Kataklysm – Death Metal Outsiders

Sunday, 20th May 2018

One of the extreme metal scene’s more unsung heroes, Kataklysm have long been putting their unique touch on things. Whether it was the “Northern Hyperblast” of their beginnings, or the concoction of melody and brutality that the band has continued to evolve, they’ve walked their pathway for 25 years to date, with Meditations being their thirteenth album. With a wide audience of metal fans behind them, the doors seemed primed to welcome this newest addition to their discography with open arms.

Meditations seems a genuine title to give the latest Kataklysm, as in speaking to frontman Maurizio Iacono, it seems the band has been reflecting on where they have been, as well as where they’d like the band to go. Going back to ‘old school’ processes such as writing the album together, revisiting old records on the road, and more – Meditations also brings melody and aggression to the forefront in that distinctly Kataklysm way. In our chat with Iacono, we also talk about changes to the extreme scene, Kataklysm’s place in the death metal world, and even what they learn from the newest crop of bands.

Dead Rhetoric: I know the album was originally scheduled for April. Was there a reason it got pushed back?

Maurizio Iacono: It took longer to get mixed. We gambled a bit on the production with this record since we used a different type of producer – when we approached Jay Ruston we knew that it was not something he had ever done before. So when he got the record he was like, “Holy shit, this is really heavy.” I don’t think he was used to doing stuff like Kataklysm before. He’s worked with Stone Sour and Steel Panther and Anthrax…so for him it was new territory. So for us, it was something that we needed to make sure that we were on top of.

It took longer to mix than we expected so we were on it for about 5-6 weeks. Usually a mix is done in about 2 weeks, so that went over our schedule. But the end result is phenomenal; we are very happy with how it ended up. It was so cool that he was so clinical about it. He took his time. He was really on it from day one so it was a good experience to work with someone like that, someone outside the box in death metal, so to say.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that by using [Ruston], you were able to accomplish what you wanted from the record?

Iacono: Right now, everybody is in a tunnel as far as extreme music goes. We use the same producers and same guys. At some point, everybody starts sounding the same, even though musically it’s different. There’s still that same touch from the producers. We used Andy Sneap, which is one of the big guys – he’s worked with Arch Enemy and Megadeth. He did a great job on Of Ghosts and Gods. But he’s doing so many bands, and a lot of people are using the same old producers. We wanted to try someone who was outside – someone who was familiar but does a great sound.

When we heard what he did with the latest Anthrax record – that was the one that we heard and said, “Holy shit!” It just sounded so big and powerful, so we looked at what else he had done. We heard what he did on the Stone Sour album, and the thing is, you want to get a producer that knows what guitar should sound like, but you want those drums to be really pounding. That’s where it gets difficult with producers. That’s [Ruston’s] master. We were very happy he accepted. We got lucky because he’s Canadian, and the whole band is originally from Canada. It was an easy decision for him and us to work together. It was meant to be in one sort of way.

Dead Rhetoric: I saw you were all working together with the writing and citing some of the older albums. Do you think that approach aided the end result?

Iacono: Yes, because look – Kataklysm has been around for a long time. The band has just celebrated 25 years together. There’s a lot of history there, and a lot of time. We all have families and things change over the course of time. When we first started, the band was all we did. There was nothing else than getting our guitars and jamming. We’d spend the whole day just practicing and working. With that mentality, we created some of our biggest records. We realized with technology, that it was easy for us to send some files and the next thing you, there’s a new record. I’m not knocking any of my records out or downgrading them, but it does have that type of feeling that it’s not the same as 4 guys jamming under the same roof. For us to do that, it’s difficult. We live in different places. I’m in Chicago, [Jean-François Dagenais] is in Texas, and the other guys are in Canada. So we used that technology a lot for the last couple of records.

For this one, we decided to take our time. We went to my place, we went to the studio – we wrote it together. I think that sparked some crazy chemistry that worked really well. The problem is that some days, you just wake up in the morning and have breakfast and there’s nothing coming out. You are like, “Holy shit, we are wasting time!” But when it does come out, it is just like, “Boom! It’s there!” That’s what’s worth the time. That’s the problem today with a lot of bands is time. No one is really putting in that effort of jamming together, and I think some of the biggest records in the world came out from dudes just jamming in their garage. While you and I are talking, there’s someone jamming in their garage right now that could be the next Metallica. That’s the thing that we are lacking in today’s industry. It’s so fast and processed. The essence of making records is all about the feeling, and I think that comes when 4-5 dudes get together and start thinking about different riffs. This is the first one in 10 years that we have done like that.

Dead Rhetoric: It’s more organic that way – it’s not you just doing your part and sending it along to the next guy.

Iacono: Right – that’s the key word. Organic. It just feels right. Some songs on this record literally took 2-3 hours to write. Some songs took weeks. It’s that spontaneous type of feeling that makes it a standout record or not. I think we’ve achieved that on this record. It just feels right.

Dead Rhetoric: You played both Serenity in Fire and Shadows & Dust in their entirety last year, did going on tour with those songs put you in the mindset for recording a new album?

