This Friday (25th), Kataklysm will release their overall fourteenth studio effort, Unconquered, via Nuclear Blast (pre-order here). The follow-up to 2018’s Meditations is just what we need during a time when there is no live music. We caught up with frontman Maurizio Iacono to discuss the new album and the importance of releasing new music during the middle of a pandemic.
You guys have consistently been releasing new music at least every two to three years, since the get-go. Now, with your 14th record, Unconquered, what is it like actually to release a new album during a pandemic?
Well, it was a challenging thing. Let me tell you that much. We had the plans to release this record in the summer, from last year. Record was done and was finished in December, and, in January, we gave all the materials to Nuclear Blast. And then in February, we went to shoot the video for The Killshot in Atlanta. When we were there, we were getting all this information on the TVs at the airport and everything that this virus was coming through and that they were going to shut down the country. We were like, “What the fuck’s going on?” We were kind of taken back. And, sure enough, two, three days later, we came home, and there it was. I was living in Chicago at that time, and it got shut down. I sold my house and was stuck in between housing, trying to get back to Florida, down here, to settle. So it was all planned in advance, but this thing really threw a monkey wrench into everything. The label decided that they should postpone the record, obviously, because they were shut down, too, in California. So they couldn’t do anything. We decided to push it to September. After that, they were like, “Record’s too strong. We’re happy with it. And we want to push it to 2021.” And that’s where I was like, “Guys, I mean, we don’t know what’s going to happen in 2021. And I think people, now, need the music.” This is a time where Kataklysm, especially, is more of an uplifting type of band and has a dark side, but it has an uplifting end to everything. And we wanted to be there for our fans, especially with an album called Unconquered. I think we made the right decision because, in the end, it’s not about sales only. It’s also about what we do in music. Music is a healing factor. It’s important right now to release stuff. So here we are. It’s a big challenge. Let’s put it that way. I mean, we’re going to get hurt from doing it, but I think other bands, like Trivium and Enslaved have really all sold their albums. I think that’s commendable in a way, just because it’s time to help each other.
As depressing as this sounds, all industries right now are hurting in more ways than one, with TV as well. Everybody’s hurting. And to think that no touring happening, and then to think that no new music, as well, well that would be even more depressing. You guys made the right choice of releasing the album this year.
I think so, too. And there’s no life without music. I mean, it’s very important to keep some sort of positivity. I mean, we can’t just… We got to live with. This is here. It’s going to stay. If it wasn’t here to stay, the summer would have taken care of it. It hasn’t. So, in the end, we have to live with it. And we have to be careful, and, at the same time, we have to support each other. I think music is important. That’s all we have. We can’t tour. We are heavily reliant on touring. Kataklysm is a band that actually takes a single, like The Killshot, and makes it a hit because we play it live. And that’s always been our strong point, and now it’s taken away, and we have to find new ways to promote it. So doing the best we can with the situation, like everybody. And it’s selfish to think that we’re the only ones that are going through this. The whole world’s going through it. Anybody that has a restaurant, does anything that deals with people, it’s affecting them. So even if you have a job now, doesn’t mean that, in six months, you’ll have it. If this keeps going and people can’t work or make money, then they’re not going to spend it on your business. It’s a global problem, and hopefully we find a solution to it, soon.
Of course. And what was the experience like, making the video for The Killshot?
It was a great experience. We used Scott Hansen, out of Atlanta. It’s the first time that we worked with him. We saw his work, and we said, “Let’s give him a shot.” He has a good camera feel and good ideas. The funny thing about that is, when we got there, only me and J-F made it. The other two guys were stuck in Canada. They couldn’t come down. Because I live in the US and my guitar player lives in Texas… And we were in Atlanta, and the other guys couldn’t make it there. Their flights kept getting delayed and canceled. They ended up getting there around 10 o’clock at night. We had already started a little bit, and then we just kept working into the night, real late, to get it done. It was kind of a hectic situation. We had to leave the next day because of scheduling. But, we pulled it off. It was an adventure. And, considering the pandemic, we just finished it on time, and we wouldn’t have been able to do it if we would have rescheduled it.
That sounds like an intense experience, and nobody could tell in the video.
Exactly. It was. And then, it was kind of like… I would think we came here for nothing because these guys are not going to make it on time. Then, that last flight out, they were able to get on. It was meant to be, I guess.
What was the overall writing process like for the new album, and how long ago did you guys actually start writing it?
We started in the fall of last year, and I took the horns on this record for the writing process, with my guitar player. We wrote, I would say, about 99% of it in Chicago and Dallas, and we just kept going back and forth. I felt very aggressive at the end of last year. I don’t only do Kataklysm. I also have a management company, and I have an agency out of Los Angeles that books tours and stuff. So I’ve always been overworked, I think, and had too much stuff going on and felt really aggressive. I kind of channel my stuff through music, and this record was there. And I’m like, “Let’s get in there and just do a brutal record and something crazy.” Me and J-F just went at it, and the sound came out. It was just flowing like water. It just came the way it did, and we didn’t change anything on it. Cool thing about it is we’d come back to it months later, and it’s just the way it needs to be. There’s nothing to be changed, so we’re very happy with the results.
