Kataklysm – Still Conquering

Thursday, 10th September 2020

Incredible to think that Kataklysm has been forging ahead for almost 30 years at this point. The band is approaching their 14th full-length in Unconquered at the end of this month, and it’s a suitable name indeed. Their melodic approach to death metal has been one that’s managed to aggressively stomp and plow with a vibe that’s entirely their own. Unconquered grasps that notion while still bringing the band ahead once more with crushing grooves and frantic venom in the best way possible. We caught up with founding member and guitarist JF Danenais in July to discuss what makes the album special to the band, the band’s continued ascent, his views on production work, and more!

Dead Rhetoric: Congrats on the new album, I’ve been listening to it for a few days now and I’m impressed. There’s just something special about it for a Kataklysm release that I just can’t put my finger on.

JF Dagenais: We’ve worked so hard, and we’ve introduced a bunch of new elements and textures into the sound. Especially with the seven string guitars. It’s much heavier than we used to do, with just that. We’ve combined a lot of new things – stuff we would do great in the past and we just had this magical moment where everything just came together. Maurizio [Iacono] and I connected a lot as songwriters. Most of the new album is him and I. We used to write like that back in the day. We have this special chemistry together that came alive.

We are super happy about the results and are excited that it gets to be released now because it was supposed to be pushed into 2021. We didn’t want to do that because the album has been done for months already. We were anxious to release it. We feel that the moment now is pretty dark. Things are grim. It’s good to release music and make people feel better.

Dead Rhetoric: Interesting. There’s been a lot of bands pushing releases back. Cool to hear you wanted to move forward.

Dagenais: For us, it’s not about the sales and business side. It’s about just getting it out there. If it’s going to make people feel good, then get it out. I think it’s a good time to release too because next year you are going to have an avalanche of a million bands coming out with new albums all at once and you don’t want to get caught up in that either. I feel like right now is perfect.

Dead Rhetoric: Any sort of special meaning behind Unconquered?

Dagenais: We came up with it before the pandemic started, and it fits for what is going on, but that’s now why we chose the title. It was more of a statement as a band. We’ve been together for so long and have put out so many records. We love what we do and are passionate about it. So many things that could have happened – times that we could have quit or chose to do something else but we are still here and doing things by our own rules and terms. That’s one of the reasons that the album title resonated with us.

Dead Rhetoric: With all of your investment into heavy metal, what keeps you driven and motivated to continue? You’ve got Kataklysm, Ex Deo, as well as a lot going on production-wise too.

Dagenais: We love what we do, really. Sometimes, when we are on the road and we do all of these things and we have conversations in the band about how we are really lucky to be able to do this for a living. We really appreciate it. It’s like pushing yourself to do better and bring yourself to the next level. There’s a certain respect for what you do. I love playing guitar, and I love what we do as a band – writing songs, recording songs. It’s a respect for the craft to keep pushing things to 200% and we are going to give it our best, and try to be better as what we do. We want to keep evolving and moving in a good direction.

That’s my mind frame for everything I do in life. Whether it’s working in the studio, mixing, recording, or working with an artist. Or how I manage my life with my family. Just trying to be better. That’s what I live by and try to apply it to all parts of my life.

Dead Rhetoric: What sparked the return of the heart beast?

Dagenais: When Maurizio and I got together to work on the songs we thought there was cool vibe like what we had back in the day. At first we had a few different ideas, like making him look angrier and badass. We thought it was a great idea and we found the right guy to recreate him. It’s the same guy that does all of the In Flames artwork. He did a fantastic job. I love the white background. It gives it a modern edge and a different look. I think it represents the music well and fits with the title. The beast is back and he’s winning. Everything is glorious. I think it’s a great package and image for the music.

Dead Rhetoric: You don’t see a lot of white covers in the metal world.

Dagenais: The guy was crafting this super dark background for the beast, but one morning he sent us a picture of what he did out of the blue and it struck me as being awesome. He sent the cover with the white background and it was like, “Holy shit, that’s badass” [laughs]. We decided to go with it.

Dead Rhetoric: You do the engineering/production for Kataklysm as well, do you feel that piece is a defining part of your sound?

Dagenais: For us, the struggle over the years – I have always felt that Kataklysm is a very strong live band. We have that energy and chemistry together on the stage. The struggle has always been to capture it and put it on a cd. I feel sometimes that we are a better live band than on albums, because of that energy. I think through the years, we have managed to figure a way to do it and we are getting better at it. We have complete control in what we release for the music by doing it in-house.

Me being part of the band and being involved in everything we do, I think it just makes sense that I do the production part as well. It makes it more personal and more real. We don’t have anyone who comes in and tells us what to do. It’s a way to keep control of our own music, and also it’s an art and craft that we have developed over the years and I think we are getting better at it. It’s a fun process for us to record. We finished this album, and we can’t wait to start another one. We are like, man this was great. But right now we are working on the Ex Deo record, and my schedule is pretty full at the studio. It’s cool.

