Originally written by Jordan Campbell
Nearly a year ago, I took the plunge into adulthood and cut my hair. (The reasons for this were myriad, with the fact that my hairline could no longer handle the workload being the primary.) Now, this decision didn’t come lightly; one doesn’t shed seven years of metallic form and function without calculating the risks. I’m content with the results, but there are definitely times when I regret the deed; such as, well, any time I hear High on Fire. Or, more pertinently, when Kataklysm is kicking proper amounts of ass.
Quite obviously, the latter scenario is much rarer than the former, as stock in Northern Hyperblast, Inc. has taken a bit of a dive in recent years. But Heaven’s Venom, while far from ideal, contains some of Kataklysm‘s most compelling, crushing moments since Serenity in Fire.
The band’s groovy, accessible death metal formula is fully intact–for better or worse–but this time around, the focus is placed on bulldozing riffery, rather than the forced verse/chorus arena-pandering that plagued the other Heartbeast albums. “Numb and Intoxicated” contains a skull-caving breakdown that will put even the most ardent elitists’ knuckles on the ground, and “At The Edge of the World” climaxes with a windmill-cracking, bonesawing coda that begs for rewind. The album’s highlight, the devastating “Suicide River,” is the most emotive thing they’ve done since…fuck, “Face the Face of War.” So, if you’re a Kataklysm fan, this thing’s worth a ride at top volume; the over-the-top production begs for it.
Whoa…wait a minute. That’s what, three highlights? Heaven’s Venom has eleven tracks? Damn.
Well, let’s not get overly dramatic. This is no barren desert; in fact, the openers are quite stout. “A Soulless God” is standard Kataklysm fare–albeit well-executed–complete with the requisite sample to signal the opening of the gates. (It’s hard to place this one, but it sounds like Sam Elliott is reading a transcript of an old Ultimate Warrior promo.) The track is highlighted by a rippin’ solo, an all-too-rare artifact in Kataklysmland, and segues nicely into the Epic-esque “Determined (Vows of Vengeance).” But these solid-if-unspectacular tracks quickly give way to some serious mediocrity; the album’s midsection is predictable, dull, and entirely skippable. This is where Kataklysm’s lack of adventurousness becomes maddening. If they’d inject some atmosphere into their slower takes–maybe toy with their tones and dynamics a bit–they could have some success. Alas, they seem content to bash out bright n’ shiny anthems with little regard for grit and/or menace, and they do so regardless of riff quality. Kataklysm only has the ability (or willingness) to club you over the head, with consistent disregard to context or gameplan. On album number ten, this brickheadedness is becoming tiresome, and they certainly aren’t rewarding longstanding fans by fucking this dog to death.
Bottom line: Kataklysm loyalists should feel free to dig for the gems, ’cause amidst tiresome fare like “Faith Made of Shrapnel” and “Hail the Renegade” lies some of the most mosh-ready material they’ve ever penned. However, if you’re amongst the many that thinks this band has become cripplingly forumulaic since hitting their peak roughly eight years ago, Heaven’s Venom isn’t going to make a vehement case for the band’s relevance. Take it or leave it.