Kataklysm (Canada)

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

Kataklysm (Canada)

Kataklysm have been crushing the world with their brand of Death Metal for 28 years. They have a staggering 13 studio albums under their belt, not to mention live DVDs and other releases. Always pushing the boundaries of just how heavy metal can get, their latest room rumbler Meditations was unleashed in 2018 being recognised as one of the bands most brutal to date. Now they are re-visiting our shores for the first time in 6 years, and also bringing good mates Hypocrisy along for a massive double death uppercut right to your face.

Metal-Roos: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today! I should start with the usual, you guys excited to be coming over to our shores once again?

Absolutely we’re stoked about Australia, we’re stoked about coming in playing with you for you guys because we haven’t been there in years. We loved it so much the last two times we were there. We get to play all over the world but sometimes, when you go really far into different territories it’s even more special. For us Australia is the other side of the world… coming from Canada. So, you never know if you’ll get the chance to go back. It’s so hard to get promoters and agents to get you to come from so far away it’s such an expense. We’re so excited to be back, and we will really make it worth it for everyone who’s coming to those shows. We’re preparing a massive set and we’re going to bring it 250%!

 M-R: You mentioned it’s very difficult to get out here, what is the biggest challenge you face in coming to Oz?

The flight, it’s such a long flight to get there. Also, Kataklysm is a band where we live in four different cities. I live in Dallas Texas our singer lives in Chicago and the other two are in Canada, so getting on tour and making sure the promoters can bring us there is one of the biggest problems that we have, the travelling expense. Otherwise we’re good to go, we love to travel, we love to play, we try to go as many places as we can, it’s just expensive to bring us over. Luckily, we have good people from the booking agency over there getting everything organised for us.      

M-R: You have toured with Hypocrisy before, but about twenty years ago, how has touring evolved for you guys? What are some of the biggest differences in taking on the road now compared to the old days?

Everything is different now! We’re talking about if we go back twenty to twenty-five years ago there was no GPS, we just drive somewhere. Some of the first tours we did in the van, we drove from city to city, driving ourselves, looking at the map trying to figure out where to go, calling the promoter when you get to the city asking ‘Where the hell’s the club?’ and trying to get directions. There is internet now. Back then there was no internet, everything was done by phone call and by fax machine, which was like brand new back in the day. It’s insane the evolution, the curve of how things went. Now it’s so much more fun to tour, the logistics are so much easier, the people we work with, everything is done to a much more professional level a more comfortable level, so I love touring nowadays. On the other hand, fans are pretty much the same. They were going crazy for the shows back then and they still go crazy now!

Also, more people know the songs and more about the catalogue of the band. It’s so easy now to go online and download or stream music nowadays, so more people know our stuff. Back in the day people who had the record made a copy for their friends or things like that, it was good old-school times, which I like. It’s definitely easier for a band nowadays to tour, to make music and to do this for a living. It’s the same for Hypocrisy, we toured together twenty years ago and now we started this year in Europe, now it’s Australia then Japan and some more stuff later. We are talking about South America and something in America as well, like doing a full world tour with this thing but we’re very excited to come and play for you guys next.

M-R: Unfortunately moshing and stage diving is basically illegal in Australia. But Kataklysm tend to incite some serious pits, especially during the monstrous As I Slither. Can you think of the most insane crowd that you have seen so far, what happened?

It depends, sometimes you play a small club show where things go absolutely wild, there’s people everywhere on stage, people in the crowd going mental, stage diving, moshing and circle pits. Then sometimes we play those massive open-air festivals. Last summer we played a festival called Metal Days and were headlining one of the nights. There was probably like 20,000 people there and the size of the circle pit was something I’ve never seen before in my life. I was on stage looking at it and thinking “Wooow!”. it was massive, some people capture it on their phone, so there should be some footage online. But it was the most massive thing I’ve seen while on stage.

M-R: I was lucky enough to see you at Wacken Open Air in 2015, at 10.30 in the morning. While it was a great way to enjoy some breakfast cocktails, playing so early must be a very strange experience what is the biggest challenges about performing so early in the day? Or festivals in general?

Oh, you were there?! It was absolutely a challenge because as a band when you’re on the road you’re on a tight schedule, especially with those open airs. When you saw us, we were actually touring Europe, we did nineteen open air festivals that summer. When we arrived at Wacken, our tour manager told us that we had to wake up early because we’re on at 10:30 or whatever, it was crazy. When you’re used to going very late every night and then you have to wake up early it sucks. You have to get sound-check done, all your gear and everything ready for your show. We woke up had a coffee did sound check then had a shot of whiskey and went on stage!

You say your prayers that that everything will go all right. The energy of the people helped us, that one morning was crazy because it rained in the days before so there was mud everywhere! It was so hard to walk around and the mosh pit at that show saw everyone covered in mud!

M-R: The band went back to their roots for Meditations creating as a team. I read that some of the tracks appeared very quickly, is there one that stands out? How much did the songs evolve as the recording process took place?

