Of Ghosts and Gods
Nuclear Blast Records/Universal Music Australia
Reviewed By Michael O'Brien
Remember that brief period about 20 years ago when the prospect of a new album from Canada’s Kataklysm was something to get excited about? Man, those were the days. This was a time when using the adjective ‘northern hyperblast’ to describe the band wasn’t done with the tongue firmly planted in the cheek; when the then very young band had what seemed like an endless fire in their belly.
I’ll admit that it’s entirely possible if not likely that those weren’t the halcyon days that I’m making them out to be (retrospect and nostalgia aren’t known for providing the most unfiltered view of things) but, damn, the intervening years in which Kataklysm transformed themselves from a heavy death metal band into a middle-of-the-road melodeath one haven’t really been all that fulfilling, have they? They’ve certainly been fruitful for the band, however, with Of Ghosts and Gods marking their 12th full-length release since their inception in 1991 and, unsurprisingly, it’s another 10 songs of modern Kataklysm which effectively means that it’s unlikely to change how anyone feels about the band one way or the other.
The really vexing thing for me about modern Kataklysm isn’t that they aren’t the band that released The Mystical Gate of Reincarnation and Sorcery anymore (longing after a ship that has long since sailed is the definition of redundancy), it’s that the band is comprised of talented musicians who seem to be incapable of producing anything that truly befits their indisputable skill. In short, I’m not criticising Kataklysm for not being the band they were in the early ‘90s, I’m criticising them for being dull.
I almost wish Of Ghosts and Gods was a terrible album because it would make it so much easier to extricate Kataklysm from my life once and for all but, like so many of the albums that have come before it, Of Ghosts and Gods isn’t terrible, it’s actually something that’s somewhat worse; it’s boring and unsatisfying, filled to the brim with the kind of mid-paced melodic death metal that is as inoffensive as it is easy to digest. I realise that this probably doesn’t sound like much of a problem but it is actually the central issue I have with Of Ghosts and Gods - its relative tameness and its lack of substantive adventurousness. No, innovation isn’t on the agenda here but, let’s be honest, it really hasn’t been for a long time. Kataklysm have found their approach and they’re damn well sticking with it.
With all of that being said, though, it would be disingenuous of me to suggest that Of Ghosts and Gods doesn’t have its moments, because it definitely does; you’ve just got to wade through lots of otherwise forgettable material to get to them. “Vindication”, for example, features an absolutely killer riff that’s sharp, fast, and reflective of some of the fire that once defined the band, while preceding track, “Soul Destroyer”, is cut from a totally different cloth than its successor, but its strong sense of groove is enough to carry it over the line. Finally, album closer, “The World is a Dying Insect”, stands out for its uncharacteristic moodiness and, while it isn’t an amazing song in and of itself, it at least shows a willingness by Kataklysm to tinker at the creative edges a little. These three songs comprise the entirety of what piqued my interest on this album which is far from a stellar outcome.
While it’s clear that the compositional qualities of Of Ghosts and Gods mostly left me wanting, the actual performances themselves are hard to fault, which should come as no great surprise considering the longevity of the band. The contribution of new drummer Olivier Beaudoin is particularly worthy of note as he injects some real power and energy into the flaccidity of the material that he supports with some nice fills and flourishes as well as his otherwise rock solid timing ably justifying his recent recruitment into the band’s ranks.
I’ve been harsh in my criticism of Of Ghosts and Gods here, I know, but it’s not just because it’s a boring album - it’s also because a band of Kataklysm’s vintage that continues to enjoy such a respectable status should have to work hard to maintain that status, just as any fledgling act should have to work hard to earn theirs and, from my perspective, Kataklysm are doing no such thing here.