Kataklysm’s Of Ghosts and Gods — Canadian Death Metal Powerful Enough to Unearth the Poutine from Your SOUL
Certain bands put their metal game faces on in laughably melodramatic ways, sacrificing how seriously we might take them in an unknowingly ironic attempt to be taken more seriously, more tr00. But Montreal’s longstanding death metal/”northern hyperblast” outfit Kataklysm — easily the pleasant Canadian city’s most harrowingly delightful force of aggression since that late-night poutine wrestled with your poor tum-tum in between lap dances — transcend any level of posturing within the aforementioned phenomenon and sound like the real deal of what many of us would expect from a legit Metal with a capital M band to sound like.
The riffs are deep and relentless, the thunderous drumming will continually knock your socks right off, the breakdowns chug with purpose and fury (knowing exactly when to strategically rest in order to induce maximum headbanging), and the vocals are powerful and organic. Not to mention the lyrical content and themes throughout fall into the decidedly-metal-but-not-quite-cheesy realm, a feat that seems quite difficult for many similar bands to achieve without getting clowny.
Starting your album with a sound bite from a classic or obscure movie is certainly acceptable (assuming said sound bite isn’t too long), but using one from a movie that came out last year is kind of lame. Nonetheless, the quote pulled from Exodus: Gods and Kings is definitely appropriate to the themes of this album.
“You say that you didn’t cause all this? Your god did?”
“I am the god! I am the god!”
“So let’s just see who’s more effective at killing: you, this god…”
As far as my ears can tell, they cut the last couple words of the quote off (“…or me”) and in the process lost a crucial component of its meaning: can man possess the power of the gods? Nonetheless, there is an appropriate abundance of battle imagery — largely internal, but also portraying struggles against coping and/or dealing with the challenges and decline of outside forces (society?) — throughout Of Ghosts and Gods, which creates a rather effective thread that carries us through the album.
From the first song, “Breaching The Asylum”, it is apparent that we are dealing with a thoroughly experienced band at the top of its game. This track already highlights much of what Kataklysm does best: epically ambient groovy intro/transition parts, breakneck speed thunderous verse, hooky chorus….and from the outset it also becomes clear that this listening experience will be quite clear — the production offers a thorough sense of clarity and crispness for every instrument (including Maurizio Iacono’s seasoned, excellent vocals).
And then we are treated to another trick on “The Black Sheep” that Kataklysm didn’t pull out on the first song: a breakdown that will have you headbanging until your dome wrenches right off your neck. Yes, there is still a great hooky chorus and nice verse riffage, but the real star of this number is dat breakdown. Holy shit. We only get to hear it twice through (as the intro and again in the middle when Iacono snarls “FUCK YOU ALL” — easily one of the most impactful aggressive moments on the album) but even with that little Kataklysm deftly remind us why breakdowns can be so great. Coupled with a memorable lead guitar line in the chorus, and it’s not surprising why this track was featured as an advance single from Of Ghosts and Gods.
Keeping the surprises coming, third song “Marching Through Graveyards” certainly lives up to its name to deliver the most br00tality thus far on the album. And yet despite such powerful heaviness, about halfway through, the band still finds a way to bring the mood down a bit while retaining the driving force already established (first utilizing simple bass licks alongside a constant guitar riff and in between hits, then building to a dark, drony instrumental bridge section from there). After so many years in the game, Kataklysm absolutely understands and respects the importance of dynamics — both within individual songs and throughout the course of an album. Every song falls roughly into the same style/vibe, which admittedly can get a little taxing at times, but the songwriting is at a high enough level that it’s difficult to ever feel bored.
Case in point, by song four you’d probably expect most bands to repeat themselves conceptually at least a little, but rest assured Kataklysm are certainly not like most bands. The raw intro lone gutar riff of “Thy Serpents Tongue” (Grammar Nazi alert: isn’t there an apostrophe missing in that song title, dudes?) creates yet another songwriting context that continues to give this album a diverse feel that most metalheads should be able to get behind.
At this point in Of Ghosts and Gods, after such a strong quadruple opening punch, Kataklysm have afforded themselves the right to settle into a bit of a mid-album stride. The next few songs are a bit more straightforward but still have quite strong moments that feel unique. “Vindication” is one of the more pat tracks here, yet contains perhaps the most lyrical bridge on the entire album. “Soul Destroyer” has a few more basic riffs than in most of the other songs, but also pushes a couple of extremely unique guitar licks that play with dissonance more than any other song (and goddamn, the heaviness of the last thirty seconds could very well move a mountain). “Carrying Crosses” doesn’t do too much for me but fits just fine three-quarters of the way through the album and plays with some nice modal patterns.
The last few tracks aren’t quite as distinctive as the earlier songs, save for diverse, ripping closing track “The World Is A Dying Insect” (which incidentally has an almost hilarious yet ultimately baddass opening lyric: “Everyone’s alive, but everyone is dead, and everyone’s a fucking liarrr….Everyone is greed, spreading the disease, living in a world of hypocrisy…”), but the playing is still top-notch throughout. Fighting his way through a slightly sterile (although typically “metal”) kit sound — especially in the bass drum — drummer Oli Beaudoin doesn’t stop impressing for a second with his fierce performance, as does guitarist Jean-Francois Dagenais, who does a great job of balancing fretboard theatrics with more anchored chugging.
On the whole, this is a solid album that will have you raising horns high and rethinking late-night poutine for life.