Things are going well, and production for me, has been a way to pay the bills when we can’t tour. I love doing production work. It’s my second passion. It’s an art that you develop over a lifetime. You keep pushing yourself and getting better at it. I like doing the Kataklysm stuff. Everyone from the label and everything says not to change the recipe and its working for us. They don’t want to involve anyone else in the process, so we do it on our own and then we give the mix to someone else once it’s all ready to go.

Dead Rhetoric: Speaking of which, what do you feel that Colin Richardson and Chris Clancy added to the sound of the album?

Dagenais: Colin is a legendary, iconic type of producer. It was a dream of mine to work with him. When I started doing production work, I always felt that his sound was the best I had heard back in the day. I was always comparing what I did to his work, as reference in the studio. He was retired, and when we started talking about guys who could mix the new album, I suggested trying to get Colin. We actually got in touch through Chris Clancy. He’s a friend of mine, and I’ve been doing some things with him over the last few years and we have kept in touch. He became a good friend. He told me that Colin lived down the block from him and he could ask for us.

Colin Richardson is an old school guy, and doesn’t know too much about the new technology in recording, he just has this awesome set of great ears. When he hears something wrong, he can fix it right away. He knows what goes where and what frequencies to push. Chris came in, and he’s a modern cutting edge engineer. He knows all the tricks and every piece of gear that’s modern. Between him and Colin, we crafted this production that sounds incredible. It’s like the best of the old school ways and modern ways together combined for this sound. It came out great, and I’m really happy.

I hope we can work together again in the future. I hope that Colin still wants to do mixing when we do our next album. He’s in his 60s, and he’s this great old guy. He loved the experience, and I think we are going to see more of him in the next few years. I hope he wants to keep doing it, because he does a great job for metal and the scene.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s your approach to production when it comes to other bands? What do you feel is most important?

Dagenais: To me, it’s to understand the band you are working with and find what works for them, as well as respecting their sound. I find that a lot of studio guys have their own ways and they do everything a certain way. They don’t necessarily follow what a band sounds like. My approach is to listen to what the band sounds like and respect that sound – and actually get that sound and energy recorded. What is it that makes them sound awesome? What is it that makes the band special? You want to take that and work with it. Sometimes you have to teach them about certain things on the technical side that they may not be accustomed to, but always respect that root sound. Always respect that sound and make it the best it can be. That’s pretty much my approach.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that Kataklysm has benefitted from your production work, not just for the band itself, but many other acts?

Dagenais: Yeah, I do pick up things here and there. When I grew up, it was a different world in the metal and music scene. I work a lot with bands that are in their early 20s. They show me new things and bands. They show me sounds that they want to go towards and its things I haven’t heard of before. I discover new techniques, music, and ways of doing things. It keeps me young in a way. It benefits both. I feel the experience is invaluable and in the music world, that’s something I bring to the table when I work with a younger band. The younger band brings new ideas and new musical concepts. I think the combination is a recipe to make great albums.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been with Kataklysm for close to 30 years now. What do you feel you’ve gained from the experience?

Dagenais: The thing I appreciate the most is seeing the world. We have traveled to so many different countries and places. I’ve been everywhere all over the planet and have tasted the food from different places. I’ve seen the differences in culture from my own eyes. That’s what I’m most grateful for. Also, being able to meet people all over the world. The experience of meeting musicians and bands in the business too. I feel like this whole environment that I spent my life in has made me a better person at the end of the day. I really appreciate all of the experiences I’ve had over the years. It’s brought a lot of positives to my life and I’m very thankful that I am able to do all of these different things that we get to do with the band.

Dead Rhetoric: You released “The Philosopher King” earlier this year, and you mentioned them briefly earlier, but is anything else going on with Ex Deo?

Dagenais: We are writing right now and the goal is to record a new Ex Deo record before the end of summer and mix it in the fall. We would have some new music for that perhaps sometime next year. We are utilizing the downtime now in the most creative ways. We keep pushing and we are working hard. Hopefully the world reopens at some point so we can start playing shows and touring again.

Dead Rhetoric: Anything on your bucket list you’d still like to achieve?

Dagenais: The thing that drives me, like we were saying earlier, is to push myself as much as I can as an artist, songwriter, and producer. That’s my goal. To put out great music. That’s the hardest and most challenging part. That’s what we want to keep working at. I want to finish this career on a note that’s like, “Wow, look at what we did. Look at this albums.” That’s what makes me happy. Playing live is amazing, and a great experience but I feel like we have done it all. I’m excited about doing it still, but it’s not a goal personally. It’s really more about the artistic side of things and coming up with the best stuff we can as an artist.

Dead Rhetoric: What does the future hold for Kataklysm once things get somewhat back to normal?

Dagenais: We have a lot of stuff booked for next summer already. A lot of open airs, and a bunch of tours are being booked for after the summer. Throughout 2022 and 2023, there’s a lot of stuff coming. Who knows if we are able to do it, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that it all works out that we can do all of these things. So far, the schedule looks packed after summer 2021.

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