Iron Will paints a picture of strength, on stage and off, for death metal gladiators Kataklysm

By Ola Mazzuca

“20 years is a long time,” Away from Voivod says sarcastically. “I remember when it was 20 years for us, that was a lot of years rolling joints,” Blacky adds, laughing. “How many joints have you rolled in 20 years?”

That’s how the Canuck metal veterans congratulated fellow Quebecers Kataklysm for their double decade anniversary on Iron Will: 20 Years Determined, a three-part documentary on the band’s humble beginnings to current success. Director Tommy Jones captures the band’s stories of challenges and victories, both drunk and sober. Every. Single. One. You want an in-depth music documentary on a death metal band? This is it.

With over five hours of content, the two-part documentary is 85 per cent talking head interviews with little editing and lots of verbatim. Points made by each band member become redundant, especially those stated by Kataklysm’s first vocalist, Sylvain Houde, in his poutine-tinged accent.

Footage on the road highlights drummer Max Duhamel and his jovial humour with “Max TV”, where he provides intimate tours of hotel rooms and visits to foreign countries. Most of the content was useless rambling, however, travel footage of the band visiting Germany to the Prambanan Temple in Indonesia are surprisingly more audio-equipped than the rest.

Clips of live performances lack in that department, as wireless microphones were not used, thus every live performance filmed sound hollow and flat. Shaky footage shows that the tripod from the interviews was left behind. Instead of close ups of tremolo picking and double bass kicking, we see Maurizio Iacono from behind, motioning to audiences with his hands in a “come forth” manner.

On the bus, in the studio and behind the scenes, emotions are heavy. Duhamel shares his experience of resign and return, including being “forced to leave” due to injuries. They’re sob stories, but it’s hard to take them seriously when audio clips of classical violins are the soundtrack. When Iacono discusses Duhamel’s final return for a tour with Danzig in 2006, ordering for him to remain with Kataklysm he includes, “I pulled the whole Mafia thing on him” with background audio of a Sicilian pastorale. In addition to cheesey sound effects, many graphics and titles are inconsistent in font and size.

The second part of the documentary is more insightful as Kataklysm moves past their rites of passage in the metal scene. They stop paying their dues to earn respect for their 2006 release, In the Arms of Devastation. With their signature genre of Northern Hyperblast, derived from Duhamel’s signature percussion style, record labels like Nuclear Blast start to take note. It was through this release that the band traveled far from Montreal, to Europe and the US as a headliner with extreme metal bands of high rank supporting them.

During this period, Iacono and crew established their modus operandi and what they stand for: “music about good and evil, yet not about angels and devils, but internal struggles faced every day, in your own personal life or fantasy world.” They design the “Heart Beast”, a mascot reflective of their goal, aimed to mirror Eddie of Iron Maiden.

In footage from 2008 Kataklysm shares their process of writing Prevail. During this segment, the title track plays well over layered scenes of debauchery and touring, showing their “domination” of fans around the world. It shows an extensive global journey, both emotionally and physically, blending footage of audience to stage well.

Iacono discusses his rough year writing Heaven’s Venom. The film unravels anecdotes of his personal life. We learn that he is a co-owner of Albano’s, a classic Chicago pizza joint in Lyons, Illinois, where he resides. We also meet Saverio Donancricchia, Iacono’s long time friend and business partner. The Chi-town pal provides hilarious commentary, filled with Italian jokes and drunken storytelling.

As the documentary delves into personal topics, Iacono and bassist Stephane Barbe share their values as parents, taking care of their children. Barbe’s daughter makes a cute appearance, toy guitar in hand, while Iacono’s son, Angelo, is filmed hanging out on the tour bus. To outsiders, these gentle anecdotes display strong contrast to Kataklysm’s sound and lyrics, however, to long time fans, it affirms the genuine personalities of the musicians that inspire them. This is one of the few strong aspects of the doc, as delving deep into the lives of its subjects is a bonus, allowing audiences to make connections with their own experiences.

As the band reflects on their own success, and completion of ten studio albums, they become more confident. Duhamel shares a story of eating dinner with Rob Halford of Judas Priest at a Chicago Ozzfest show. Halford later mentioned meeting the band in an interview on SiriusXM channel, Liquid Metal. Iacono, Duhamel, Barbe and guitarist Jean-Francois Dagenais were stunned. Albano’s even catered the event, with their famous pizza puffs and all.

The documentary makes mention of Iacono’s other side project, Ex Deo, when Kataklysm travels to Rome, Italy. The vocalist has deep connections with his ethnicity and sheds light on the inspiration behind his cultural music endeavour. He shares cultural elements with the band, as they visit monuments from the Colosseum to the Roman Forum.

The documentary seems like a never-ending story, and at one point, you wonder when Duhamel will share what brand of underwear he “sharted” in, on a wasted night in New Orleans. But finally, it reaches closure, and on a positive note, too. Heavy hitters of the metal scene are interviewed, examining Kataklysm’s career. Alex Webster of Cannibal Corpse, a fresh-faced Randy Blythe of Lamb of God, Flo Mounier of Cryptopsy, Hellhammer of Mayhem, journalists like Metal Tim Henderson of BW&BK and Christine Fortier of CISM 89.3 Montreal, to name a few.

