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Kataklysm - "Heaven's Venom" (CD)

Kataklysm - "Heaven's Venom" CD cover image

"Heaven's Venom" track listing:

1. A Soulless God (5:04)
2. Determined (Vows of Vengeance) (4:54)
3. Faith Made of Shrapnel (5:38)
4. Push the Venom (3:28)
5. Hail the Renegade (5:28)
6. As the Walls Collapse (4:51)
7. Numb & Intoxicated (3:26)
8. At the Edge of the World (3:59)
9. Suicide River (4:02)
10. Blind Savior (5:19)

Reviewed by on September 7, 2010

"Kataklysm’s new release, 'Heaven's Venom,' is as vibrant as anything Kataklysm has released since 2002's 'Shadows & Dust,' and possibly for their entire career."

Kataklysm front man Maurizio Iacono set off quite the ruckus in the extreme metal world when his side project, Ex Deo, released their first album in 2009. That album, “Romulus,” is considered by heavy metal pundits to be an excellent effort, and it left many wondering how Iacono could be so inspired for a side project when Kataklysm had released a string of three solid-yet-unremarkable albums of their own in the mid-oughts. Well Iacono and the rest of Kataklysm -- they all performed to varying degrees on “Romulus” -- must have been rejuvenated by the Ex Deo experience. Kataklysm’s new release, “Heaven’s Venom,” is as vibrant as anything Kataklysm has released since 2002’s “Shadows & Dust,” and possibly for their entire career.

Originally known for a chaotic approach and drummer Max Duhamel’s insanely fast blast beats (self-described northern hyperblast), Kataklysm has matured over time. “Heaven’s Venom” is full of melodic-Gothenburg elements and is in complete control the entire time. After the movie clip intro on album opener “A Soulless God,” a crunchy mid-tempo riff drives the Mustang out of the garage and onto the open road. There are bits of blast beats here and there, but the song is mostly melodic death metal leads and slower, deathed-up Black Label Society chugging (meant as a compliment). About halfway through “A Soulless God,” Kataklysm spends about 20 seconds in a Pantera-like groove, which is well outside most death metal.

The quality key on “Heaven’s Venom” is Kataklysm’s willingness to wrap melodic death metal in pieces that most troo death metal fans would spit at. But those things punch up the death metal by giving it a counterpoint and keeping “Heaven’s Venom” from being another monotone thrash-n-bash death metal album. Kataklysm ends up borrowing fairly heavily from Dimebag Darrel and Pantera, as that style of southern boogie metal pops up all over the album. But aside from that southern-fried thrash style, they take pieces from plenty of other places as well. “Determined (Vows Of Vengeance)” has a killer syncopated snare drum that is reminiscent of Opeth or even Rush, while “Numb and Intoxicated” pairs speedy blast beats with pinched harmonics and much slower grooves and hooks that are snipped from the bridge riffs on lengthy Iron Maiden cuts. “At The Edge of The World” in any other context would be a ‘core song - the blast beats breathe under a constantly-fishing guitar line and hooked-up leads, and there is even a tempo change at the end that may as well be a breakdown in disguise.

Kataklysm manages to play all of these potential pitfalls against each other to create diversity and tension, not banality. How many bands have ripped off Pantera or thrown in ‘core elements and epically failed? Clearly the answer is many, and I have not hesitated to point out those failings in the past. But Kataklysm’s experience with arrangements and songwriting and whatnot makes this album a winner. Instead of dragging the excellently performed melodic death metal down with their adventures into other-land, the melodies and death are made more vibrant, fresh, and alive.

Highs: The slower chugging riffs paired with the faster death metal bits make for fantastic counterpoint.

Lows: The production is a bit too clean.

Bottom line: Melodic death metal veterans add some unexpected pieces and succeed wildly.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)