Ex Deo – Interview with Maurizio Iacono
@ O2 Islington Academy
1st May 2018
Interview by Thomas James Henry Saunders
Tonight I got the chance to sit down and chat with Maurizio Iacono, the founding member of Kataklysm as well as tonight’s Ex Deo. After a near 5-year Hiatus due to timing conflicts, Ex Deo is back in glorious form with new album The Immortal Wars released in February 2017. Now on a gruelling European conquest of a tour with old friend Ensiferum, Iacono has been exceptionally busy working on both bands side by side.
Being led in through the side of the O2 Islington Academy and through Its cavernous hallways, I find Maurizio Iacono sat happily waiting for me in his temporary underground lair.
So, going straight in, how’ve you been finding this tour?
Maurizio – it’s a long one (laughs)
Yes, six weeks isn’t it?
Maurizio – yeah six weeks long, we’re entering the fifth week now we’ve actually been gone an extra two weeks before that, in Los Angeles shooting a couple videos for the new Kataklysm record (2018’s as yet unreleased Meditations album).
Then we went to Canada to rehearse with Ex Deo as we haven’t done anything with Ex Deo in the last 5 or 6 years I believe and so we had to go there and rehearse and from their we came here so for us it’s been actually six weeks we’ve already been gone, with two more weeks (on this tour) and it’ll be two months since I’ve been home (laughs grudgingly).
So then we go home, we get two weeks off before having four album release shows in the US for Kataklysm and then I come here back and forth four times, doing festivals, like the big open-air ones, so yeah it’s non-stop all year.
Wow, that is one hell of a schedule, how is it to be constantly juggling two massive bands at the same time?
Maurizio – It’s not easy, that’s one of the reasons we put Ex Deo to rest for a while because Kataklysm continued to expand, it was very difficult trying to manage both bands properly. So we kind of took a decision to make Ex Deo more of a novelty thing and keep Kataklysm as our main thing, as that’s how it’s always been. Like it’s going in the right direction, this tour has been great for Ex Deo, the reaction has been awesome and I see people know it, so that’s really cool and y’know we only have three records out so it’s cool to see that.
How has the overall reception to Ex Deo been throughout this tour?
Maurizio – You see some places that the people are not super familiar, and they’re looking and being like “what the fuck” y’know, as what we do is very dark, it’s very contrasted to what Ensiferum’s doing so it has a big contrast in image & sound. It does fit together in the themes so that works, the mythological areas work, with the Vikings and the Roman thing.
I imagine that the plethora of Roman gods works especially well in this regard.
Maurizio – yeah absolutely, so we got things that work out together so it’s on the positive end for sure.
It’s just as it said, maybe some of the fans are a little overwhelmed like “Oh, this is a bit heavier” but I feel that it’s been a very good tour for us to reach out to people for sure.
What with your founding presence in Kataklysm being well over twenty years now, what was your primary inspiration for creating Ex Deo?
Maurizio – Two things happened, one, I wanted to do something that was different that had never been done before in metal.
I’m of Italian origin obviously, both my parents were born in Italy, I grew up like that, with the whole Italian experience I had when I was a kid, and I went to Italy a lot and I started seeing the monuments and everything and through my family I started learning a lot about the Roman thing. Because you grow up in an Italian Catholic family, the Romans are never perceived as the good guys you know, they’re always perceived as the bad guys who killed Jesus.
But then I got really intrigued into learning more about it, the emperors’ and the whole ancient world and how it helped shape the world of today. I was very intrigued by it. And I thought that would be a great concept for metal.
They invented the cross, so you can’t have any better, more brutal thing going on than that so I thought that was pretty cool.
And as the songwriter, you’ve had full control to go into the grim, bloody details of these events and times.
Maurizio – right, but also the psychological warfare too, like Caligula, there’s Nero, there are all these crazy Roman emperors you can deal with, it’s a thousand years of history, it’s a lot to go through, a lot of warfare and just really there is a lot to talk about. You can go and do many records if you wanted to.
Many records indeed, as well as lectures you’d be able to give too.
Maurizio – (laughs) yeah that too.
With the album release of last year’s The Immortal Wars, what was the direct influence for that particular record?
Maurizio – Well it was the Carthage war, known as the Punic wars, mainly regarding Hannibal as the character as he was one of the greatest generals that probably ever walked the Earth. I don’t know anybody who would take a risk like he did, bringing in all those elephants over the alps and going into Rome, this was before the Empire but there was still like a super-power, and you’re going up there with these elephants through the alps and defying the entire Italian Peninsula. I think he was a genius and those wars reshaped the world, I think if it had been the other way around I don’t think we would have the society that we do today.
So, overall it was a very, very crazy time and I thought that you would a great concept for a record and the name Immortal Wars because we’re still fighting for the same things.
That way it still keeps the stories relevant I suppose, linking it forward to current day events.
