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Thursday, July 09, 2009

CD Review: Ex Deo - Romulus

Ex Deo - Romulus
2009 Nuclear Blast
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Aside from HBO's short-realized drama series Rome and Russell Crowe's Gladiator beforehand, the empire hasn't enjoyed this much crossover media attention since Cecil B. DeMille.

Rome--especially Julius Caesar--is always good for an appearance on metal albums at least a few times a year; the same goes for The Kracken and The Wendigo. Some things are plainly endeared to metal such as blood-dripping swords, nymphs with parted legs, poisonous vipers and of course, underlings and overlords from below.

Kataklysm honcho Maurizio Iacono doesn't settle for merely generating an homage tune within his main stable. Instead, he creates Ex Deo, an entity designed specifically for the purpose of bringing the conquest, the gory spectator sports, the precisioned army with only the word "kill" imprinted on their minds, the backstabbing politics (literally), the heresy, the perversions and all that was Rome in its heydey.

Fitting that Ex Deo becomes a reality in the midst of a shaky neo-Rome that was the United States inflated on a post 9/11 superiority trip until the recission changed everyone's attitudes. As this country begins to reassemble itself with proverbial barbarians knocking at its gates, Ex Deo's Romulus is not just another death metal venture. Iacono's fully-realized epic is nearly The History Channel placed within an extreme music context.

Iacono recruits the talents of his Kataklysm mates JF Dagenais, Stephane Barbe and Max Duhamel (all to be saluted for their security within themselves to rally around Iacono) as well as Martyr's Francois Mongrain and Blackguard's Jonathan Leduc for this booming histrionic focusing on Rome's ascent to power. In addition, Iacono lures Karl Sanders of Nile, Nergal of Behemoth and Arnt Obsidian Gronbech from Keep of Kalessin as esteemed guests to Romulus' honor circle.

For a brief fresher course, Romulus, along with his twin brother Remus, are considered the true founders of Rome with Romulus credited as giving the epochal city of extravagance its namesake. In a duel over which man held favor with their pre-Christian gods in bestowing divine rights to naming the city, Romulus and Remus stood on opposing hills until a flock of birds encircled Romulus. Taking this as his sign of approval from the gods, Romulus slew his twin and became Rome's first sovereign.

Amongst the many myths about the brothers, the biggest is the suggestion they were suckled by a wolf, in particular a female changeling Lupa (aka Luperca), also a prostitute of her time. What history reveals in proof, however, is Romulus created the Roman Legion and the Roman Senate, the latter of which eventually became the world's first Republican party. Romulus, before his death, was documented as Rome's greatest conqueror of his time. Following his earthly exit, he was given deity status, renamed as Quirinus.

Of course, you can expect Iacono and Ex Deo to get far more detailed about the bloody life of Romulus and the building of a future empire. Summarizing the aforementioned back story in the sweeping lead track "Romulus," Ex Deo swings open the gates with fused orchestral sampling and a lurching death march tempo for Iacono's salutory barks.

From there, Romulus impressively assembles the beginning pieces of Rome's raging conquest in the name of the celestial warlords Jupiter and Mars en route to becoming earth's first true superpower. Fitting a death metal project would serve as vehicle to a full-fledged examination of Rome's formative years leading to the reign of Julius Caesar. "Cry Havoc," "Legio XIII," "Invictus" and especially the rapidly brutal "The Final War (Battle of Actium)" cut deep to the bone with sinewy doom chords, exact yet dirty guitar solos and a howling narrator orchestrating the entire matter like a professor of ancient history for an audience with more jagged intake preferences.

As the pulsing "Legio XIII" relays the famed crusader-minded 13th Legion, heralded as one of Rome's most formidable military assemblages, the parable to modern times is unmistakable as Iacono plunges his listeners into the mentality motivating Caeasar's powerful army "we live to fight this dream to unify our world, in dominance we rise..." Accuse certain nations and kingdoms over the course of time of adopting the same cause, the parallel is undeniable and would-be lords, ambassadors and presidents have no doubt studied Rome with the same intensity as Iacono.

While Ex Deo only steps on the gas in increments, opting to keep the pace decidedly at mid-tempo (albeit you have to love the way "Blood Courage and the Gods that Walk the Earth" launches into a thrash propulsion after a deliberately skulking pace) so Iacono's history lesson can be delivered with a better impact, Romulus is undoubtedly the heaviest Roman sanctorium the genre has yet produced. It is triumphant to the point of deliberation on "Cruor Nostri Abbas" and played to such a hilt even the keyboard-assisted closing instrumental "The Pantheon (Jupiter's Reign)," becomes a worthy score to a project nearly as ambitious as the Kevin McKidd-led television series.

While Alex North's symphonic Spartacus soundtrack remains on the opposite end of the spectrum musically, Ex Deo not only shifts vibes, it shifts sympathies from the downtrodden to those stamping down their will with sandals of aggression. Romulus is bloody havoc set to a sanguinary crushing tone. This is intriguing and entertaining stuff which yields something to learn in the process. Whatever it takes to reach and cultivate minds, right?

Of course, if death metal isn't your thing, be well-advised to step aside from Ex Deo's stamping legionairres or be fed to the lions, so to speak.

Rating: ****

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