Canadian melodic death metal heavyweights KATAKLYSM return with their their 14th full length studio album, “Unconquered” which will be unleashed on September 25th via Nuclear Blast Records. Frontman Maurizio Iacono took time out to speak to us about the new record and the impact of Covid-19.
Metal-Roos: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today! I hope you are keeping safe and healthy!
Yes! We’re doing the best with we can to cope with everything that’s going on. We’re just excited to be releasing this record! I think it’s extremely an aggressive record, I reckon it’s more aggressive than anything and we’re very happy with it man so. It’s been a good ride so far.
M-R: You said that Kataklysm wanted a modern forward-thinking approach to recording this time around, how did they approach recording change for you guys this time?
Yeah, we wanted to try something new you know ’cause we’ve been together for 30 years this year. So, the band’s been together for a long time! We started in high school and it’s been a long time since then…haha. We’ve navigated the waters in different ways, but this time we felt “let’s do something to change the band’s trajectory a little bit, make it a little bit more modern, change the sound”. So, J.F. (Guitar) went from a six-string to 7 string guitar for this record which beefed up the sound a lot, and then my bass player (Stephane Barbe) went from four to five-string so you know that gonna amplify stuff!
We were also lucky to have Colin Richardson mixed in with this record. For us, he’s an iconic producer and he came out of retirement to do this album. We were very lucky to have him. The combination of all this with the driven factor with the idea behind it changed a lot for us on this album. Sounds like a breath of fresh air you know, and 14 albums later it’s difficult to do that. We’re very happy that we’ve been able to pull it off.
M-R: Kataklysm has always had a crushingly heavy sound, how much difference do you think it made to the band’s sound with J.F. bringing in 7-string guitars?
I think it definitely changed the sound, you know, the tuning so low it’s almost inhuman! It’s so beefy!
The cool thing that I found about this record and doing a move like that for us is the fact that we are still able to sound like Kataklysm and there’s something special about that. The fact that we were able to write the same way and enhance some things ’cause you know we did try new things there’s even piano parts on the record and all these different things going on, But we still sound like Kataklysm just a little bit more modern. It was like two different worlds colliding together!
Then you bring in the factor of giving all these modern tools to the guy like Colin Richardson who’s like an iconic producer. He puts his touch on it and that’s it you know, we were super happy with it. Even after sitting with it for a while, obviously this record was done before the pandemic hit you know, we finished it in December of last year (2019) and earlier this year we gave it a Nuclear Blast and at the time it got postponed so we got time to listen back to it and we were like “we won’t change a thing” we were just so happy with it there’s just nothing to change!
M-R: You managed to get legendary producer Colin Richardson for Unconquered, how was the experience working with Colin and how much did he impact the writing recording process for the band?
Well, obviously having a guy like that say yes is already a big thing, especially since we’re not the biggest band in the world, it shows that he’s got a lot of heart in what he likes to do. He absolutely brought a lot to the picture you know, he has his style, and he has a good ear like he knows what to do with something. He brought some ideas to the table as well, we were at the studio and sometimes he is like “hey guys, I think you should do this in this part” so, we go back in the studio and do this on certain things which is more on the producing side of things but that’s when I knew that he really digs the band, you know, he did the record and he’s putting his personal input in it. That gives you extra confidence in the middle of writing and finishing the record. I think that it’s one of those moments where the puzzle comes together, the stars are aligning, and I think everything just worked that way. Even with this pandemic! instead of pushing the record to 2021 like we were thinking of doing, I’m happy that we were able to convince them to release it now. The title of the record is meant to be for a time like this, it’s not meant to be when everything is rosy with little flowers everywhere. This is a time to release metal records and the business can take a backseat right now, this is important that we release music for the people right now ’cause I think it’s therapeutic.
M-R: Were there any moments of inspiration during recording that really shifted the direction of a song on Unconquered?
Songs like Underneath the Scars which is a big track on the record just came out naturally it took about four or five hours to put that song together, and I remember when we were done with it we were like “man this just charges like a train!” it’s well done and we’re happy with it and we worked on the chorus and all that stuff. Songs that were dramatically switched around like Stitches we had a different approach on that track, and you can tell. It has a different flavour to the record. In the studio, we scrapped 50% of the song and then we had to rebuild it because we didn’t think it was where it needed to be so when we redid it and sent it back to Colin Richardson and Chris Clancy who are the two producers that worked on the record, they were like “this one of my favourite songs on the album” so you know, just moments like that.
M-R: I read that you took an even more personal approach to the lyrics for Unconquered than previous albums, how did this change the way you approached your lyrics if at all?
I’ve always written my lyrics in an open fashion. I write them in a poetic or show poem sort, short story type of thing. I write the lyrics obviously coming from a deep dark place, but I write them in an open fashion so people can read the lyrics and then attach their own storeys to them, then they can connect to it you know? I’ve always done that with Kataklysm because I like to be very open with that. But this record was very personal to for me. For some reason was have been dealing with some depression and anxiety over the last year. I think it’s to do with the fact that I’ve been working so hard for the last 29 years…I started the band in the early 90s then I never took a break! if you do the math this is the 14th record and the band is 29 years old so that’s an album every two years! then touring in the middle so I think I was almost burned out. So, this thing happening to me at least it brought some problems because obviously cancelling an entire year with incomes etc, but I think it was a forced break that I needed. Now I’m recharging the batteries and feeling good again. When I came into this record I needed a punching bag I didn’t have until this came along. This is how it came out, I try to channel my emotions through my music. Every record is different and these ones are very aggressive one for me personally.
