Latest release: Waiting for the End to Come (Nuclear Blast/Riot)
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One of death metal’s most reliable outfits, French-Canadian destroyers Kataklysm will bring their northern hyperblast to Australia again, following a five-year absence from our shores. Ahead of their return, decidedly friendly founding guitarist Jean-François Dagenais spoke to Loud about the shows, new disc Waiting for the End to Come and the next generation of brutality.

Q: You were supposed to be heading out on tour with Sepultura in the US, but it was canned at the last minute I understand.
A: Yeah, they were forced to cancel the tour, so basically we’re at home on forced vacation for all of November, and then we start touring in December.

Q: I spoke to Andreas shortly after they had to postpone the tour actually.
A: Yeah, they were disappointed; they were all ready to go. We were ready to go as well. We heard like the day that we were supposed to jump on the plane and go. I was all packed up with my things and then I was like, ‘okay, I guess I’m staying at home’ (laughs). The only person happy was my wife (laughs).

Q: (Laughs) In the current industry climate, just how much does it hurt a metal band like Kataklysm, especially financially, to have to pull the plug at the eleventh hour like that?
A: For us it’s not going to really hurt, because we’re gonna do a US tour anyways later in the (new) year. It’s just postponing things for us a little later. The only way it’s hurting us a bit is because the record has just come out now, so it always helps the promotion and the sales to go on the road as your record drops in stores. It’s like a commercial strategy to be out on the road while your album’s out, but otherwise, I think our fans know who we are anyways, and they’re still going to go out and buy the record regardless. So I really don’t think it’s going to make a huge difference; we’re gonna be back in America and tour later in April, so it’s just postponing everything. It came out last week, and it’s great, because we just heard a couple of days ago that we broke the top 100 Billboard charts in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, so that was really good news. The label says it’s doing very well over in Europe, so we’re very excited.

Q: Good to hear. How has the record been received in your homeland then?
A: Canada and the United States we do very well as well. We’re always a good seller in Canada; because it’s our home country, we do very well there. The Billboard charts in those countries for a metal band is very hard to reach, because people can still buy the commercial rock stuff and commercial music in general, so for any metal band to get on there, the only bands that make it is really big ones like Metallica and stuff like that. So for us to chart in Canada would be most inconceivable. Regardless, we’re still selling very well and it’s a good market for us.

Q: Every band on a label has been affected by illegal downloading to some extent, but do you feel Kataklysm has been less so than some other metal acts?
A: It works both ways, you know. I feel like that it hurts, but also helps because more people know the band now, and more people will download the music. The way it hurts, it’s like you, as an artist you still need people to buy albums, because that’s how you get the money to be able to record and then put out a good product. If people stop buying music completely, then that’s going to downgrade the quality of what you’re going to put out, because you’re going to have to do everything really in the home studio with equipment that… My point is, like it’s going to be really hard to put out quality records if people stop buying music completely. Then it’s just going to be more underground I guess. But luckily we’re a band that still sells, and we have like a really, really good fan base that are collectors of music, and like every time we put out something people buy it. I’m really thankful for that. For an artist it means a lot.

Q: On the topic of the new album, in what respects you feel it’s a step up from past releases?
A: Musically, and like also the songs, I think we all pushed ourselves as much as we can with this one. I feel we stepped a little bit outside of our comfort zone, like with the song structures and arrangements. Some of the stuff on there, musically, it’s not that easy to play for us, we need to rehearse a lot and focus on this material live and in the studio. But it’s a step up for us, we stepped it up a notch and I think it’s a good thing, because that’s a way we keep ourselves excited about new music. We love to play, and we love it when it’s a challenge. So now we’re going on the road we’re all ready to perform the new songs live, but it was a lot more practice than usual to make sure everything was rock solid.

Q: Do you believe that not enough death metal bands do challenge themselves these days?
A: I feel like there’s some bands that play it safe, and they’ll keep on doing the same old thing that they used to do, and it works for some people. Other bands are really upping their game musically, and it’s nice to see. Whatever works for you; I feel some bands would benefit from actually pushing themselves a little harder. To try to write better songs, to try to musically go above and beyond what you did in the past. It’s what music should be about; it’s a journey, and you try to do the best you can as an artist. I think the way to go is to go beyond what you’re able to do, and beyond your comfort zone. And that’s where the magic happens.

