EX DEO, a new band on Nuclear Blast. Never heard of them, so let’s have a look at the line-up to see, if there’s anyone of interest… OK, Maurizio Iacono of KATAKLYSM. Stephane Barbe of KATAKLYSM. Jean-Francois Dagenais of KATA... OK, there is a pattern forming. Max Duhamel, Francois Mongrain, this IS KATAKLYSM plus keyboardist Jonathan Leduc (of BLACKGUARD)! So what is the deal here? EX DEO basically is the side-project of vocalist Maurizio Iacono, who has tapped into his Italian heritage and created a concept album about ancient Rome and its history and mythology, where he obviously has invested a lot of time and effort to research everything and make it work. He also is the sole songwriter and lyricist, so this is all his baby.
Musically it definitely is Death Metal, Iacono’s mix of traditional growl and more fierce screams takes care of that, but other than that things are considerably different from the KATAKLYSM battering ram, far more epic, slower and more melodic and, of course, with keyboards, giving the epic story a fittingly epic musical framework to fill. This is even furthered by the use of samples such as the marching of troops, sword fighting or rousing speeches adding more ambience to the whole endeavour. But who now thinks that this is nothing more than a watered down version of KATAKLYSM, think twice, because while being very catchy, the riffing is still exorbitant, the drumming of Max shows both power and versatility and Iacono’s voice obviously is nothing for the weak of heart.
Once you get used to the gruff vocals (especially the higher screams are a bit of an acquired taste, at least for me), you notice how much their aggression fits with the fairly spartanic lyrics, which deal with battles, myths and more, and soon become an indispensable part of the EX DEO sound, even though they will effectively limit the potential fanbase of the project. And there also are three guest musicians enlisted on this debut, BEHEMOTH’s Nergal adding some vocals to “Storm The Gates Of Alesia”, NILE’s Karl Sanders having a sting on “The Final War (Battle Of Actium)” and finally a blistering solo on “Cruor Nostri Abbas” by Obsidian C. of KEEP OF KALESSIN fame. It is hard to pick out certain songs, as many of them have different factors and elements that make them special within the context of the album and Iacono put a lot of thought into the compositions to keep the tension high over the more than 61 minutes, but instead of the hyperblasts the Quebecers are famous for, the faster eruptions usually come in shape of thundering double-bass, which suits me fine, given my aversion to blastbeats.
One track that doesn’t quite sit well with me, is “Invictus”, where the guitars seem a little more downtuned and that doesn’t bring the same effect, the chorus, though, is almost pre-destined for the live environment, as I can see the crowd screaming the “Hail, hail, hail Julius Caesar” at the top of their lungs in no time. On the other hand there are several that really hit home with me, be it the intense title track, the dynamic “In Her Dark Embrace”, “Legio XIII”, “Blood, Courage And The Gods That Walk The Earth” with its thunderous middle part, or the pounding “Surrender The Sun”, all of which underline the ambition and excellent realization of this project, which definitely has the potential to be continued on.
Side-projects often have a somewhat iffy feeling to them, EX DEO basically annihilates this theory with a well thought through, composed and executed album that will rank high in this year’s 2009 lists, if Vikings are in short demand where you are, try some Romans, they work well, too!
(Online June 15, 2009)