I've always imagined that, were they exposed to it, the people of ancient Rome would be some hardcore metalheads. Seriously, couldn't you see BEHEMOTH playing a set between gladiator battles and public feedings of Christians to the lions? How about the thought of legions of Roman soldiers marching into battle to a medley of SLAYER tunes? Hell, while we're at it, let's just imagine that Varg Vikernes took his homicidal rage out on Julius Caesar instead of Euronymous (et tu, Varg?). Okay, that might be a bit much, but the rest would have been a beautiful sight to behold. Until we've mastered the art of time travel, this will just have to one more mildly amusing thought rolling around my mind, but at least someone has come out and offered the next best thing. The brainchild of Maurizio Iacono of KATAKLYSM, EX DEO is a concept band based on the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.Aside from MARTYR's Francios Mongrain (bass) and BLACKGUARD's Jonathan Leduc (keys), Iacono stuck close to home when choosing musicians for this project, enlisting his KATAKLYSM brethren to round out the line-up. Don't let this fool you into thinking that EX DEO is a clone or off-shoot of the singer's main gig though. Aside from the recognizable guitar tone of JF Dagenais and Iacono's booming roar, EX DEO bears little resemblance to the hyperblast-laden death of KATAKLYSM. Given the subject matter, it almost goes without saying that EX DEO takes a decidedly epic and melodic approach to their death metal. In fact, Iacono's sometimes over-the-top screams are perfect for a project like this, often times giving the impression of a half-crazed ruler screaming out to his empire with intense fervor. Once you find yourself chanting "HAIL! HAIL! HAIL! JULIUS CAESAR!" along with the vocalist during "Invicitus", you'll see what I mean. Where the music is concerned, the KATAKLYSM boys do a commendable job in bringing the tempo down from their breakneck norm, faithfully rallying behind their frontman's vision for this project. In doing so, they create some very well-received moments of melodic death such as the symphony-flavored titles track or the doom-cum-thrash dynamic rager "Blood, Courage And The Gods That Walk The Earth". Of course, this wouldn't be a proper side project if a few random names didn't drop by to lend a few notes and "Romulus" has some good ones. BEHEMOTH's Nergal lends a very demonic voice to "Storm The Gates Of Alesia", while Obsidian C. (KEEP OF KALESSIN) shows up for the slightly blackened "Cruor Abbas Nostri" and metal's favorite historian Karl Sanders of NILE fame (naturally) appears on "The Final War (Battle Of Acitum)". Did said contributions stand out? Aside from Nergal's distinguishable growl, not really. Sure the name recognition lends a bit of credibility to the project, but made no immediately noticeable impact on the music. No, "Romulus" is not going to go down as the "must have" disc of 2009, and quite frankly there are a few moments worth passing over on this album. At the same time, there are plenty more worth raising a set of horns over. Containing enough elements of both to attract fans of melodeath and good ol' fashion death metal, EX DEO definitely has a place in your collection, if not for the tunes themselves then for the wealth of knowledge and respect for the topic that Iacono obviously has. History class just got a lot heavier.
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