Q: What do you make of the current death metal scene, including off-shoots such as deathcore?
A: I feel that the new generation of bands sprung out a lot of talented musicians. I’m blown away by all these new drummers and guitar players, and all these guys that I hear. They’re very, very talented. I feel where the new bands are lacking is in the songwriting department. I feel, like, if you look back at the early ‘90s, the start of death metal, I feel that bands were writing better songs, and you could remember the songs. Now, I feel it’s like a lot of the stuff is very intricate and hard to remember. It’s where I find the new bands lack a little bit, in the songwriting department. I think they should try to improve on that. But on the musical skills they’re A-plus. I’m blown away by the musical talent of some of these guys.

Q: My complaint with a lot of modern death metal acts is there seems to be more emphasis on, for example, creating the nastiest breakdown or most guttural growl possible, or just trying to out-heavy everyone else, rather than focusing on actual songwriting and memorable riffs.
A: Exactly. That’s exactly how I feel about it. I think the music got lost somewhere along the way a little bit. I feel like songs… I mean, for Kataklysm, songs always was the priority and the main focus of our band, so we always try to come up with catchy, good hooks and structures that made sense, to us at least. Try to write the best songs as we could. Sometimes, without caring if it’s hard or not to play, we wanted to just put out good songs.

Q: Have you noticed a new breed of younger fans embracing your music in recent years?
A: I don’t know; I feel like we have been meeting a lot of people that says that they got influenced by us, and I feel like it could go both ways. I hope that people, I really like when I hear that musicians started playing music influenced by people like us. It makes me feel like you’re accomplished as a musician. But I’m sure there’s some other musicians that probably don’t care about what we do, or think that we’re probably idiots for thinking the way that we do, and that we should try to play differently. But I mean, we do what we do (laughs), and so it’s not going to change the way we think about music. We want to play for people that care out there, and that’s what matters to us.

Q: On the topic of playing live, you’re headed back to Australia next month.
A: We’re very excited about it. We’ve been to Australia about four or five years ago, and it was a great experience all across the board. We met some really cool people, and there was some really dedicated metal fans over there. Looking forward to coming back and also have some barbecues with Australian people (laughs). We had a really good time barbecuing and partying outside of the shows, and we’re looking forward to that as well.

Q: I’m assuming there will be plenty of new songs in the set-list too, alongside the old favourites?
A: Yeah, it’s going to be, we want to promote the new album, and we’re very excited that we’re playing new songs live. So it’s probably going to be like half the set of new songs and the other half of the set is going to be classics from every album. We worked (out) a very special set-list for these upcoming tours. And actually, since we’re headlining on this run we can play longer, so that’s exciting as well. The Sepultura tour we were scheduled to play only 45 minutes every night, and now the Australian, Japan and Europe tour we’re the headliners, so we get to play like an hour and 15 minutes, or about that every day. So we’re going to be able to squeeze in a lot of songs, and that’s exciting.

Q: Shifting topics again, we’re already into November and the new releases are beginning to slow down. What have been some of your favourite records of 2013?
A: I was really impressed with that new Fleshgod Apocalypse, that’s one album I really enjoyed this year. They totally pushed the envelope as far as musicianship, but they also have really good songs. That was one of the albums I really enjoyed. What else came out this year that I really enjoyed? (Pauses) Septicflesh – did that come out this year or last year? (Editor’s note – it was actually 2011). I thought they put out a really good album, their last one, I really enjoyed that.

Q: Fleshgod and Septicflesh are actually teaming up for an Australian tour next year, which will be enormous to say the least.
A: Oh man, that’s an awesome package (laughs). They’re two of my favourite bands playing together.

Q: Any famous last words?
A: A big thank you to all of our fans over there for their support. It’s unbelievable that after 22 years people are following us and what we do. We’re still selling records and still touring, and I say a big thank you to everyone for making us still feel relevant after all these years. We can’t wait to see you guys in a couple of weeks.

You can catch Kataklysm and special guests Gotsu Totsu Kotsu (Japan) on the following dates-

4/12: Crowbar, Brisbane QLD
5/12: Fowlers Live, Adelaide SA
6/12: Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC
7/12: Manning Bar, Sydney NSW
8/12: Rosemount Hotel, Perth WA