I haven't heard Kataklysm in a long while, but Montreal's "northern hyperblast" masters have stayed the course and this is a fourteenth studio album for them. It's also the last for Oliver Beaudoin, who lasted longer than most drummers do in this band, having sat behind the kit for six years, with only Max Duhamel having a longer tenure. It seems odd to me that only the drummers change frequently in this band, given that the crazy fast drums are their signature sound. New fish James Payne counts as Kataklysm's eighth drummer.
Beaudoin's drums appear as I remember here: a barrage of blastbeats that would be more expected in black metal than death, often with a much slower accompanying beat. Maurizio Iacono, who switched from bass to vocals back in 1991, sounds as I remember him too. His harsh growls always seemed a bit closer to the to hardcore shouts than most death metal vocalists would allow, but they've apparently moved a little closer still. It's hardly my favourite vocal style, but he does what he does well, with the effect of sounding angry but also being able to intonate and emphasise.
What's really changed from what I remember are the guitars. I know Kataklysm started out playing a purer form of death metal and moved into melodic death, but the guitarwork feels much more trendy like I might expect from metalcore and nu metal. It's tuned down further, so the guitar often sounds like a bass, and often plays the sort of monotone machine gun riffs that tend to leave me dry. It's not everything here, but it's enough that this album mostly moved on past me.
The key word there is mostly. It seems to me that Kataklysm are on a musical path that's going to take them beyond my personal tastes over the next few albums, but they haven't quite got there yet. There are points throughout this album that I enjoyed and they're littered across most of the songs. I never tuned out because there was always something interesting happening, but the flipside of that is that I would be hard pressed to pick a favourite track because all of them feature aspects I don't like.
For instance, the keyboards on Focused to Destroy You are a really nice touch. They're not particularly prominent but they change the song completely, giving it a different feel. The sirenlike guitar late on The Way Back Home did that as well and the piano on both Icarus Falling and, in a very different way, When It's Over. These little touches really affect the overall quality of the album in a positive way. I'm a fan too of the wildly different tempos here. Defiant just blisters along in a thrashy way, while When It's Over slows down immensely, especially early on, with doomier effect, especially with its low piano note for emphasis.
So I liked a lot of what I heard in these songs without necessarily liking the songs themselves, because of the general approach taken. The musical direction the band's taking seems to be inexorably toward a song like Stitches, which often sounds like a nu metal anthem. It's easy to define this album as X and that album as Y, but when a band is moving from W to Z, we critics often need hindsight to define the X albums and the Y albums. I have a feeling that this is going to fall into the next phase of Kataklysm, even though we can't be sure what that will be until it happens.