great."
If you're a Sneap fan it comes as no surprise to hear he succeeded in beefing up Kataklysm's already crushing sound for Of Ghosts And Gods. As a Kataklysm fan you wish he would have jumped on board a few albums earlier once you give the new album a listen or five. Iacono agrees wholeheartedly.
"One of the things with this record is that we spent so much time on it. Andy took his time mixing this record. We went back and forth because he'd send us a mix, we'd say it sounded great, but he wanted to do more work on it. When you mix a record some producers are done in one week. Andy spent three weeks on this one. You can tell there's a lot of work behind this music, both from us and from him."
Ultimately, the motivation behind Of Ghosts And Gods was that well worn tale of a veteran band bent on keeping the music fresh for themselves and the fans. Not only did they bring Sneap on board to accent Dagenais' efforts, Kataklysm took their creative process on the road and recorded the music in Texas, Montreal, Florida and England.
"This is the first time we tried something like this, moving around a lot," Iacono says. "I'm very happy it worked. You know what, though? It was necessary. We're on our 12th record, and I don't know if I've ever followed a band for 12 records (laughs). It's really hard to keep people with you, so if they've been around this long it's because we're always trying new things. This record is the one we need at a time when we really need to step up and deliver. Things are changing dramatically in the business so we need to come out with something really fresh and new."
A comment that often scares a band's diehard followers. In Kataklysm's case it may recall Prevail and Heaven's Venom, two albums that received mixed reviews upon release.
"It's that surprise element (laughs). You never know with Kataklysm. I think we played it a bit too safe on the last few records. We didn't want to gamble too much because it's hard to be out there trying to make a living off this. We want to keep our fans happy, but we realized that's not us. We need to be what we've always been; a band that takes its sound and brings it to another level by doing it our own way. This new record is very honest that way."
Is that to say Kataklysm played it too safe on the previous album, Waiting For The End To Come?
"Not the last one, but Heaven's Venom was more of a traditional Kataklysm record. I don't think there was any complexity behind it. But, if we play songs from that record live like 'At The Edge Of The World' or 'Push The Venom', they're two mandatory tracks now. 'At The Edge Of The World' is catchy and melodic, and that's the appeal of that song. On this new record we decided that we're not going to try an impress anybody with speed or how heavy we can be, we're just doing what we love on one record. We like doing things as fast as bands like Fleshgod Apocalypse or Krisiun, but we don't want to be a blastbeat band from beginning to end. I don't like bands like that. J-F is a melodic guitar player, he loves melody and groove. That's what Kataklysm is about."
"Of Ghosts And Gods is more intricate, there's more going on. There's stuff that just comes out of nowhere and you really need a few listens to get into the whole thing. The first song we put out was just one piece of the puzzle, not representative of the whole record. It's very diverse and it goes from one thing to another with each track."
Drums play a huge part in any Kataklysm recording, making the entrance of Oli Beaudoin in place of long time drummer Max Duhamel in 2013 a sore point for a lot of northern hyperblast diehards. Beaudoin's debut on Waiting For The End To Come was the cliché situation of new blood resulting in equal parts positive and negative energy as Kataklysm regained their balance.
"Absolutely. The chemistry for this record was tenfold better than what it was for the last one because we spent a lot of time together on the road. At the beginning I think we had that feeling Metallica had with their bass players (laughs); 'You're in but you're not because there's 20 years of sacrifice here...' It was like, at the beginning, we weren't sure and everybody was questioning everything, but the feeling was right."
"What Oli does on this record is phenomenal. There's stuff he played that's just crazy, and I think that comes from the fact we were able to work together and accept each other as a team. We saw that with Oli there's no limit with regards to what we can play. With Max there was a limit, and that's the reality even though we did some of our biggest records with Max (Shadows & Dust, In The Arms Of Devastation). Max has his style and Oli has his style, and what I love about Oli is that he's adapted what Max did and put his own flavour into it. The result is a new Kataklysm sound."
Even so, they have to continue to sell Beaudoin with Of Ghosts And Gods. Not an easy task at all given the legacy Duhamel left behind.
"And that's why the last record was difficult," agrees Iacono. "It had a really rough start. People were reluctant to buy it in the beginning, sales were really low, and we were wondering what the fuck was going on. But when we hit the road every show was packed or sold out. They were some of the biggest numbers we've ever done. We couldn't make sense of it because nobody was really supporting the record, but live the rooms was stuffed. I think maybe people downloaded the album to make sure it was okay (laughs)."
"There aren't a lot of death metal bands that are doing really well right now," says Iacono when it's pointed out that Kataklysm's reputation as a live band is their greatest strength. "It's such a difficult scene because there are so many of them, so right now it's a survival thing. You've got to be honest with yourself and do the record you want to do. At the same time you have to go out there and work hard, and that's what Kataklysm is all about. What I love about this band is that nobody ever expected this record. There was hype built around it because the label heard it before everyone else and they were freaking out, and I think Any Sneap choosing to do Of Ghosts And Gods got the label even more excited."
Nuclear Blast's push behind Of Ghosts And Gods resulted in two hot sauces being tied into the release - which Kataklysm has been slammed for, naturally - and a mammoth project of shooting videos for every song on the record, all of which were posted online in sequence leading up to the official July 31st street date.
"This is what happened, and yes I'm out of my mind," Iacono laughs. "We were sitting with the Nuclear Blast staff discussing the marketing for the new album - when we were going to stream the first single, what songs were going to release - and I asked them 'Why is it always the same fucking shit?' I don't want to be a part of the machine. There's a song on the record called 'The Black Sheep' and that's Kataklysm. We're never going to be the most extreme band in death metal, we're never going to follow a trend, we're going to be us. I told them I wanted to do something crazy, that I would invest some money and they would invest some money into doing something nuts that people would say 'It'll never work.' The label saw the idea as something cool and added stuff to it, so they were totally into it. I've got to admit there were times when I was on the phone with the director Tommy Jones (Videohammer Studios) saying 'What the fuck did we just do?' because
it was a heavy workload (laughs)."
And then there's Kataklysm's new signature beer, straight out of Belgium and boasting the brilliant French Canadian name, St. Tabarnak. It's not offcially linked to the new album, but it made sense to start distribution while the spotlight is on the band.
"Our bassist (Stephane Barbe) came up with the name," Iacono reveals. "He's the big beer drinker in the band and he said 'Why do we have to be so serious all the time?'"
Needless to say that when it comes to the music, Kataklysm are deadly serious. Always have been, always will be.
"I'll be super honest with you, Of Ghosts And Gods is the record that we put everything on it. We worked so hard, and if it were to fail I think we'd turn into a band that just records EPs and goes on tour to support them. This was a year of our lives, meticulously put together piece by piece. With eleven records before this one we have the songs we can tour with, so it’s not like it’s necessary for us to release a new record. We’re doing it because we love to do it and because we still have something to say.”