Canadian death metal veterans Kataklysm celebrated their 25th anniversary a couple of years ago. Over their quarter-century-plus of existence, their sound has shifted, evolving from traditional death metal in their early days to more of a melodic but aggressive approach. They have honed and polished that style over the past several albums, which is evident on their thirteenth studio effort Meditations.
Don't let the album title fool you. While it may conjure images of mellow, quiet introspection and "thinking about your happy place," Meditations is hard-hitting and forceful. That's evident from the opening track, the aptly named “Guillotine” with cutting riffs from JF Dagenais and biting vocals from Maurizio Iacono. Ample melodies and grooves add balance, establishing the template the album will follow.
Kataklysm embraces their uniqueness on the track “Outsider.” Iacono says, “We’ve never really belonged to one thing, we were never really a follower of one style of music; we were a hybrid. It confused people a little bit, I think… we were an outsider band regarding that… not part of anything.” These days that hybrid is much more common than when they started, though Kataklysm succeeds in maintaining their own identity.
“Narcissist” has a lengthy intro that showcases the potent drum sound of Oli Beaudoin. The pace is moderate and measured for maximum destruction. Things crank back up with “Born To Kill And Destined To Die,” featuring multiple shredding solos from Dagenais along with some of the album's grooviest riffs.
There's no shortage of diversity on the album. They shift tempos and intensities throughout, and moments like the black metal-tinged intro of “In Limbic Resonance” before the galloping riffs kick in make things more interesting. While the arrangements on the album are solid and the riffs first-rate, some additional catchy hooks would make things even more memorable.
Dagenais has been involved in the production side of Kataklysm albums for a long time. This time around Beaudoin was also part of the production team. This is only Beaudoin's second album since joining the band in 2014, providing a different perspective from Dagenais, who has been there since the beginning.
For the mix, they used Jay Ruston, who has worked with a lot of bands more mainstream than Kataklysm ranging from Stone Sour to Pop Evil to Theory Of A Deadman. The band wanted a different kind of production, and while not a drastic change, you can hear more polish and punch without sacrificing the needed edge.
Meditations is a focused album, clocking in at 39 minutes, their shortest since 2004's Serenity In Fire. There's little to no filler on the record's 10 tracks. It's pretty consistent throughout as well, not front or back loaded. The record ends on a strong note, with the closer “Achilles Heel” delivering some of the most melodic moments along with some of its most intense.
Kataklysm isn't breaking a lot of new ground on Meditations, but they do slightly expand their musical horizons. More importantly, they are a well-honed machine who execute their trademark style flawlessly, which fans will appreciate.