Artist: Ex Deo
Album Title: The Immortal Wars
Label: Napalm Records
Date Of Release: 17 February 2017
One of my favourite subjects at school was history and, to this day, it remains a genuine interest of mine. Whether it is modern or Medieval, it has the power to fascinate me. So, when you couple an historical concept with heavy metal music, you’re already ahead of the curve as far as I’m concerned.
Mind you, both the concept and the music have to be well-written and executed; otherwise it’s just a string of meaningless words on top of boring music. But on that score, Ex Deo have nothing to fear as all aspects of their armoury are taken from the very top drawer. But then, given that Ex Deo is essentially the ‘side project’ of Maurizio Iacono and his chums in Kataklysm, that’s hardly a surprising discovery. It’s even less so if you were fortunate enough to hear the stonking debut from Ex Deo, ‘I, Caligvla’. If anything though, ‘The Immortal Wars’ is even better in just about every department.
Ex Deo was created by Maurizio Iacono, a Canadian with Italian heritage, to be the vehicle by which he could explore the history of the Roman Empire. He has been joined on this musical excursion by his Kataklysm colleagues Stephane Barbe (lead guitar), Jean-Francois Dagenais (rhythm guitar) and Oli Beaudoin (drums) as well as bassist Dano Apekian.
And personally, I can think of no better style of music to bring the history of the Roman Empire to life. Many look upon this period in history as a time of sophistication, relative modernity and enlightenment. Much of that is true but it was also a brutal, barbaric era, full of war, bloodshed and political devilment.
And it is this brutal side of the Roman Empire that Ex Deo favour. Indeed, as the dark and graphic front cover artwork for ‘The Immortal Wars’ suggests, this sophomore album tells the story of Hannibal, a military commander from Carthage at the time of the Second Punic War. He famously led an army, including war elephants, into Italy but despite winning many victories, he ultimately failed to march on Rome itself and after being forced back to Carthage, was soundly beaten at the Battle of Zama.
With this in mind, the uncompromising brutality, meticulous and incisive instrumentalism and overt symphonic grandiosity of Ex Deo fits this particular story perfectly.
Focusing on that final point about symphonic grandiosity, ‘The Immortal Wars’ is utterly brilliant in this regard. Each and every one of the eight tracks blends the brutal death metal that Ex Deo creates so well with huge, bombastic symphonic tapestries. The album is as much an epic film score as it is an extreme metal record but somehow neither element is diluted or compromised by the other. This is the perfect symbiosis of the two and so it all comes together in a cohesive, homogenous whole that is entirely believable and utterly compelling.
In fact, just about every facet of this record is fascinating and worthy of mention. But it is the overall feel of the music which I believe is the most impressive. ‘The Immortal Wars’ is not a long album. Spanning a mere 38 minutes, it doesn’t stick around for that long. And yet, as the final notes ring out, I’m left feeling battered, bruised and exhausted. There is so much going on within the eight tracks that it is draining but in a thoroughly welcome manner. There are no half measures, no corners cut; this is full-on, 100% brutal music that is also intelligent and occasionally rather beautiful.
The album begins with ‘The Rise Of Hannibal’ and in true film score style, there’s a deliberately slow opening to create tension before the music literally explodes. Huge symphonic arrangements duel with heavy riffs, whilst a bruising, pin-sharp rhythm section is embellished by those familiar gruff growls from Iacono. And then, woven into the already dense sonic tapestry, are the sounds of bloody battles and spoken word sections which add to that filmic feel. But what comes through after a couple of listens are the rich yet understated melodies that create more of a sense of the epic.
‘Hispania (Siege of Saguntum)’ follows and there is literally no let-up in the aural tumult. Faster-paced and more frenetic, it nevertheless follows in the footsteps of its predecessor and continues the story in vibrant fashion. Yet more sounds of battle infiltrate the composition which again offers listeners something subtly melodic, although it takes a few spins to thoroughly appreciate the beauty that lurks beneath the aggressive surface.
Next up is ‘Crossing Of The Alps’ which immediately delivers an epic melody before it descends into appreciably more confrontational territory. The drumming from Oli Beaudoin really makes its mark here as the blast beats and fills defy my limited comprehension. This track also introduces a wonderful lead guitar solo at the midway point but as I have alluded to before, it is the culmination of every element, rather than an individual performance, that makes the song so powerful and all-encompassing.
‘Suavetaurilia’ is an intermission that is pure symphonic film score territory. It allows a brief respite from the full-on aggression but even so, it is laced with the intensity and drama that Ex Deo have mastered in their own inimitable fashion.
After the near two-minute breather, in comes ‘Cato Major: Carthago Delenda Est’ and almost immediately it becomes a personal favourite. The extreme brutality is mixed with more overt melodies that convey a sense of the epic but also ooze sophistication and create an oasis of elegance within the punishing soundscape. I adore the symphonics that help to deliver such a majestic piece of music; they underline the brilliance of the songwriting and add to the composition’s magic.
A similar effect is created within ‘Ad Victoriam (The Battle Of Zama)’. The spoken word pieces from Iacono convey the anger and the anguish of the central characters expertly, but it is the way in which the track opens up later in the piece that I adore most. The savagery gives way to reveal an utterly gorgeous melodic section that stands as a stark counterpoint to what is overall one of the darker and more unrelenting compositions on the record.
‘The Spoils of War’ is more of a straight-forward, no-nonsense slab of symphonic death metal that flies by at a ferocious speed but makes its mark as it does so. That leaves ‘The Roman’ to close out ‘The Immortal Wars’ and it does so excellently. It begins in quiet, measured fashion but it doesn’t take long before more crushing riffs enter the fray, accented by choral vocals. The fluctuations in tempo increase the drama of the composition whilst lending it a vaguely progressive sheen in the process.
As I said before, I’m left battered and bruised at the conclusion of this record. There is just so much going on that it is difficult to take it all in at times. However, if you do ‘The Immortal Wars’ and Ex Deo the courtesy of listening with your full undivided attention, you cannot fail to be impressed. The word ‘symphonic’ gets used far too much in the world of heavy metal, but Ex Deo deserve that tag; more so, ‘The Immortal Wars’ proves that they should be considered to be one of the very best exponents of extreme symphonic metal out there today. I’m struggling to think of anyone else who does this kind of thing any better to be honest. The bottom line is that ‘The Immortal Wars’ is a masterpiece and deserves all the accolades that are coming its way. Superb.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day