Heaven's Venom Speaks out - Jean-François Dagenais
Canadian Death Metal Merchants 'Kataklysm' are no strangers to the underground extreme scene, formed back in 91 who released a demo called 'Death Gate Cycle Of Reincarnation in 1992 which finally got the attention of Nuclear Blast who wanted to sell the demo, within a month the demo was sold out thought the label and Nuclear Blast wanted to order more, this went on for several months before Nuclear Blast saw the potentials of this new and fresh band from Canada. It wasn't long before the band signed to the label back in 93 and the label released the demo as a EP with bonus tracks titled 'The Mystical Gate Of Reincarnation'. In 95 the band would release their debut full length album 'Sorcery' which set the world on fire. The band has been kept together over the last 20yrs by Maurizio Iacono (on vocals) but back in the early days would be the bassist for the band, along with guitarist J-F Dagenais, and bassist Stephane Barbe, and drummer Max Duhamel who later left the band but would rejoin the band later on. The band have recorded 11 full length CDs and 1 EP, 1 DVD and now their new DVD 'Iron Will - 20 years Determined', which will been released at the end of July. This is truly a awesome DVD, capturing songs from all their albums. I managed to have a chat with guitarist and producer JF about the DVD, his influences as a child and much more. So sit back and read on... Death Metal at its best.
As we all know the band have been around for many years now, with a few line up changes as always, so having changes within the band Jean does it effect the band that much at all?
"Yes it does actually, it effects the writing process and life on the road as we have been touring for over the last 20yrs, so sometimes personalities clash. With us it has been the change of drummers & now we have back our original drummer Max Duhamel and with Max, Stephane & myself have been together for many years now, about 10yrs I think. We are all brothers & we all think alike and we know how to and not to piss each other off."
OK Jean looking back at our early influences of Death Metal, which bands have inspired you to play this kind of extreme music? Also who guitarist have also influenced you and why?
"Well I was starting in the early 90's and for me it was the British scene like Napalm Death & Bolt Thrower, Carcass and it was that sort of stuff that got me into it really. Back then we wanted to be the most extreme band we could be and I think Death metal is the most extreme music of its kind so we went along with that. (Ed: Would you say that Earache Records were a big influences on you then? As they had the most extreme bands who have mentioned?) Yeah I would say so, I would have that Napalm Death's 'Harmony Corruption' was the album that started it for me. Every week I would go to the local record store and listen too the new releases and the owner would recommended LP's to me and those days were cool for me and nowadays they have changed a bit. (ED: Was you a tape trader back in the day? I was and I loved trading demos etc...) Yeah I was it was a good feeling to have back then getting obscure stuff and rare shit which is hard to get a hold of now. When you start a band you record a demo, send it out to stores, labels and fans who then trade copies of your demo and word gets out which is awesome and you meet people from such places like Japan, Brazil who already have your demo it certainly does get the word out for sure. As a guitarist I was influenced by guitarist such as Dave Murry, Adrian Smith from Iron Maiden and they were the 1st band I saw live on the 'Seventh Son Of A 7th Son' tour with GnR's supporting them. Next day I was bugging my mother for her to buy me a guitar and I was 12yrs old back then. I am not a big fan of guitar heroes like Vai, Malmsteen, I was more into metal guitar players. I like Alex from Testament who was a big influence on me, Kirk from Metallica & Slayer all the classics and Priest too."
If there are any young guitarists out there reading this what advice would you give them to play better?
"Yeah do what you want to do in life, First thing is dedication, and the most important thing is to have fun doing it and you will get better and better at it. You will also find musicians to start a band with and get experience too. I play ESP guitars and I am endorsed by them and I like their products and I like their black flying V guitar & I tried it & I fell in love with it, I like the feel of the neck and the way it plays."
Has the scene in Canada changed that much over the years? I use to have a cool tape trader back in the 80's who sent me demos by Morbid Angel etc... How has the scene effect you guys over there?
"Well the Canadian scene is ok but not as good as it was back in the day with bands like Exciter, Anvil, Razor, Sacrifice still going strong but other bands are no more. I like to go to local shows and get my ass kicked by young kids its funny haha!! Its a good feeling."
If you had to summon up one Death Metal album that got you started and into extreme metal which one would it be & why?
"There are so many that I like, it's a tough question but I would say Bolt Thrower 'For Victory', because when I 1st heard it I could not believe the sound & the power of the album and it was one of those albums that just stoke with me from the 1st time I heard it. We have toured with them too in Europe & it was a very cool experience as we shared a bus together & they really took good care of us."