Yeah, we had the opportunity to all be in the same room while writing this record. This changed a lot of things for us, it was so easy to bounce ideas back and forth when you’re together in the same room. In the last few records, because we live in different cities, we actually wrote ideas on Pro Tools and via Skype, exchanging files building songs that way. This time we were all together so we had ideas for every song then when we came home, me and the drummer worked on the songs together. He is also into the production and arrangement side of things, so, we were working together, arranging and piecing things together. The difference between when were in the room and the extra work we put in, changing the songs was about 25 to 30% but most of the main ideas and the big picture of the song is pretty much done when we’re all together. It was mostly details, like, we don’t want riffs to repeat themselves too many times or drag on too long. Sometimes when you’re writing the original song you want to repeat it ten times but then you realise you only really need like four bars of certain things. Certain riffs you realise that could be a great chorus and we move them along. It’s just like moving puzzle pieces around a little bit so you can unlock the full potential of the song and once you have that it’s all good and you record the vocals and that’s how we work.

M-R: When writing for an album, do you try not to listen to any music, as to not sway your own creative process? How do you ‘get in the zone’ so to speak?

I don’t listen too much to music outside of what I do, I work in a recording studio as a sound engineer and mixer, so I get to listen to music and work on music all day long. When it comes to Kataklysm, I have a style of where I want things to go, but I try to be really spontaneous about it and not get let myself be influenced by any of the stuff I’m working on. I don’t want to copy or try to be like someone else out there you know, I want to be like me, as the guitar player and I want us as the band to sound like Kataklysm. I try not to but sometimes you don’t even realise that you get influenced by something and you listen to a song back and be like “man, that sounds like somebody else”. When I realised this, I change them to make sure that doesn’t happen. Sometimes you don’t realise it and you just do it, and you think “whatever” and just leave it there. I prefer to be as original as much as I can but it’s harder and harder with all the great music that out there these days.

M-R: Can you tell me what some of the issues addressed on the album are? Does it have a concept?

It’s a song by song thing but the whole album is underneath the title Meditations. The idea is that heavy metal for us is a meditation. That’s where we go to clear our minds about stuff. When we play together, we feel like we’re connecting, so that’s kind of the idea behind the album title. There are different themes tackled on the record, Guillotine, the first song, is about revenge in a way. In the second song Outsider, we talk a little bit about ourselves as a band. We feel we never really fit with any kind of group of other bands, we kind of do our own thing. People are telling us we have our own sound, so that’s the outsider team. We always felt like we were outsiders, in our own world. It’s even hard for us to put ourselves on certain tours because we don’t really sound like many bands, we’re too heavy for some and not heavy enough for others, it’s weird! Also, with our fans we feel we have a family of fans that are different, and they love what we do. Altogether we’re all the outsiders, you know? Those are the main themes tackled on the album.

M-R: In the video for Outsider, it shows you guys playing to a basically empty bar, with a cool twist at the end. But I wanted to know, can you remember when the last time Kataklysm played in a venue like that? Can you give us an insight on the story behind the clip?

That was the idea! We wanted to do something special. One of the things we were talking about with the video producer was as a band, we really don’t care about playing small venues, or big place or a big festival we love it all! we just go on stage and we give our 200% no matter what. So that was the idea, going all out in a small crappy bar. It does happen! This last US tour we did we were supporting Soulfly in America and you don’t play huge venues every night. There are some smaller cities that don’t even have a huge venue, the only place to play is a small 250 cap bar, but you play anyway because what else are you going to do? Drive twenty hours to another city or just stop in the middle and play? It’s a big country, so you have to stop and play smaller venues. We personally as a band love it and we always have had great experiences in those situations. We feel like we connect with the fans more when they’re so close, you know, you’re in the face of people. The cool twist at the end was an idea of the producer and we all loved it and said “yeah let’s go for it” like a Twilight Zone type of thing.

The other thing I wanted to say is the guy in the video which has no nose, he is an actor who is an ex-US military and his nose was actually was blown off in Afghanistan. He actually has no nose, so his face just looks like a skull, it’s so incredible, it was awesome that guy wanted to do that scene for us. Most of my friends were like “that was some great CGI work on that guys face” and we’re like “No, this is real! That was real life, we don’t have that kind of money to do the CGI” so everything has to be as real as possible.

M-R: Meditations has seen some fantastic success, peaking at number 52 on the Billboard Top Current Album chart. Did this feel like a massive achievement for the band?

We are in this because we’re in love with what we do. Of course, it’s always nice to have a pat on the back and recognition for doing a good job. It feels like every record we’re making up a little bit more ground, getting a little bit more solid on our feet. It’s been a slow build, a slow and steady upward slope, but we’re getting more and more popular and in a comfortable zone. We enjoy what we do and at the same time we’re making enough money from doing this to be able to live a nice life and as a bunch of metal head in their forties we really appreciate that is happening for us. At the moment it just makes us want to get out more, tour more, work harder on the next record that’s coming. We’re very thankful for everyone that supports us and we’re going to keep going and see how far we can push this.

Buy your tickets for Kataklysm and Hypocrisy here.

Interview Date: 2019-03-26

Interviewer: Jonathan Hurley