All cite Kataklysm’s work ethic, determination and unique contribution to the global metal scene. In this 20-year retrospective, scenes and quotes could have been eliminated. But anecdotes are effective, as stories render the human condition and a glimpse of life on the road. Kataklysm need not include every tidbit to affirm their traits. Kataklysm has nothing to prove, nothing to hide and nothing to fear. Considering the list of tales they’ve told, there’s many in the making and more to come.

Part Two: On Fire At Summer Breeze

The second installment of Iron Will is far more professionally shot, with clean-cut camera work and audio. It’s funny that, for a portion shorter than the main attraction, this one is better produced. It was directed and edited by the documentary’s Tommy Jones and was mixed and mastered by guitarist Jean-Francois Degenais.

On Fire At Summer Breeze captures Kataklysm’s 20th anniversary concert at the festival’s home base of Dinkelsbühl, Germany on August 19, 2011. The band is at the top of their game as Max Duhamel pummels through the air with blastbeats and JF Dagenais thrashes about on his fretboard with precision. Maurizio Iacono provides immense support in charisma and vocals. He has great strength in keeping up with a 16-track set and maintaining conversational balance with his crowd.

As they pump their fists in the air, chanting and anxiously awaiting Kataklysm’s arrival, the camera lens zooms closer and closer into a sea of headbangers. The band begins the set with “Determined (Vows of Vengeance)” from Heaven’s Venom, with outstanding double bass and guitar work.

Multiple cameras scan the field from all angles amidst colourful lighting and smoke. Although their audience looks overwhelming, Kataklysm is larger than life. Iacono requests, “I need you to move!” inciting crowd action and a circle pit or two. Fans even become emotionally immersed in “Reign Again”, some pushed against the barricade, closing their eyes and fully feeling each introductory note.

Things get heavier on “Manipulator of Souls”, a quintessential Kataklysm track known for Iacono’s spastic vocal shifts in its opening verse. The track blends thrash and death in a beautiful way and the band has fun doing it. At this point, Dagenais’ neck must be pretty sore because he hasn’t taken a break from whiplash-inducing windmills once, and they’re only at song five.

Iacono’s interaction with the audience is friendly and intimate, as he says, “express yourself, Summer Breeze. The whole world will be watching this.” They are provided with some comic relief by the giant vocalist, who initiates a “Security Stress Test.” The made up activity incited the audience to become more active, giving the “bored” security unit at the stage front a run for their money. His main goal: to beat a crowd surfer count of over 100,000 at Wacken Open Air. Fans are everywhere, but a count of six, seven, maybe eight, float to the barricade.

Turning to a wayback playback, Kataklysm play “As My World Burns”, from their angsty 1998 release, Victims of This Fallen World, an album Iacono describes as “extremely controversial” yet crucial to the band’s development.

Iacono, Degenais and Barbe take a water break so Duhamel has some spotlight time with a wicked drum solo, before things speed up to “Blood On The Swans.” All hell breaks loose as Kataklysm rip through their definitive track, “In Shadows and Dust”. Ultimately, all these kids would be “dead men” if they couldn’t keep up with Kataklysm’s relentless pace! But they sing along and thrash about like there’s no tomorrow. Fitting enough, the crowd is starting to look a little exhausted by “Crippled And Broken.” Iacono asks “are you still with me? Are you ready for round two?”

Everyone gets their second wind, band included, in their coherence to play with such virtuosic intensity. It’s the right time for energy too, with closing track “Push The Venom.” Barbe throws water bottles into the crowd to hydrate them for one more track. However, as Iacono converses with his audience, stage crew is already taking their banner down. Sure, band turnaround is quick at European festivals, but it’s no reason to dismantle early, especially when you’re filming a DVD.

This means more about respect than attendance, as the crowd is just as vast as the beginning of the set. “There’s a lot of people still here,” Iacono says. “We must have done something right. We’ve got one more and I want to make it very memorable.” The singer thanks his audience for their lively attendance and making their “dreams come true,” reciprocating as a self-proclaimed “people’s band.”

True statements follow, as it’s evident that Iacono and crew are genuine in what they produce. They take the time to appreciate those that have supported them in an admirable career full of hardship, fueled by perseverance. Iacono exclaims, “The world is a cruel motherfuckin’ place, but in metal, we are all free!”

Sharp camera cuts between each band member set the tone and capture every tremolo pick, cymbal hit and guttural vocal. Chugging riffs, clean basslines and dirty, distorted sweep picking fill the open-air arena as the camera scans crowd-surfing, fist pumping fans sweeping across the Bavarian heavy metal plain. With flames, flashing lights and fistfuls of horns, Iacono embraces his fans with arms wide open, band mates in tow, at the song’s closure, welcoming them into another 20 years of Northern Hyperblast.

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.