Kataklysm – Unconquered Review

I’ve stuck by Kataklysm for a long time. The Quebecois death metal institution has remained a personal favorite for ages, partly because I grew up with the stuff. I became a fan through great records like Shadows & Dust, Serenity in Fire, In the Arms of Devastation, and the underrated Prevail. One tends to associate the era of a band most formative to their tastes with the sound of that band, which makes sense; that’s what caused them to become a fan, after all. As time takes its toll, things change; we can’t stagnate forever. Sometimes, after an absence, we don’t recognize our friend for a moment. Such was my initial reaction to Unconquered.

The biggest change between Unconquered and Meditations is one of equipment: guitarist JF Dagenais appears to have began a passionate affair with a seven-string guitar and, akin to when a guy gets a new girlfriend, has to show her off to everyone. This has altered the riffing style of Kataklysm in a big way, as there’s more “bouncy” rhythms akin to modern, post-Myspace deathcore. While breakdown-esque riffs have been incorporated into Kataklysm for quite some time (e.g. “Like Angels Weeping (The Dark),” “At the Edge of the World,” “The Black Sheep,” etc.), never before have they sounded so akin to later Whitechapel and their ilk. The “skronky,” “djenty” tone wrung from the seven-string guitar in the deathcore verse of “The Killshot” is almost unrecognizable as Kataklysm, but the band I know and love comes back in force with a dark melody which reminded me of In the Arms of Devastation.

This ebb and flow of unrecognizable new elements and the stuff this incarnation of Kataklysm is known for characterizes Unconquered and makes it a confusing experience. “Forced to Destroy You” fares well because it sounds like the seven-stringed counterpart to “Breathe to Dominate.” A sparse, Meshuggah-esque lead pops up and clashes with the tone of the song briefly, but otherwise it’s good. Closing number “When it’s Over” tries to recapture the emotive heaviness of “The Road to Devastation” but leans way too hard into seven-string-core territory in the heavier parts, sounding disjointed and disorienting. When “Stitches” kicked off, the Kataklysm sound prevailed only to be overtaken by seven-string-core riffing shoehorned awkwardly into the mold. Instead of adapting the new tool to their songwriting, Kataklysm has, in some spots, adapted their songwriting to the new tool. “Defiant” makes little impression beyond that faster riffing on lower strings sometimes sounds a bit soupy despite Dagenais’ and Colin Richardson’s1 otherwise solid, weighty, modern production. When it slows down it has some decent riffs, but they don’t scream Kataklysm.

While a reliance on tone and lower-pitched notes to do the heavy lifting has sapped some of the creativity from JF Dagenais’ riffs, he’s too talented of a player for Unconquered to be a total wash. “Cut Me Down” shows that he can still write a good lead melody and riffs that don’t rely so much on the brute force of a thicker string to impress. I enjoyed the emotive melody in “Icarus Falling” and Maurizio Iacono’s vocal performance and lyrics over top struck a chord with me. Iacono’s performance here is, as always, strong and charismatic. I found “The Way Back Home” interesting, because it implemented Dagenais’ newfangled riffing fascinations rather well into the established Kataklysm style. The lead melodies in the song happily recall Heaven’s Venom and Waiting for the End to Come in equal measure, and the quasi-breakdown in the middle is well-placed and sounds huge.

I’m not trying to be unduly harsh to Kataklysm, as each song here has at least one riff, melody, or moment that I enjoy. I have no doubt plenty of people will like this, especially those who are into the hyper-modern metal sound. I don’t think they “sold out” here – rather, they implemented sounds which inspire them but don’t inspire me nearly as much. I sadly don’t see myself returning to Unconquered terribly often, as Kataklysm has too many other quality releases to spin instead. It brings me no joy to be less excited about one of my favorite band’s new records than I’ve ever been upon hearing it. Perhaps Kataklysm has changed, or perhaps I’ve changed. Maybe they’ll keep pursuing this new sound and we’ll drift apart. Maybe they’ll implement the new elements better on the next release. Either way, I’ll be there for it – this is a band that’s given me years of enjoyment, and everyone’s allowed to stumble now and again.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 267 kbps vbr mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Websites: kataklysm.ca | facebook.com/kataklysm
Releases Worldwide: September 25th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. This is the second time these two have appeared together in production credits in 2020. The first time was on Anonymus’ La Bestia, where each man produced one song.
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