Maurizio – yeah exactly, we’re still doing it, like nothing has changed, Now it’s about religion, back then it was about territory and commerce, whereas today it’s about religion which is a front as deep down it’s still about commerce and territorial gains, and money.
Do you find that during the song-writing process that you begin to link up the stories that you’re researching and telling with more contemporary issues of the world today, as an analogy?
Maurizio – Absolutely, like nothing’s changed in society, we’re the same as we always have been. Like if you look at the world, then yeah it’s been modernized, where we have the technology, internet, blah blah blah. But deep down we still do the same stupid stuff we used to do and we really haven’t changed at all.
It’s just that now the information travels way quicker, so it’s easier to know about and learn about something which used to take longer before, but that’s the only real difference to me.
As you’ve already mentioned that you’ve let Ex Deo become more a novelty project. If you were able to, would you take Ex Deo to a more serious place?
Maurizio – Well I already do take Ex Deo seriously, I wouldn’t be doing a six-week tour for them if I didn’t, but I really do take it seriously a project. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to touch as many territories as we could to show people that we’re doing it still. We will do another record for Ex Deo, I’m pretty certainly positive about that which is good.
I just believe that it’s more a time thing, because I was having this problem where both bands were growing too quickly and then at some point where, like where can you go, you can’t break yourself in two y’know.
We ended up putting more energy into Kataklysm which I believe was the right thing to do. And now this has had time to grow on its own in the back, I can see it in these shows the big difference form five years ago that everybody knows our songs now. Before we really had to sell it to people, but now it’s more “Holy shit they know” they’re singing along a lot of them, and others, at least know the name and still come out of curiosity. So we’re still always selling a product, in a way it’s a lot more known now then it used to be so it’s easier to spread our music than it was when starting out with Ex Deo for sure.
But my vision of this life has always been to have a theatrical aspect to it, to bring the experience, of being back centuries in time. But to do that would be extremely expensive and I’d need to be ready to do something like that, which I’m not at the moment. But we’ll see.
With your penchant for the costume and on stage presence you uphold during the live shows, is that a big part of the whole live experience for you?
Maurizio – yeah massively, so I go into character on stage, and I’m going back in time and I’m there. It’s not like I’ll be there to joke around, we do it for real like it’s this serious thing.
I do it because I love my history, and what Rome did to the world, there were great things and there were bad things too, but in the end, that’s just society as we know it.
Well as you said they helped build modern ideas of society.
Maurizio – And toilets (he laughs out)
With your main band Kataklysm, do you ever find that the fans are overly negative towards Ex Deo, for being a different kind of metal, at all?
Maurizio – I think it’s the opposite, I’ve seen more fans of Ex Deo be negative towards Kataklysm than the other way round.
I’ve actually seen more Kataklysm fans whom yeah they prefer Kataklysm but they like Ex Deo anyway, it’s the same dudes you know. But Ex Deo has a tendency to reach out to a different kind of audience, a little bit and some of them will maybe actively dislike what we do with Kataklysm. I’ve had more (verbal) attacks coming from the Ex Deo fan base towards Kataklysm than the opposite, strangely enough.
Would you ever consider taking both bands to a festival at all?
Maurizio – Well we’ve done Bloodstock like that before, It was seven or eight years ago, we had one night playing as Kataklysm and then the next night with Ex Deo. Which when we do it like that it is achievable, but not on the same day.
It’s way too difficult on my vocals, and the range of vocals and patterns in Ex Deo is way more.
Kataklysm’s a little bit simpler but it’s still too much to give on a single night like it’d be difficult for me to do both.
You mentioned earlier about going back and forth whilst doing festivals, are there any that you’re really looking forward to playing?
Maurizio – Well this year we’re going to be doing Graspop which I’m really looking forward to, we also got Full Force, Hellfest, Summer Breeze all with Kataklysm. We haven’t booked anything with Ex Deo, because as I said the new Kataklysm album is releasing on June 1st, so it’s all going to be about Kataklysm for the next three to four months.
But yeah, those that I mentioned, they’ll be the top ones for me, I like to play them all, but those are the really cool ones that we’ve been looking forward to playing.
How was it, coming back after the Hiatus, which for live shows, lasted for five years, that must’ve taken some time to get back into the swing of the band?
Maurizio – It was difficult in the beginning, kind of getting back into it, but it helps that we had the inspiration to do it, and we got Jens Bogren in also, who mixed it. He brought a very cool, aspect to the whole record we’re happy about all that.
Any plans to get back in the studio at summers end for Ex Deo?
Maurizio – Well, once we’re well rested (he says, laughing), so not immediately, but as soon as we can afford some downtime, we do have some ideas and already have some material written for a new Ex Deo record. They’ll certainly be some stuff come out for Ex Deo in the future.
Cool, well that’s my time up, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview.
Maurizio – Thank you so much, it’s been awesome.