Released: 2009, Nuclear Blast Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
From the mind of Kataklysm frontman Mauricio Iacono comes Ex Deo. Born as an outlet for Iacono to explore the mythology and history of his Italian heritage, Ex Deo is the soundtrack of the Roman Empire. Though the publicity photos of Iacono decked out in gladiator garb (complete with sword) might come across a little kitschy, the 11 tracks contained on Ex Deo’s debut album ROMULUS are seriously heavy, no nonsense metal.
Not to be regarded as a side project, Ex Deo is a new band altogether that just happens to be made up of the existing Kataklysm lineup. Iacono is the primary songwriter and creative force within Ex Deo, but he chose to utilize his Kataklysm bandmates to help with the recording of ROMULUS (and the eventual touring to follow) rather than recruit an entirely new cast of characters. While more accessible and dynamic than Kataklysm’s brand of blunt force death metal, the approach to the songs is just as crushing. Ex Deo combines melody infused death metal with the theatrics of avante garde black metal, all draped in a velvet cloak of traditional symphonic elements. Iacono’s also taken a different vocal approach here, trading his traditional gruff death below for an intelligible raspy growl that suits the music perfectly.
Though the songs captured on ROMULUS are all related to the legendary tales of ancient Rome, they don’t follow a linear thread like you’d find on a concept album. The album opens with the title track, which starts small and builds into something truly epic as the song progresses. Throwing down the gauntlet, it’s a great way to set the tone for what’s to follow. “Storm the Gates of Alesia” continues with deliberate ferocity, declaring battle in the name of the God Jupiter and in the name of the Roman Empire, complete with the march of soldiers across the terrain as the song fades out. More tales follow, songs of war (“Cry Havoc”), songs of gladiators (“Surrender the Sun”), songs of the Gods (“Blood, Courage, and the God’s that Walk the Earth”), songs that make you wish you’d paid more attention in your High School History classes. The pace of the album settles down into more mid-paced churners around four songs into the album, but there’s enough going on within each song to keep things interesting (battle horns, senate speeches, and layers of guitar melodies). While it’s true that slowing down the crunch can make the impact sting a little harder (which it does here), but a little variety in the tempo would have livened up the second half of the album.
With Ex Deo, Iacono has demonstrated that extreme music doesn’t have to be limited with its creativity. ROMULUS is exceptionally well crafted, exceptionally well executed and almost, dare I say it, educational? Iacono has committed in the press that ROMULUS is not a one-shot deal and that there’s more to come from Ex Deo. If the future of the band sounds as good as it does on here on ROMULUS, it can’t come soon enough. Consider this one a MUST.