Out of all the previous albums you have done with Kataklysm, which is your favourite and why? Any least favourite albums?
"Well I would have to say my favourite CD is 'Shadows & Dust' because it is one of those albums that we wrote all together as a band. We all live close to each other now so we can send stuff by email when we have ideas. This album we played live and we had a good vibe in the studio for that record and I think there was some special chemistry and energy in the recording of that album. If I had to pick a favourite song from that album it would be 'Like Angels Weeping (The Dark)' from the 'In the Arms of Devastation' and I think that is the best song we wrote and I would not change anything in that song. There are 2 albums that I don't like that much, they are 'Temple of Knowledge' & 'Victims of this Fallen World'. I think 'Temple Of..' was a bad era for the band and we were not getting along very much and we were heading for a break up and the album after that 'Victims...' was like a reconstruction of the band and I wasn't at my best on a personal level. If I listen too those records now they remind me of the bad times so I really don't listen too them but live there are 1 or 2 good tracks we play live."
For me Jean I like 'Heaven's Venom' it's your best work, do you agree?
"Yeah I like that album too, but 'Shadows & Dust' is my baby but I do like the last album too, its a great album."
As we are talking about the bands new DVD 'Iron Will - 20yrs Determined' will the band be doing any live shows to promote this DVD?
"Yes we will, we plan on doing a thank you tour to our fans sometime soon and then we will enter the studio to record the next album."
So now lets talk about the DVD, so why the title for this release?
"I am not sure who came up with the title, but when we saw the cover it all made sense and when you are a musician it all makes sense and it is hard to stay alive in this day & age with internal and external struggles but if you are passionate about what you do then it all makes it worth while."
I understand that you are a producer when you are not touring and recording with your band, who have you worked with in the past?
"Well I have done the last 2 Malevolent Creation albums, I mixed and engineered them. yes I have my own studio. With the band we can earn a career out of it we are very lucky and the rest of the band don't want to work but I choose to as I will go mad if I just sit around doing nothing. I love the studio side of work and I love to share my views with other musicians too & it is always an experience of bettering yourself as a musician and as a producer."
As a producer who do you admire out there?
"I was a big fan of Martin Birch who did the early Iron Maiden albums and I liked his work because of how warm everything sounded and the way he did his mix and now I like Colin Richardson and Andy Sneap. (Ed: was you a fan of Scott Burns back in the day?) I did like his work but for me his work was always a little dry sounding which was very bass and treble sounding which i think worked for that time but I was more into the British and Euro sounding for Death Metal."
Why was the DVD recorded at 'Summer Breeze' festival? Was there any other places you considered recording the DVD at?
"Well it really made sense to record the DVD at Summer Breeze and it is a great festival and we knew the promoter and they had a crew of 12 camera men there who did professional recordings and they record the festival every year. I worked on the sound of the DVD in my own studio so we got the sound that we wanted for it, which worked really well. I think it looks amazing for a live concert with 30.000 fans there and we were headlining the festival that day, so we played for about a hour and a half. At 1st we were going to play a local show and record the DVD there but we wanted a decent stage to record the DVD at show Summer Breezer was the ideal place."
Recording of the songs at the festival must of been a challenge, getting the songs right for the show right?
"Yeah it was to some degree, we wanted to play at least 1 song out of every record we had done for the DVD so we played a long set which I think went over just a hour and half but the festival crew were cool about it. We wanted to have a few track on the DVD which was 'Shadows & Dust', 'Crippled & Broken', which are our classics and we wanted to have them on the DVD."
Are you happy with Nuclear Blast? I know you left them and went to Hypnotic records and then came back.
"Yes we are happy with Nuclear Blast, they are better now with people changing and the label got bigger and when we were 1st with them they were a up and coming label and nowadays they have more variations of band son their label, whereas when we were with them at the start it was more Death Metal."
So besides touring for the DVD what other plans do you have for the band?
"Well Maurizio & myself have a side product which we will be releasing a CD soon, were called 'Ex Deo' which will be a concept album based on the roman empire which is a follow up to our debut album which will come out in August The music for this band has more orchestral parts giving it a big like roman feel with the guitars been really down tuned with the ancient roman instruments. You really need to check it out!! Its basically all the members of Kataklysm with Stephane playing guitar and a friend of ours playing bass and another guy playing the keyboards and it will be released to Napalm records."
Well Jean thanks for taking your time out, best of luck with the DVD sales, the tour and the next CD. Do you have anything to say to your fans?
"Yes thanks for your support over the years, we hope you like the DVD and continue to support Death Metal. Peace!!
Thanks to jean & Nuclear Blast.