13 August 2010
by Tom Dare
You probably think you know how this review of Heaven’s Venom is going to read. I’m going to trot out some clichés about Kataklysm being one of those bands laden with backhanded compliments – “consistent”, “dependable”, “proficient” and the like – without ever saying anything really positive. I’ll throw in some spiel about side-projects to cover up my lack of enthusiasm for “yet another Kataklysm” record. If you think that, you’re completely wrong.
All of those words would’ve been appropriate at previous point’s in Kataklysm’s career. They’ve been a stalwart of the death metal scene but have never really threatened to join the leading pack – usually good, always technically accomplished, varied but only very occasionally touching on excellence (Shadows & Dust from 2002 perhaps being the closest they have come in recent years).
In between this and 2008’s fairly solid Prevail, frontman Maurizio Iacono took the band off for his side-project Ex Deo. The result was the superb Romulus, a concept album based around the rise of the Roman Empire delivered through the medium of symphonic extreme metal. In truth, it was a far more interesting outing than anything his main band had put together for some time. Yet despite several tours and barely a year passing, Kataklysm have returned to their day jobs, ditched the synths and costumes and sound refreshed and invigorated. What the fuck happened to side-projects draining creativity?
Heaven’s Venom is not simply a case of tightening things up and sharpening the attack though. Things are still very much in full-on death metal territory, with plenty of barrages of out-and-out brutality and large doses of filth, but the increased guitar melody freshens things up dramatically from recent work. Although they do drift into some inevitable Gothenburg-esque minor key lead lines, it stops well short of a tired At The Gates parody. There’s plenty of the trademark Kataklysm riffs flying around, but these sometimes sound higher up the fret board than they have previously. Iacono’s vocals are still throat-shredding and fearsome, and there are none of the Ex Deo symphonics floating around.
The one slight complaint is the faux-philosophical macho bullshit spoken right at the beginning. It may be the way their albums have opened for a decade, but it sounds overly juvenile for a grown-up band like Kataklysm – actually sod that, it would sound like the infantile bollocks on Hackneyed’s debut, but at least they’d have an excuse of barely being out the womb. Here it just blunts the roiling attack of opening track ‘A Soulless God’. But it’s still just a minor gripe at best.
Watch the video to ‘Push The Venom’ by Kataklysm:
The usual features of the Canadians’ work – technical proficiency, good riffs, strong song crafting and heavy as fuck – are all here, but Heaven’s Venom graduates beyond that. Haunting solos, muddily beautiful lead lines and hooks within the brutal vocals all mould into a genuinely engaging record. Starting well with the stomp of ‘Determined (Vows Of Vengeance)’, getting stronger with the misery of ‘Hail The Renegade’ and staying interesting right through the mournful horror of closer ‘Blind Saviour’, Heaven’s Venom is consistent but not in the backhanded way that can sometimes imply. The high quality is maintained throughout and never threatens to run out of steam.
I have to admit, I was expecting that so-so record I described at the beginning of the review, and by this point to be telling you how I’d prefer more Ex Deo records if Kataklysm can’t release records as good as Romulus. Instead, Katakylsm haven’t just matched that side-project for quality, they’ve surpassed it, with Heaven’s Venom the band’s best record from a career spanning ten albums across nearly 20 years. It’s nice to be proved wrong.
Sounds like: Vader and Hypocrisy picking a fight with early Fear Factory
Top tracks: Faith Made Of Shrapnel, As The Wall Collapses, Blind Saviour
Kataklysm – Heaven’s Venom tracklisting:
A Soulless God
Determined (Vows Of Vengeance)
Faith Made Of Shrapnel
Push The Venom
Hail The Renegade
As The Wall Collapses
Numb And Intoxicated
At The Edge Of The World