Ex Deo – The Importance of HistoryTuesday, 28th February 2017
Heavy metal has long been associated with Vikings and their lore. Some of it due to European heritage, and some being that many find them to be an interesting culture. Not nearly as much love has been shown, in metal, for the Roman Empire. Arguably just as brutal and intense, as well as some modern day parallels can be found in the society, but it’s only beginning to show its face more in the metal scene. Of course, Ex Deo comes immediately to mind in this regard as pioneers.
Formed of mostly Kataklym members, Ex Deo allowed them to branch away from familiar territory and further into more epic and melodic territory than their main band went into. After a brief hiatus, in 2014, Ex Deo has returned with their third album, The Immortal Wars, which centers itself upon the concept of the Punic Wars that waged between Rome and Carthage. The band continues to become more elaborate and evolve their sound with each release, so it seemed a perfect opportunity to pick frontman Maurizio Iacono about all things Ex Deo, as well as a little Kataklysm update.
Dead Rhetoric: The album was originally announced that it would be released over a year ago – how much of the album’s work was completed before the band went on hiatus in 2014?
Maurizio Iacono: The hiatus part was really meant for touring; it was up in the air, but it was mostly meant on the touring end and I guess people assumed the band was over. Kataklysm’s latest record was coming out and there was a lot of stuff behind it, and we were having a hard time juggling both bands. Both were growing so it was a bit difficult and it was hard to find the time to do both and still take care of our families. It was a bit overwhelming, and now that things are getting better and we are ahead of schedule, we were able to know that at this time we would be able to start writing an Ex Deo record and start working with it. There was a lot of demand for it, and even Napalm Records was like, “let’s put a record out.” We had ideas – it was just timing. We decided a year ago to start putting the word out, so that we could create some sort of interest for it because it had been so long. The last record was out five years ago, so we wanted to start early in getting the word out.
Dead Rhetoric: Is Ex Deo still relegated to the side-project status or do you view it the same way that you view Kataklysm?
Iacono: As far as the artistic side, it definitely has the same value as far as passion goes and doing it the right way. As far as making it a big band and touring everywhere and making it that type of priority, I don’t think that’s realistic for the time frame and what’s going on with our lives. It’s very difficult to put both things at the same level. One has been around for 25 years and one has been around since 2008. There’s a big gap…if we were to put everything behind Ex Deo, it would grow a lot bigger and there’s a lot of potential to build into something different. But we do it for fun and for passion, and whatever happens with it happens, you know what I mean? We’ll just leave it like that for now. On the touring end, I don’t see us touring but we could do some open airs and some special shows here and there.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that Ex Deo lets you go outside of the creative box more than Kataklysm, where you have a more established base?
Iacono: It’s definitely a different element than Kataklysm. Kataklysm is more of a social-based band. There’s a more modern feeling to it, with what’s going on today and people’s emotional state and that’s what it deals with. Ex Deo is more historic, because it has a lot more to talk about. Its 1000 years of history with crazy characters like Caligula and Nero and all these emperors and war times…periods of Roman history that completely changed the way things are today. If things would have went the other way, it would be a different world now. It has an importance, with things that matter today, and that’s why I think it’s relevant. Plus it’s brutal and bloody, and it fits very well in the metal scene so I think it’s just something that needed to be done.
Dead Rhetoric: Each Ex Deo album has been a step up from the last – do you feel you’ve refined the sound you want with the band?
Iacono: With time, everything gets better. Some bands don’t get better [laughs] but for us, at least, because we aren’t pushing so hard on releasing a record and not getting time to explore and work on it. I think we are able to come up with different ideas. For example, this record was a concept album about the Punic Wars – two of the greatest generals that went down to the wire on changing the course of history. It’s such a grandiose and big thing – it needs to have a soundtrack to it, and that takes time. We had the elements to do it and we are very happy with the results. We take it back to Roman times as much as we can with what we have.
Dead Rhetoric: Each album has had a different focus, thematically. What drew you to the Punic Wars specifically for this album?
Iacono: When we started with Ex Deo, we had to introduce it the right way. Romulus being the mythological start of Rome, and then going into characters that people are familiar with, like Julius Caesar. That was the first record, just to make it so people could understand more what it is and it’s more familiar. Then we went into the famous character of Caligula on the second one and talked about a few more people as well. But this is the first one that we went deep into history, because it was time to do it, and sticking only with what people know doesn’t make it interesting. So we wanted to explore deeper, and I think there’s a very strong connection to what is going on today. It’s the same thing, only instead of being upfront about it, like back in history – where they would tell you that they were going to war and I’m going to take your land, and that it’s about economics or this or that. Now they mask it with religion and people’s fears and all that. So we are dealing with the same things. That’s what I think is crazy. It’s very important to have history present, and let people understand where we are coming from and what the past is like, because a lot of it is repeating itself but in a different way.
Dead Rhetoric: How much focus does there need to be on being accurate with taking on a subject like Rome?
