Kataklysm – Unconquered (Album Review)

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Where chaos and order converge.

Veteran status could be considered a relative concept in metal circles, but it’s a safe label to attribute to any band that rose out of the early 90’s death metal scene and has weathered every twist and turn said style has endured ever since. Naturally unless a band’s name happened to be Cannibal Corpse, sticking it out for this long would involve some substantial evolution in style comparable to the pivot from older, thrash-driven death metal to a more melodic strain after the Gothenburg sound, as was the case with such noted bands as Sweden’s Hypocrisy and Denmark’s Illdisposed. In this respect, one of Canada’s premier 90s death metal exports Kataklysm differed primarily in that they weren’t European and they incorporated some industrial idiosyncrasies from bands like Fear Factory. The ride ever since their adoption of the melodeath sound on 1998’s “Victims Of This Fallen World” has thus been one in reconciling the chaotic extremities of their previous work with a more groovy and accessible one.

While most of this band’s offerings since the late 90s have tended towards a more controlled character, things have taken on a decidedly crazier and more aggressive character since their 2013 LP “Waiting For The End To Come,” and it is that same formula into which their latest installment Unconquered finds itself. To be clear, this album still sees this quartet utilizing a lot of the same mid-paced, groovy moments that dominated their middle era, but translated into a more percussive timbre that occasionally intersects with the djenting violence of Meshuggah. When combined with a faster and fiercer character, this results in something that listens less like the infectious anthems of Illdisposed and more like the rabid, fist-to-the-gut yet still methodically structured and concise approach of The Crown. The production is correspondingly meaty, the barking vocals deep and forbidding, and the rhythmic execution as tight as a disciplined military unit.

Though tilting a bit more towards the aggressive side of the coin, this is an album that takes care to convey a buildup in tension before going for the proverbial jugular. The opening anthem “The Killshot” is a perfect example of this approach, beginning on a dreary atmospheric intro and spending just under a moment warming up the engines before exploding into a blasting frenzy, all the while keeping the riffing fairly simple as it seesaws back and forth between a grooving stomp and a chaotic thrashing storm. Similarly ferocious beasts set to music such as “Underneath The Scars” and “Focused To Destroy You” dispense with more subdued intros or interludes in favor of a shorter assault, yet still find themselves using some more consonant melodic moments to space out the auditory bombardment. Interestingly enough, the kit work of recent recruit Olivier Beaudoin proves to be the most technically impressive element in this band’s arsenal, though there are no slouches to speak of from a performance standpoint.

The tip of the iceberg here tends to be the faster offerings, but this band also proves reasonably capable at delivering some more moderated bangers. The groovy anthem “Stitches” is arguably the closest this band comes to fully adopting the djent sound, yet despite its fairly short length, sees a few crazy moments added in for good measure. Arguably the only song on here that feels like an epic venture is the slower treading through the melodeath fields that is “The Way Back Home”, which also showcases the most elaborate series of riffs and melodic lead hooks out of Jean-Francios Dagenais. The closing song “When It’s Over” also crosses into djenting territory while often coming off as more of a slow-paced dirge with an early In Flames vibe to it. Ultimately, this album does okay when it opts for a less crazed approach, but its highlights tend to be blast-beat steeped killers like “Defiant” that almost land in territory reserved to the likes of The Black Dahlia Murder.

In the grand scheme of Kataklysm’s highly expansive discography, this falls somewhere in the middle of things, not being weak, but also not quite crossing over into the greatness category. All the necessary boxes for a solid melodeath offering with a side order of high-octane thrashing have been checked, but often times the songs tend to come off as predictable, and in the particular case of the plodding semi-ballad “Icarus Falling”, a bit contrived. It feels like Dagenais is a bit limited throughout much of the listen, being upstaged by the insane drum work and even by the heavily distorted bass that gives this album its occasional djenting character, and only occasionally breaking out of the rhythm guitar box to give the songs that added sense of character. It’s a solid offering for death/thrash and melodic death fans and should be heard, but it’s not quite in the same league as “Shadows & Dust” and “Waiting For The End.”

Released by: Nuclear Blast Records
Released Date: September 25th, 2020
Genre: Melodic Death Metal

Musicians:

  • Maurizio Iacono / Vocals
  • Jean-François Dagenais / Guitars
  • Stéphane Barbe / Bass
  • Olivier Beaudoin / Drums

“Unconquered” track-listing:

  1. The Killshot
  2. Cut Me Down
  3. Underneath the Scars
  4. Focused to Destroy You
  5. The Way Back Home
  6. Stitches
  7. Defiant
  8. Icarus Falling
  9. When It’s Over

7.8 Very Good

With 13 LPs and about 30 years of experience under its belt, this berserker of a Canadian death metal export opts for a balance between its originally chaotic style and the more melodic and structured one adopted later in the 90s in response to the ascendant Gothenburg craze on their 14th studio venture.

  • Songwriting 7.5
  • Musicianship 8
  • Originality 7.5
  • Production 8
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