Some 20 years later, Duhamel is still raising chaos behind the kit – albeit at a much higher level – celebrating the band's landmark achievement of lasting this long alongside frontman Maurizio Iacono, guitarist J-F Dagenais and bassist Stephane Barbe with the mother of all metal documentaries, Iron Will: 20 Years Determined.
Truth be told, Iron Will is loaded with so much detail it’s a safe bet that folks completely unfamiliar with Kataklysm would peg the band as playing 20,000 seaters a night and jet-setting at this point of their career. After all, working-class mid-tier artists simply do not release retrospectives this in-depth and extensive. Until now.
“It's a very detailed and massive release, but I'll be honest with you, we were worried because it's so long,” says Iacono. “We were thinking that maybe it was too much, so we went back and forth with (record label) Nuclear Blast and realized that if we cut it, the DVD was going to be like everybody else. We didn't want to run through it and say ‘The band made it!’ at the end and that was it. This documentary was done for the fans and for ourselves. It's not made for gaining new fans. If that happens, cool, but that was never the intention.”
“We had to dust off a lot of things to get at that old footage. Especially the footage of our very first practice with me and my mullet (laughs), my cousin Fabio Agostino (guitars), and Ariel Martinez on drums in the basement. You can see the footage is old… ‘90 or ’91; that’s vintage, before Sylvain (Houde/vocals). We weren’t even Kataklysm at that point, we were TSD. My cousin had the footage and it was so old it wasn’t even on a VHS tape, it was on one of those little tapes you put in the VHS tape (laughs). At that time there were no cameras that took normal video tapes, they were about to come out. It was done on a handheld, a bunch of kids thinking they were gonna be rockstars.”
Iron Will was initially planned as a book penned by Iacono, who was driven to document the band’s career and his own rise from mullet-headed metal fan to a musician living his dream. Time constraints made the book increasingly unlikely, and the band opted to go the DVD route. Iacono heaps praise on director Tommy Jones for wading through countless hours of footage and bringing the documentary to life.
“I've got to give credit to the director Tommy Jones for that. It's a long story on the DVD and we didn't want people to fall asleep watching it, so we wanted to go back and forth and throw something special in there. Tommy came up with the idea of Max TV (behind-the-scenes snippets) because he came with us when we were on tour, and at some point Max started saying ‘You know what? I want to do my own show here because the camera's on me all the time. Welcome to Max TV.’ That was it, and we decided to insert it into the footage. We wanted to make it very entertaining and very different for anything else out there."
“Believe it or not, a lot of stuff has been left out. We have something like 400 terabytes of material. The amount of material is just insane, so a lot of stuff isn't in there. If we'd put it all on there it would have ended up being seven hours. So, what we're probably going to do is, when the next Kataklysm record comes around, we might have 60 or 90 minutes of bonus DVD material and release it for fun.”
“That’s the cool thing about this DVD,” Iacono continues. “Everybody got interviewed, and nobody in the band knew what the other guys said. Tommy spearheaded the whole operation himself. Once in a while he’d give me an update or ask what some words in French meant, so he really put the whole thing together. But I have to be honest, there was some archive footage that never even got viewed. If it had we would have been there for another two years.”
And when Iacono says “everybody got interviewed” he isn’t blowing spoke. Director Jones caught up with seemingly everyone that was ever involved or associated with Kataklysm at some point, including the painfully intense Sylvain Houde who growled his was through the band’s first three records.
“He's out there, man (laughs). There was no way we could have done this without including him; it would have been crazy to exclude him. We would have done it without him if we had to, but we would have put a lot of footage and pictures in there and said that he declined the interview. Sylvain wanted to do it... but he didn't know why he was there. We told him we were going to do an interview with him, we were going to put a Kataklysm flag behind him, and it was because he's a part of our history and was very instrumental in the beginning of the band's career. I think he thought he was getting interviewed to join Kataklysm (laughs). We were telling him no, it was because of the band's 20th anniversary.”
“I hadn't seen Sylvain for years. I popped the DVD in when it was finished to watch the first cut and I thought ‘Damn, he's weird…’ I felt bad, and to be honest Sylvain looked like a broken man. It's not fun, but I wanted to give him his moment.”
Houde has a few noteworthy moments, particularly when he comments straight-faced on Kataklysm “stealing my ideas.”
“Yeah, but like I said, we didn't cut anything,” Iacono laughs. “We put the interview in as is because it was Sylvain's time. He has mental issues and a lot of people know that. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia back in the day, and I don't know if he's taking his meds or not. I'm just surprised we were able to track him down and get the interview done. I wanted to give Sylvain his moment, and if he's able to start a band and do something we wish him all the best.”
It’s worth noting that in spite of Iron Will’s 5+ hour running time – which includes Kataklysm’s 20th Anniversary headline show at Summer Breeze 2011 in front of 30,000 people – the price tag is nowhere near as high as it normally would be for a package this size. Iacono explains:
“The documentary was the focus, and Nuclear Blast knew we had a strong following, but they weren't sure it was strong enough for a documentary DVD. And, people want more for their buck. We looked at doing this massive thing, but when it was said and done we realized it was fucking five-and-a-half hours (laughs). We had to cut stuff, we went back and forth about it, but we couldn't. So, we decided that if it was going to get slammed for being too long, so be it.”
“It's not even about the money, either. We negotiated with Nuclear Blast and brought the selling price down to $20. We waived a lot of our own rights to put it out there just so people can have it, to please the fans. I just want people to be able to go out and get it so they can enjoy it. Giving them the opportunity to get to know us better is more important to me than making a couple bucks off the thing.”
Looking back on the experiences that make up the blood and guts of Iron Will, Iacono pinpoints the one event that stands out in his mind above all else without missing a beat.
“The moment where me and J-F sat down and I was almost begging him to give me a chance. If it wasn't for that moment – and we have to give Tim Horton's on Montreal's east side props for that (laughs) – when we were talking over coffee and I told J-F that if he gave me a chance I'd bring Kataklysm somewhere. I could see it in his eyes that he was thinking ‘I don't know why I'm going to say yes again, but okay.’ He knew that was the time and we rebuilt the band completely from there. When we saw that on the DVD we both looked at each other and nodded because we both remember the moment so vividly. If J-F would have said no and decided not to make music anymore, I wouldn't have been able to continue.”
“It’s crazy to see our history unfold like that,” Iacono says of watching the DVD for the first time. “We watched it together just the four of us – me, Max, Steph and J-F – no girlfriends, no anybody, just us watching our history. We got some beer, ordered some pizza, and it was a really emotional thing seeing our story like that. We know what we did, but there are people in the industry and the media that don’t recognize Kataklysm as a ‘serious’ band. I think after watching this DVD some respect has to be given to us at least for the effort we’ve put into our career. We had the door slammed in our face and we said ‘No, we’re going through it anyway.’”
Promo photos by Audrey Dujardin.