'Heaven's Venom' - Kataklysm (6/10)
Sometimes, a state of mild ambivalence says alot unto its own. Kataklysm are a band to have released some great death metal in the past, with most looking to their classic "Sorcery" as their crowning achievement. Since the nineties however, Kataklysm don't seem to have aged well. Although 2008's "Prevail" seems to have received some accolades from fans, I'm usually left wanting something more convincing out of death metal. "Heaven's Venom" is- in many ways- a demonstration of why I might feel this way about them. Despite the evident skill Kataklysm has earned over the years, the band's tenth album is stuck in an awkward place between heavy groove and melodic death metal. This failure to specialize leads "Heaven's Venom" to be neither terribly heavy or catchy, leaving a moderately enjoyable experience that only partially satisfies.
It may have been unfair to say at first, but I remember telling someone after my first listen that Kataklysm's latest felt like 'elevator death metal.' This was meant in no way to discredit the band's skill as an act, or even to say they're particularly tedious. Where Kataklysm comes up empty is that they lack the sort of ferocity that I look for in most varieties of death metal. Not including melodic death metal (where beauty arguably stands most tall), I expect the genre to grab me by the throat and toss me off a cliff, or whatever musical equivalent that may entail. "Heaven's Venom" may have the ingredients to do that, but it keeps restrained throughout.
Perhaps my overbearing criticism lies in the fact that I first approached it with the expectation of death metal. It's irritating modesty aside, Kataklysm have brought a decent set of songs to the table. "Determined (Vows of Vengeance)" is a great song rooted within the Swedish Gothenburg style- a memorable chorus and melodic lead demonstrates a greater stylistic focus. The album's highlight comes at the end; "Blind Saviour" is an incredible track that finally nails what the rest of the album had beaten around the bush. It may end a little abruptly, but the melodic hooks and tense riffing feels like "Heaven's Venom" finally works its blended formula to its advantage.
There is nothing wrong with blending stylistic doctrines together- that's often how distinctive sounds and band trademarks are formed. In the case of "Heaven's Venom" however, I'm left feeling that this was a potentially great melodeath record that couldn't figure out what it wanted until it was too late. In the end, it is the strong musicianship to carry the album through. The drumming of Max Dahamel fits the band's style perfectly, and Maurizio Iacono packs a good deal of emotion into his growling. Don't get me wrong; it is an enjoyable album, but I don't think "Heaven's Venom" will be recalled with the same respect as their early work when all is done.