M-R: In an interview, you said you enjoyed being in competition with yourself when talking about Ex-Deo and Kataklysm, and it just so happens that Ex-Deo has also released a new track in May this year, did this continue that competition? How did the track influence Unconquered if at all?
No that wasn’t going to be the competition for the Kataklysm record, it’s the one we’re doing right now with Ex-Deo. We’re not in the studio yet, but we’re finishing off this record. We’re about 3/4 in right now and we’re going to finish it by September and we’re going to the studio around early fall. This record is really twisted and dark it’s about Nero and it’s up there is one of my favourite Ex-Deo records ever written! but yes, I love to compete with myself. I think if you have two bands like I do in this industry Ex-Deo has never been the one that we’ve really pushed it’s just been like “OK we have some time now let’s do an Ex-Deo record” but it has a really good following behind it and it’s something we’ve been thinking of pushing more in the future, maybe we’ll put both of them on the same tour at some point and do like a Kataklysm versus Ex-Deo type of thing.
M-R: You also manage bands, and said that mistakes kill bands and that you have learned from experience, over the fourteen albums as a band can you remember the biggest triumph and worst mistake for Kataklysm as a band?
I mean triumph wise I think the fact that we’re still here to be able to do music 29 years on you know, that’s unheard of in death metal. We’ve been very successful and triumphant with that. For mistakes, we’ve done plenty man…The one that I think is the general idea that some records needed a little bit more attention, a little bit more precision, less like “it’s alright” then it has to be excellent. Some moments in our career we’ve had those and I think it would have helped us get bigger faster, instead of really trying to prove ourselves over and over or whatever. We’ve had little moments like that in our career but in general, I wouldn’t change a thing! because we are still here and we’re happy and I think that’s what’s important.
M-R: The image of a death metal vocalist is one of aggression and intensity etc, but have a flick through your Instagram and you can see you obviously have a loving family, How has that influenced your world view and the way you want to portray that image? Has to smooth the edges or made you more passionate about fighting for what is just?
I mean I’ve always fought for what is just, that it’s a part of my character. I’m also a person that has a big heart, but if you slap me I’m not going to turn the other cheek, I’m gonna fight back, that’s for sure. But I enjoy my family a lot, my kids are my everything and I like to share those moments with my fans. I feel connected with them and they do the same when they post stuff, they tell me about their lives when I’m on the road and I meet people. I also want to show the world that I’m not only that guy screaming behind the microphone, you know, I’m also a father and I understand other people and normal life. I’m like everybody else, that’s what I kind of portray by doing that. I definitely enjoy my crazy family…I’ve got three kids and all of them are crazy, one of them likes metal and the other two don’t know so we’ll see what happens.
M-R: I know the album is one of positive aggression, with themes of fighting back and overcoming the insurmountable seething through the lyrics, I did want to ask though during the span of your almost thirty-year career, with so many issues and atrocious human acts still happening, have you ever felt like the fight is worthless and the world isn’t going to change? Obviously living in Chicago at the moment you would be seeing revolution first hand…
I actually moved from Chicago this year, I was in Chicago for 17 years and I then decided to move down to Florida with my family by the end of last year, we have some family down here. I actually sold my house and then literally a couple of weeks later they shut down the country. I was in between housing! it was a nightmare situation to happen. You sell your house now you don’t have a house and you don’t know if they’ll continue building yours and it’s a crazy situation.
I look at it like this, it’s worth fighting for.
Even if you’re not going to change everything, you have to fight for what it’s just. One way or another. But then we also have to have law and order ’cause without it, you have chaos and chaos is not good for anybody. I see the US as a country as a like a big baby that’s spoiled, when it does something bad it’s not getting punished and when it’s when it gets punished it complains, then when it’s in the candy store it wants everything while it’s never satisfied. I think that’s the problem. You have to put a stop certain things. If a police officer does something bad that guy has needs to be punished heavily. It doesn’t mean to de-fund or destroys the Police Department since there’s always going to be the bad guys out there. But I think there’s a way that we can get back to normalcy and get some sort of understanding you can’t have a war between two sides, you know, ’cause most of us are in the middle. There are things on both sides that make sense but it’s unfortunate that people ruling everything are always in extremes, always pulling from each side while we’re in the middle getting torn apart. That’s my philosophy on it in a nutshell.
It’s worth fighting for and the world will progress little by little. Every generation brings someone and something positive and it pushes a little bit towards something better, at least that’s what I think, that’s what I want to believe. It is bad out there, it’s really bad, sometimes you do think we’re going backwards in the mentality of people but we will get there.
M-R: Just quickly on a lighter note, what’s your favourite Cigar and Whiskey combination?
Well! I’m doing Camacho Connecticut cigars lately, they’re a little bit lighter and it’s called a Camacho it’s a Dominican Republic one. I like my Glenlivet Scotch aged 15 years it’s beautiful.
M-R: Thanks again for your time! Cannot wait to see Kataklysm back on the road with this swag of new tracks!
Man, we can’t wait to bring him out man then I appreciate you take you taking the time to do this you know it’s the other voice for all of us in this dark time so thanks again for doing what you do!
Interview Date: 2020-08-10
Interviewed by Jonathan Hurley