Iacono: It definitely influenced us on the writing for the record, because it enabled us to go back to our roots and re-discover some of what Kataklysm has done in the past and make us understand why they were so worshipped as records. Kataklysm had a really big streak with Shadows & Dust, Serenity in Fire, and In the Arms of Devastation. Those three records back to back – 2002, 2004, 2006 – they exploded our career worldwide. There was some magic that happened in that timeframe. In doing those two records, it opened our spirits in understanding our writing and why they were big.

Doing those songs and albums live, we didn’t know what to expect and the fans just went crazy on every song. You play your songs that you know are hits and people love, but when you play a whole record, you never know if song #4 or 5 are going to be cool [laughs]. But everyone knew everything, so it struck a nerve with a lot of people and I think in writing this new record, we are open to explore the more extreme ways of Kataklysm and the more melodic. Shadows & Dust is a very melodic record. Serenity in Fire is very aggressive. They are back to back but not the same. I think this record has both those two worlds in one.

Dead Rhetoric: So at this point, what do you feel that Meditations brings to the table for Kataklysm?

Iacono: It’s definitely a modernized version of Kataklysm. It does bring a lot of new elements. It’s a very melodic record. I think that’s a key factor for us. It’s not manufactured; it’s just done with feeling. Melody, when written from the heart, has a dramatic edge to it and it can be a pretty powerful thing. I think this record is led by that. It’s very diverse as well. I think the message behind it is one of a very secure Kataklysm. We are comfortable in this element, and I think that was important for us to portray, especially at this point in our careers. This is record #13! There’s not a lot of bands that get to the thirteenth record that are still looked upon as an important thing within the industry. We feel very privileged by that.

Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned the melodies, what do you think Kataklysm’s most defining feature is?

Iacono: Kataklysm, again, is a hybrid thing. It’s always been an outsider type of band. It’s never been a part of a movement or anything. When the Gothenburg movement came about, which was very melodic. We were not a part of that although we grabbed some influences from it, though it was more from Iron Maiden and things like that. That’s J-F’s favorite band, Iron Maiden. We were just a big mix of different things that made the band what it is. There’s not really one defining thing.

You can’t say Kataklysm is a death metal band that sounds like Cannibal Corpse, because it doesn’t. You can’t say that it sounds like In Flames, because it doesn’t. It has some elements but it is not. Just like Cannibal Corpse. There are some things that we can compete with them, but we are not a gore, death metal type of band. We are a hybrid, and we have been on our own since the beginning. I think it’s helped us, but at the same time, it’s been a bit of a thorn in the side, because it’s a bit difficult to get into a band when you don’t know where they stand. There’s no predictability with Kataklysm.

Dead Rhetoric: How important is a level of consistency with the material? It’s not that you put the same album out each time, but you can say, like with Cannibal Corpse, there is a very distinct sound that comes up with Kataklysm.

Iacono: For us, that’s the way to do it. It’s just a natural instinct thing. We’ll put it this way, if you tell me let’s do a Slayer cover – it’s going to sound like Kataklysm. It’s just our touch. I think that uniqueness is rare, and although it can backfire, since people want to be a part of a movement. It’s difficult for us to be labeled, and approached for touring with certain types of bands – but I wouldn’t change a thing, because it’s the way we are. It’s brought us to where we are. We have the type of fanbase that’s almost like a silent majority. They are into Kataklysm, but they aren’t listening to one style of music. They are listening to Pantera and then Deicide, then they are going to the Kataklysm show.

Dead Rhetoric: Last time I saw you guys was with In Flames with that short run you did, and they have changed drastically over the years, but you can still get an ‘in’ with that sound since you have that melodic and heavy side.

Iacono: Right, and we can tour with a band like In Flames or Children of Bodom, and then you can see us tour with Cannibal Corpse, and we can handle our own on both tours. I think that is a really strong weapon that Kataklysm has. But it’s difficult to pinpoint what we are about.

Dead Rhetoric: I think it’s a strong point, since it gives you a wider breadth.

Iacono: How many bands can you do that with today when you really think about it? Every album you have, it sounds like, say a deathcore album for example. It’s difficult to say ‘we don’t sound like this or that,’ it’s just them. That’s very difficult, especially today.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you ever feel like you, as a veteran band, ever learn things from the newer crop of extreme metal bands?

Iacono: You are going to hear bands that are like 25 years old that say, “I don’t like anything that’s happening now.” I think that’s the wrong way to analyze things. It’s important to see where it all began, but also where it’s going. I think there’s a lot of great bands out there right now that are doing good stuff. When Kataklysm started, it was really extreme. It was all about shock value and just being the craziest stuff out there. That’s how we got signed. If you look at The Death Gate Cycle of Reincarnation demo, it’s complete chaos – there’s like 30 riffs in a song. We were the embodiment of the crazy stuff that’s going on now, in the beginning. If I talk to Karl Sanders from Nile, and he tells me that for Kataklysm, Temple of Knowledge is his record. That was the record in 1996 that was revolutionizing death metal because it was bringing it from the normal tempos to complete craziness. With 35 riffs in a song and the singer going on top of guitar solos, there were no rules.

I think that Kataklysm has been able to bridge all different worlds together and that’s been a big thing. But if you look at what’s happening today, it’s happening again, but with different bands. They are able to bring us, Deicide, or Cannibal and modernizing it and making it sound different. It’s an evolution that keeps going. So I do draw some sort of influence in the way that things are sounding now. It’s important to modernize. You want to compete with your sounds.

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