Kataklysm – Unconquered – Album Review

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Artist: Kataklysm

Album Title: Unconquered

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date of Release: 25 September 2020

When I reviewed 2018’s ‘Meditations’, I pointed to three things that made me such a big fan of the Canadian death metal juggernaut: great song writing, great production, and most importantly, the guitar tones. In the case of the latter, I remarked that the Kataklysm guitar tone awakened something primeval within me. Imagine my confusion therefore, when I listened to ‘Unconquered’ for the first time, only to discover that, for me, the key ingredient no longer existed, at least not like it had in the past.

Unless I’m very much mistaken, there appears to have been a shift in the band’s approach this time around, in favour of a slightly more modern seven-string sound. It means that the guitar riffs have a chunkier feel, with more bottom-end chug. This may sound good, but it comes at the expense of some of the Kataklysm razor-sharp riffing. I’m not saying that the guitar work is not good because there is still plenty to enjoy within the songs. But Kataklysm have never before suffered from a lack of heaviness, bite and attack and so I have to wonder why the move was considered necessary, as it feels to me like a little bit of the magic has disappeared. In place of the magic, there is instead a faint whiff of ‘core’ to the nine tracks here.

For all that though, Kataklysm at 70% is still a damn sight better than a lot of bands within this genre, as ‘Unconquered’ more than ably proves. At around the 38-minute mark, it is an intense listen that never outstays its welcome – more of a smash and grab than a draw-out kicking I guess you might say.

The album opens with a sinister melody by way of an intro into ‘The Killshot’ but it is soon replaced by a frantic down-tuned assault that eventually settles down into groovy territory. The speed and viciousness is pure Kataklysm it must be said, as it the smattering of melody to be heard within the battery. X’s vocals are full of the usual spite and vitriol and it is clear that the production enhances the entertainment on offer. But I can’t totally reconcile myself with JF Dagenais’ six-string tones; if anything, they sound a little unremarkable, and run-of-the-mill.

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Happily, ‘Cut Me Down’ is a much catchier affair, benefitting from some scything riffs and melodies that lodge themselves more firmly in my head. It feels more of a Kataklysm track, that’s for sure. ‘Underneath The Scars’ tears me in two, however, as I love the chorus that emerges, but don’t really engage with the majority of the rest as I find it a little uninspiring; it makes a huge noise with machine-gun drumming all over the place but the riffs just chug a little monotonously.

‘Stitches’ is another good track with memorable melody, but again, a familiar nemesis emerges: the unimaginative seven-string chug within the body of the song. It’s so frustrating, because I personally feel that Dagenais is better than that, and it robs me of much of my enjoyment. I acknowledge at this point that I may well be in the minority with these views, I don’t know. But, as I always say, honesty is the best policy. And, importantly, it needs to also be said that despite these misgivings, I really do like much of this track.

The same is true of ‘Icarus Falling’, in that despite a couple of minor misgivings, I love the dark, moody, piano-led central melody that is without doubt, my album highlight. In fact, it’s a song that is head and shoulders above the rest as far as I’m concerned. And that includes the brutal aggression and warp-speed sections of ‘Defiant’ which reminds us in glorious technicolour as to why they obtained the description ‘Nothern Hyperblast’ some years ago.

All-in-all, I’m loathed to say that ‘Unconquered’ is a poor record in the Kataklysm discography. There is plenty to enjoy on this record, and I suspect the issues that I have with it stem from my own tastes more than anything else. However, I just wish that there was less of the down-tuned modern chug in evidence, with a greater emphasis on that winning blend of razor-sharp aggression and subtle melody, for which the Canadians have been known and loved for so long.

The Score of Much Metal: 76%

Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:

Structural Disorder – Kingdom Crossing

Skeletal Remains – The Entombment Of Chaos

Prehistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter One)

Ihsahn – Pharos

Hinayana – Death Of The Cosmic
Oceans Of Slumber – Oceans Of Slumber
Okyr – Premorbid Intelligence
Manticora – To Live To Kill To Live
Pain Of Salvation – Panther
Vanishing Point – Dead Elysium
Unleash The Archers – Abyss
Veonity – Sorrows
Nyktophobia – What Lasts Forever
Ages – Uncrown
Awake By Design – Awake By Design
Black Crown Initiate – Violent Portraits Of Doomed Escape
Gaerea – Limbo
Buried Realm – Embodiment Of The Divine
Navian – Reset
Selenseas – The Outer Limits
Quantum – The Next Breath Of Air
Ensiferum – Thalassic
Long Distance Calling – How Do We Want To Live?
Airbag – A Day At The Beach
Re-Armed – Ignis Aeternum
Atavist – III: Absolution
Frost* – Others EP
Darker Half – If You Only Knew
Atavistia – The Winter Way
Astralborne – Eternity’s End
Centinex – Death In Pieces
Haken – Virus
Pile Of Priests – Pile Of Priests
Sorcerer – Lamenting Of The Innocent
Lesoir – Mosaic
Temnein – Tales: Of Humanity And Greed
Caligula’s Horse – Rise Radiant
…And Oceans – Cosmic World Mother
Vader – Solitude In Madness
Shrapnel – Palace For The Insane
Sinisthra – The Broad And Beaten Way
Paradise Lost – Obsidian
Naglfar – Cerecloth
Forgotten Tomb – Nihilistic Estrangement
Winterfylleth – The Reckoning Dawn
Firewind – Firewind
An Autumn For Crippled Children – All Fell Silent, Everything Went Quiet
Havok – V
Helfró – Helfró
Victoria K – Essentia
Cryptex – Once Upon A Time
Thy Despair – The Song Of Desolation
Cirith Ungol – Forever Black
Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion
Nightwish – Human. II: Nature.
Katatonia – City Burials
Wolfheart – Wolves Of Karelia
Asenblut – Die Wilde Jagd
Nicumo – Inertia
The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous
Omega Infinity – Solar Spectre
Symbolik – Emergence
Pure Reason Revolution – Eupnea
Irist – Order Of The Mind
Testament – Titans Of Creation
Ilium – Carcinogeist
Dawn Of Ouroboros – The Art Of Morphology
Torchia – The Coven
Novena – Eleventh Hour
Ashes Of Life – Seasons Within
Dynazty – The Dark Delight
Sutrah – Aletheia EP
Welicoruss – Siberian Heathen Horde
Myth Of I – Myth Of I
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

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