With the reliability of a well-oiled clock, Kataklysm are set to release their 13th record ‘Meditations’ in June. The Canadian melodic death metal giants have been peddling their brand of hyper-melodic, blast-heavy melodeath for almost 30 years now, delivering a new album consistently every 2-3 years since the turn of the century. Their early works from the ‘90s and early 2000s are widely regarded as some of the best melodeath on that side of the Atlantic, and rightly so – the chaotic, more brutal works with Sylvain Houde are underappreciated brilliance, while their more melodic output from ‘Victims of This Fallen World’ to ‘Shadows & Dust’ is a collection of stone-cold classic melodic death metal. The band saw a drop in the quality of their output from the mid-late 2000s, though their last few records have been a step in the right direction. Does ‘Meditations’ continue the trend of improvement, or do Kataklysm revert back to mediocrity?
From initial listens, it is clear that ‘Meditations’ shows a lot of promise. The melodies across the record as a whole are generally excellent, and Maurizio’s vocal performance is the best he’s performed in years. However, one of the big problems with Kataklysm’s later output is the lack of memorability, with the band delivering very little in the way of infectious hooks – and this is an issue carried forward with ‘Meditations’. The hooks are there, and when they’re done well, the tracks stand a head and shoulders above much of what Kataklysm has released post ‘Shadows & Dust’ – unfortunately, they aren’t always done particularly well.
It has been a long time since Kataklysm were a straight-up death metal band, delivering ferocity, brutality and chaos above all else. They are a beast driven more by groove and melody these days – and this shows. Tracks like “Outsider” and “Narcissist” appear like their trying to lean more to the death metal side of melodeath, but come over a bit clumsy, lacking the true savagery of the band’s original recordings. In 2018, Kataklysm truly shines as a behemoth of modern metal when they fully embrace the melody that is so integral to their current sound, developing an epic, emotionally driven atmosphere to compliment the groovy, death metal riffs. This is first experienced on “The Last Breath I’ll Take Is Yours,” which see’s the band dance between emotive melodies and up-tempo blasting seamlessly.
The first half of ‘Meditations’ is a bit hit-or-miss, but the second half sees the band capitalize on the promise they’re showing. “And Then I Saw Blood” sounds like an even more melodic Amon Amarth, complete with an excellent, blackened intro, while “What Doesn’t Break Doesn’t Heal” offers a more groove focused sound. It is the closing two songs that really stand as the best moments from ‘Meditations’, however. “Bend The Arc, Cut The Cord” has the best hooks on the album, and perfectly displays just how well Kataklysm can execute modern melodic death metal. However, it is “Achilles Heel” that stands as the albums unquestionable highlight, offering a deeply emotional, hook-filled and hyper-melodic closing track that may just be the best song the band have released in a decade.
Extremely groovy and infused with enough melody to break up the punishing heaviness, ‘Meditations‘ is a good, but inconsistent, release from Kataklysm. However, much of the record suffers from a severe lack of memorability, with many of the tracks blending together allowing only a few songs to burrow into your subconsciousness. That said, the riffs are heavy, the melodies pleasing, and the vocal performance one of Maurizio Iacono’s best – all the ingredients for an enjoyable, if slightly forgettable, listen. ‘Meditations‘ stands as one of the best records Kataklysm has released in the last decade, displaying so much promise that only just misses the mark – though it doesn’t hold a candle to the glory of their early works.