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Kataklysm - Unconquered Award winner

by Justin "Witty City" Wittenmeier at 04 October 2020, 7:04 AM

KATAKLYSM probably don’t need an introduction at this point but bands, even long running ones, still slip by people’s radar.   KATAKLYSM was formed way back in 1991 in Canada with their first demo releasing in 1992 and their first EP coming in 1993.  1995 saw the release of their first full length album, “Sorcery.” Their demos, EP s, and first two full lengths featured original vocalist  Sylvain Houde while current vocalist Maurizio Iacono was on bass.  The year 1998 saw the release of their third full length album “Victims Of This Fallen World,” and the debut of Maurizio on vocals, with Stephane Barbe taking his former spot on bass.

Since then, their line up as remained stable with the exception of having several drummers over the years.  Their latest album, “Unconquered,” is their fourteenth studio album, which is a momentous achievement in of itself. Since Maurizio took over on vocals, the band has stuck almost exactly on the line that divides death metal from melodic death.  However, their previous album, 2018’s “Meditations,” they took a much more melodic route. I enjoyed that album very much but what does “Unconquered” offer this year?

In essence, it offer one hell of a pummeling and devastating ride across the thirty-eight minute runtime of the nine tracks.  While they do continue to ride the line that I mentioned earlier, this album does hit quite a bit harder than their previous few albums.  There is more of a focus on actual riffs instead of melody. Speaking of riffs, Jean-Francois seems to be one of the more underrated guitarists despite the fact he has been shredding for thirty years.  It is especially impressive when you consider he is their only guitarist, so he is always front and center.  He clearly handles the pressure well because he brings his “A” game.  Guitar wise, the riffs on “Unconquered,” are often times dissonant to the point where I am reminded of a much less technical MESHUGGAH.  Seriously, Jean-Francois absolutely crushes ear drums on this album.

Beaudoin and Barbe continue to be a strong foundation for the band more than compensating for the lack of an additional guitarist by providing a strong, full sound to the overall atmosphere. Barbe is particularly in his element with the style of riffs being thrown around. And what can be said of Maurizio? He has one of the most distinctive voices in death metal and is once again in top form as he screams and shouts his lyrics out with energy and urgency. By now, the whole metal world has heard the first track and single “Killshot.”  It is the perfect song to open such a strong album.  After about a minute of rising tension a growl pierces the veil and  Maurizio’s vocals ride up top the wave of riffs with apparent ease.  Meanwhile, the bass and drums hammer it all in…and just keep going even after the ground has been torn up with all this instrumental seismic activity.  Fast, catchy, and the musical equivalent of a white hot blaze of fire…what more could you want in an opener?
Underneath The Scars,” immediately causes whiplash with such furious guitar and a cutting tone to back the riffs up. I love how the drums just constantly ramp up the action for a crescendo that breaks the song wide open for the chorus.  That chorus also happens to be extremely catchy, grabbing me by the ear for many, many repeats. “The Way Back Home,” is one of my favorites on the album because in throws in some somber melody into the mix of raging death growls and rapid fire guitar.  This at once both one of the more heavier songs and more melodic ones on the album.  The fact they can throw in different styles on a dime is one thing KATAKLYSM has always been good at but they knock it out of park here.

But it is the last two tracks that really make the album shine, those being “Icarus Falling” and “When It’s Over.”  The former consists of a beautifully done epic intro, laden with clean keys and a blanket of riffs that enhance the mood.  The rest of the band comes in shortly after and the song has this darker atmosphere that just works. Towards the end, Maurizio’s higher pitched death screams mix with the keys and some northern hyperblast drumming as the song begins to fade out.  It is a very emotional and surprising approach that kept me coming back to the track over and over again.

The latter builds up with melodic guitars against a slower, more methodical tempo. The song’s more apprehensive approach makes the riffs all the more heavier and the melody that much darker.  The atmosphere here is almost Gothic in places  but the brutal death screams ensure it all stays on the heavier side of the fence.  If “Killshot” is one hell of an opening banger, then “When It’s Over” is the perfect finisher.

KATAKLYSM don’t reinvent death metal or even their own sound….but what they do, they do so fucking well.  For my money and time, I couldn’t ask for anything more.  If you are a big fan of this band, I imagine you will love this album.  If you jumped ship a few albums ago or didn’t care for “Meditations,” this one has more than enough power to reel you back in.

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 9
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

1. The Killshot
2. Cut Me Down
3. Underneath The Scars
4. Focused To Destroy You
5. The Way Back Home
6. Stiches
7. Defiant
8. Icarus Falling
9. When It’s Over
Maurizio Iacono – Vocals
Jean-Francois Dagenais – Guitars
Stephane Barbe – Bass
Olivier Beaudoin - Drums
Record Label: Nuclear Blast


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