Released: 2008, Nuclear Blast Records
Reviewer: The Crimson King
There is an old saying that goes: there are only two certainties in life; death and taxes. A possible addition to that list would be that every two years Kataklysm will unleash another fresh dose of their brand of death metal unto the masses. For over 15 years the Canadian death crew have been churning out slabs of head smashing metal and, in the process, managed to solidify themselves as one of the stalwarts of the genre. Over the years their style has evolved somewhat from the old moniker of “northern hyperblast” (a label meant to convey the ferocious speed of their earlier work) to a more diverse sound that incorporates thrash and groove influences. Through the years that band has managed to keep it simple: relying heavily on the blasting riffs laid down by guitarist Jean-Francois Dagenais (J-F for short), and never managed to get caught up in the “our death metal is more technical than your death metal” cock waving of bands like Nile and Suffocation. In doing so, their releases have managed to consistently be considered some of the best death metal albums of their respective years.
Like clockwork the band follows-up what was considered by many to be a career topping achievement in their 2006 release IN THE ARMS OF DEVASTATION, with their new album PREVAIL. IN THE ARMS OF DEVASTATION saw the band again making a subtle change to their overall sound, and PREVAIL builds upon, and further explores these shifts in dynamics. Right out of the box it can be noted that the production values on PREVAIL are a leg up on its predecessor. The album is much crisper and fuller sounding. Each instrument is clear and noticeably distinct within the track itself, lending to an overall heavier tone, and providing more depth to the tracks, especially when listening to the album with headphones. The album opens, in classic Kataklysm style, with another sound clip from a film. This time around the band chose to use “What the hell. Everybody ends up dead. It’s just a matter of when” from Last Man Standing. This leads directly into the title track “Prevail”. The song is a classic Kataklysm burner, opening with thunderous blast beats and riffing, which transition into a bouncing verse that is custom made to go get the mosh pit stirring. The chorus slows down over a doom style riff, which begs for the “devil horns” to be thrown up, before returning to the blasting tempo which began the song. The track incorporates an (almost) Max Cavalera (Sepultura/Soulfly) feel to the way the rhythmic melody is spat out over the verses. This leads into “Taking the World By Storm” which gives the listener their first glimpse of the carry over of the more melodic riffing style present on IN THE ARMS OF DEVASTATION. The song opens with a mid tempo melodic riff that sounds like it would be right at home on the last Amon Amarth album. The song makes its way through the standard tempo changes with singer Maurizio Iacono transitioning back and forth from his death metal growls to his black metal screeches, always coming back around to the melodic riff that began the song, and proves to be one of the most memorable tracks on the album. This sound becomes one of the staples of the album, and is used to create an album of top to bottom solid tracks with no filler.
Other memorable standouts include; “As Death Lingers” which absolutely rips through the verses, and provides one of the album’s best leads played over an instantly memorable chorus; “Blood In Heaven” a mid tempo dirge with standout lyrics pertaining to the fraternal bond of soldiers, in which Iacono proclaims in the chorus “There is no glory, There is no trusting hand, I will defend you til the very end, Even if my hands spill blood in heaven”; and “Breathe to Dominate” which starts with a thrash metal riff reminiscent of Testament, works its way into the black metal realm with the pre-chorus, and immerges in another chorus that imbeds itself in your brain for weeks. As is standard with many of their albums, Kataklysm again saves arguably the best track for last (actually in this case second to last since the album ends with a rare instrumental track by the band). “The Vultures Are Watching” is similar to “The Road to Devastation” (the album closer on IN THE ARMS OF DEVASTATION) not only in the fact that it is the longest song on the album, but also in that it seems to meld all the styles used on other songs on the album together into one flawless track, proving a very apropos ending. Lyrically the song puts to rest any questions you may still have as to why the band chose that specific film quote to open the album. Clocking in at just under six minutes, the song has the feel of a fully realized piece of music (rather than just another good track), which sets it apart from the other songs on the album. It is also similar to “The Road to Devastation” in that is begs to be set closer for the band on this tour.
With PREVAIL, Kataklysm has provided another worthy entry into a catalogue of albums that clearly stands as one of the genres best. The band is certainly not trying to reinvent the wheel with this release. That being said, what makes them such an interesting listen is that they are able to tweak their sound on each release just enough to make each album clearly stand out from the others, while not sacrificing the overall feel and texture that clearly makes them what they are. In a genre of music that can, at times, be noted for it’s prosaic releases, they manage to have each album sound fresh, new, unique, and extremely relevant when it is released, and PREVAIL is no different. And now that the band has again re-upped its contract with Nuclear Blast, for the fourth time (a record for the label), I can eagerly anticipate 2010 (and 2012, 2014…etc) and the next chapter in their legacy. For now though, we are simply left with the early front runner for death metal album of the year.