After seemingly running out of steam toward the end of the previous decade, Kataklysm bounced back in fine form with 2013’s Waiting For The End To Come and its worthy follow-up Of Ghosts and Gods (2015). Having taken an uncharacteristically long time between releases, in order to focus on their alter ego Ex Deo‘s third outing, The Immortal Wars (2017); the self-styled “northern hyper-blasters” have returned after a three-year wait to see if they can make it a third time lucky. Unfortunately, the Canadians’ fourteenth full-length doesn’t seem to pack nearly enough punch as it should, let alone enough to stand up to the lofty bar set by their previous efforts.
When paying close attention, it’s hard to deny that all the elements that have added up to great Kataklysm records in the past are in play on Meditations. The album’s shortest track, “Narcissist”, is also its most potent—packing as much crunch and variation into its blistering two-and-three-quarter running-time as there is to be found throughout the entire rest of the record. Early cuts, “Guillotine” and “Outsider” are perfectly serviceable groove-death outings, and the same can be said for pretty much any number picked at random from album’s track-list. Though largely unsung, Kataklysm has been around much longer than most and, at this point in their career, have the art of mid-paced, groove-heavy, mildly-melodic death metal down to a fine science. Yet, what Meditations delivers on a micro-scale it fails to translate to the macro level.
Along with being equally-sufficient, the album’s ten tracks are also largely interchangeable. Kataklysm has been able to keep their fairly rudimentary template fresh and dynamic for the better part of fourteen records at this point. Yet the songs on Meditations all seem to stick more-or-less to the same monotonous mid-tempo, which is only ever really broken by frantic mid-album semi-highlight “In Limbic Resonance”. The tracks are also exceptionally short—averaging somewhere around the three-and-a-half-minute mark. As a result, a lot of the album’s offerings are over without giving enough time to register that they’ve truly begun, and are given noticeably less time to build and develop than the band has allowed those on their previous outings.
What the album severely lacks is dynamics, which is perhaps as much a fault of the songwriting as its sonic presentation. Having stuck to extreme metal staples Andy Sneap and Chris “Zeuss” Harris for the two records prior; Meditations sees the Kataklysm turning to the lesser-known—though certainly not untested—team of Jay Ruston (Steel Panther, Stone Sour, Anthrax) and Paul Logus (Pantera, Public Enemy) to handle mixing and mastering duties. The result is similar to that of the new At The Gates record, though for entirely different, almost-opposite reasons. Whereas To Drink From The Night Itself (2018) loses a lot of its definition due to an overly muddy, low-end heavy presentation; Meditations suffers the same fate due to an overly sterile and noticeably toppy mix. The bass drums click where they should pound, and the bass itself is all but lost except for its high-mid rattle.
There’s a noticeable lack in sonic power on Meditations, when compared with the band’s previous outings—or even Jens Bogren‘s work with Ex Deo—which is made all the more severe by the fact that Kataklysm has staked their career on just such a trait. Guitarist and producer J. F. Dagenais claims to have sought “someone with a more organic feel but at the same time can pound a mix into your chest with the power and definition it deserves,” when seeking out Ruston and Logus, but if that’s the case then the collaboration can only be said to be a failed experiment. Then again, maybe the reason why none of Meditations tracks ever truly deliver is because they lack the scope and vigour of the Canadian quartet’s past offerings.
Meditations might not signal a complete return to the disappointing days of Prevail (2008) and Heaven’s Venom (2010). Yet, nor does it contain the epic scale and melodic sensibility that made In The Arms Of Devastation (2006) such a standout release in their discography, and it likewise lacks the passion and palpable ferocity of their earlier and more recent releases. There is some undeniably good material to be found on this record. However, whether due entirely to presentation gripes or simply an inevitable onset of sameness, the album ultimately winds up leaving far less of an impression than it perhaps warrants.
Meditations is out now via Nuclear Blast.