Can you actually talk more about the songs “Cut Me Down” and “The Way Back Home?”
Cut Me Down is about knowing that person that has the intentions of hurting you, but is not, and is waiting for you to be in a position to do that. So that’s the idea behind Cut Me Down. In my industry that I’m in, there’s a lot of snakes. And in my life, growing up, I’ve had a lot of snakes around me all the time. I have an ability to see them, and that’s kind of the way I portray it in the song. And there’s a lot of jealousy around a lot of stuff, and nobody’s always out there to be supportive.
The Way Back Home is more of an acknowledgement of having something happen to you, a betrayal. You see, it all connects. The record connects a lot around that and plotting, also, your revenge, a little bit like The Killshot, but a different version. I mean, I make it more of a storytelling thing. I’m not going to dig your grave and put you in it. But it was more about the intention of… So, that’s what it’s about, around those songs.
Were there any tracks on the album that were more challenging to write?
Like I said, it was a very easy flow. I think the only thing was we swapped from a six-string guitar to a seven-string guitar, changing our sound a lot, on this album. And there was a lot of precision work, making sure that things were just done right in the vocal department. I worked really hard on my vocals to make them different, a little bit more… They’re aggressive, but, at the same time, you understand what’s going on. And that, for me, was important, to enunciate right. So it was a lot of precision work. As far as the writing’s concerned, there weren’t any songs that were very difficult. I would say one that was a bit challenging… the song called Stitches that’s on the record. And that one was a little bit more challenging because it had more of a commercial undertone on it. We tried to mix that catchiness with some of the underground elements, because they kind of combine in that song. And that was a little bit of a tough situation to do. But other than that, we dabbled a little bit with some different intros and outros that we did ourselves, like Icarus falling with the piano and stuff like that. So there was a little bit of some new territory explored on this.
While things remain uncertain with shows, do you have any plans for a record release livestream event or virtual tour?
I don’t know if it’s because I’m too old school. I don’t know. I just don’t connect with this whole thing right… Sorry. But maybe next year. If things are still locked down and shut down and there’s no concerts at all happening next year, then maybe I would dabble with the idea. Oh, I manage a bunch of bands, and, in my world, we’re doing some of it already. And they all want to do it, which is cool with me. I don’t have a problem with that idea. What I will not do is play in front of cars, like a drive-thru. That’s not going to happen. I have an issue with playing in front of tin cans and people drinking a bottle of whiskey in their car and then driving away. It’s kind of, to me, a recipe for disaster, and I’m not going to have that interaction happen. But a livestream, at some point? Maybe. We won’t do a record launch show with something like that.
What we will do is what we’re working on… is reigniting our YouTube channel. We’re going to have probably some sort of episodes that we’re going to release every week that has to do with Kataklysm and some backstage stories and stuff that happened that we have filmed and put them in there, and do some sort of cool montage with our career, in the album that’s just coming out. So we’re going to be opening that up, probably in about a week or two. So that’s something different that we haven’t done before, because we’re all stuck home. Let’s do something that’s more constructive on that end. But without touring, which is a huge part of Kataklysm’s evolution, and we rely heavily on it even to promote our records… Not having that is a big problem for us and, I think, not only for us but for a lot of bands. So we’ll see where it all goes, but no. No live streaming for now. Not this year, at least.
It’s questionable. And, yes, a lot of bands have been experimenting between drive-thrus, virtual tours, to socially-distant concerts. It’s a very strange time right now. Do you have anything else you want to say or add?
I’ll start with the music because, with Kataklysm, this record is very important to us. If you’re a fan of the band, I think you’re going to love this record. If you’re not familiar with the band, this is a record that you should really listen to because it has a different undertone than anything we’ve done before. At the same time, to release this record for you guys, for everybody out there, to give you some sort of healing, some sort of uplifting message that we can remain unconquered towards this and come up, on the other end, okay. We are a resilient species. I think we’ll find a way to get ourselves out of this. And there’s no purpose for music if it’s not there. Having a record just being on a shelf and waiting until things are great to release it, I don’t think is a solution.I think that we are metalheads because of that factor, that we can come together in time of need. And that’s why we decided to move forward with the record. I want everybody to wear a mask. I know a lot of people have doubts about them, but what do you have to lose? It takes five minutes. Put it on. You do your thing. You take it off. You clean your hands, and that’s all. That’s all you have to do. And I think it’s worth doing that and giving it a chance, towards getting back to normal.