Iacono: There’s a fantasy part to it – but the thing with Rome is that you need to be accurate. Otherwise you have the history police coming after you. It has to be historically accurate and you have to still present it in a cool way. I could have done a triple record on this, forget a double! There’s so much to talk about and it’s so detailed, but then I think it would bore people and it wouldn’t be the same. So we did a compact, poetic version of it and I think it works well for what we are able to do. I’ve always been a to the point type of guy. I’m not “here’s a big fucking dictionary, find out exactly what happened,” it’s more “like this is what it means”…I don’t need to make you read the whole dictionary.
Dead Rhetoric: About how much time does it take to do the research for an album?
Iacono: I read a lot about it. I buy books and really try to understand what I am talking about or it would make no sense at all to do it. When we do something, we do it with passion and accuracy. I don’t do the extreme details – like I said, I’m a to the point guy. I’ll read it, watch documentaries, and I’ll make my own acknowledgement of it, and present it in the most neutral way possible. But, it’s built on Roman history, so I’ll talk about defeat but I’ll always end up talking about victories [laughs]. It’s my ancestors, so I’m going to have to give it a thumbs up.
Dead Rhetoric: The art is fantastic – how much input did you have in terms of the final product?
Iacono: Eliran Kantor, the artist, has worked with some great bands like Testament, Soulfly, and Fleshgod Apocalypse. I thought he was the right guy just because of his touch. He’s able to replicate stuff from ancient times and do an almost biblical-style that I like. I asked him how to do it so we aren’t depicting another battle scene like everyone is expecting. He told me he was going to do something different, so I told him that no matter what he did, to make it dramatic. He came up with the aftermath of the war, when everything is done. The elephant is perfect. Rome is victorious, because that’s what happened in history. But the general Scipio, was almost crying at the end because of the carnage. It was insane. It replicates that same feeling of victory, but at the same time, loss. I think the style that he did is incredible…he nailed it.
Dead Rhetoric: With the amount of symphonic elements on the record, it seems like one of the elements that has increased over time. How to you see the integration of these components?
Iacono: It has to go hand-in-hand. The record was written in a way that music fits the time frame of the concept. “The Rise of Hannibal” is going to be a more epic, grandiose kind of song but “Hispania” is going to be a more aggressive, we are going to war song…so there’s parts where the guitars are important because of the aggressiveness of it. But we need to have the moments where it’s epic and dramatic, and then the keyboards and orchestra come into those parts with those type of feelings. It’s very well crafted in having the orchestra balanced out with the music.
Dead Rhetoric: There’s a few Rome-themed bands at this point – what do you suppose draws metal fans to the subject?
Iacono: On paper, it’s the greatest army and the biggest empire that ever walked the Earth. They had a system that had order in it, when most other places did not. Rome was the biggest city in the world, with a million people living in it, from all kinds of different religions and accepted anybody as long as they paid taxes [laughs]. If you look at that part, and you look at where we live today, it’s a big copy. They had a very good system in place – the army was not built on self-righteousness, like many other armies at the time because they were all about glory in those times; the Roman army was built on unification and teamwork. It was not about how important one person was, it was how strong the unit was and how they worked together.
The cool thing about metal – they [Romans] invented crucifixion and all the crazy stuff that you can imagine that you see in the movies. There’s no better concept than the Roman Empire for metal. For me, it goes hand in hand. The same for the Vikings, but they have more of a mythological angle – there’s not as much historical fact on Vikings. With Rome, there’s more history there. When a guy decided that he didn’t like a guy’s face and then cuts it off and wears it on his face and has dinner with his wife – that happened. Where else can you find a concept like that, unless it’s fictional? I think it fits.
Dead Rhetoric: The video for “The Roman” just came out today – what was your goal in putting it together?
Iacono: I think we nailed it for what we were trying to do. To reproduce anything that had to do with Carthage and Rome back in the day is almost impossible unless you are Hollywood. But we came pretty damn close I think, in doing something that will bring you right in it. It’s a pretty big concept. It’s like a nod to the Roman soldier. For its dignity, discipline, and loyalty. It’s an epic song and it was cool to do and have it introduce what we are doing. It was shot in Belgrade, Serbia in a remote area and has some ancient Roman artifacts and historical accuracies – a lot of effort was put into it. People were quitting on the set and everything. It was hard work – we had 45 people working on it. When we do something, we do it right.
Dead Rhetoric: What is planned for Ex Deo once the album releases, I know you mentioned that you are cutting down on the live front?
Iacono: We don’t have any live plans. We are going to release the album and wait it out and see what happens. I don’t see us touring but we could do some special events or open air shows. We are doing some 25th anniversary shows for Kataklysm and there’s not enough time for us to do everything. It’s a very demanding live band, because you can’t do the biggest empire that walked the Earth and come into a small club – it looks weird. It has to look big. I’m open to [touring] but it has to be done the right way.
Dead Rhetoric: Anything happening with Kataklysm?
Iacono: We are going to do the South American tour in April, which will finish up the Ghosts & Gods campaign, which was a very successful run and album; I’m very happy with it – it’s been a two year thing. Then we are doing 14 shows in October in Europe, for the 25th anniversary, where it is the same timeframe in which Shadows & Dust came out 15 years ago, so we are going to do Shadows & Dust and Serenity in Fire – two classic Kataklysm records back to back. Then we are flirting with the idea with doing some shows in the US and Canada for it as well. Then we will take a break [laughs]!