ALBUM REVIEW : EX DEO — The Immortal Wars
As a Québec native, I always feel pride and joy when a band from my patelin makes it in the international scene, a thousand times more so if it's a band I really enjoy. Montreal's death metal legends and history buffs Ex Deo have managed to hold me in the ranks of their dedicated listeners ever since I first heard them. Like many, I was very disappointed to hear of their indefinite hiatus following Caligvla. But, out of the blue last year, vocalist Maurizio Iacono made a cryptic post on social media indicating that "the General was getting inspired" during his trip to Italy. Of course, it didn't take long for fans to start speculating and, soon enough, the band confirmed they had a new album in the pipeline. They drip-fed bits and pieces of information and songs on social media up until the very end, and so the legions patiently waited. Until the day came, and the mighty Ex Deo unleashed The Immortal Wars upon the Earth.
A concept album based around the 2nd Punic War, the album begins with Carthage’s golden son Hannibal (through the song “The Rise Of Hannibal”) swearing allegiance to his father Hamilcar Barca and subsequently starting the war via “Hispania (The Siege of Saguntum)”, ends with his defeat at the hands of Scipio in the Battle Of Zama (with its namesake track), and adds a final celebration of the republic's victory and the bravery and strength of their legions with the final song, “The Roman”.
Ex Deo - "The Roman" (Fair warning: NSFW)
It is a short venture, just shy of 40 minutes, but it's plenty of time for Ex Deo to tell their chosen story and tell it well. From the very first minute until the last, The Immortal Wars uses all of the band’s particular powers to hold the audience at the edge of their seat and truly feel the intensity of the historical events they are depicting.
With a sound as refined as you would expect from SPQR, The Immortal Wars brings different elements together without being convoluted, mixing the fast pace, the limb-slashing sharpness, and the slower and heavy military stomping that make Ex Deo one of a kind. The first track, “The Rise Of Hannibal”, is one of the latter, and still one of my favourites on this record. Some songs are intercut with a few spoken words sequences, most times with Maurizio Iacono using a voice modulator to make it sound like his voice is coming from a parapet, either addressing the troops or the populace. It adds a very theatrical effect to the songs without being tacky or out of place. It simply gives yet another dramatic touch, which I am all for.
Other than the aforementioned “The Rise of Hannibal”, as well as the incredible intermission “Suavetaurilia”, I particularly enjoy “Crossing of the Alps”; the depiction of Hannibal's harrowing crossing of the frigid Alps into Italy with a convoy of war elephants. War elephants - true story. Hannibal did make it into Italy with a few elephants, by the way, although most of the three dozen he originally had as well as several of his troops died on the way. The song is heavy, and invokes despair and uncertainty, as well as perseverance and mostly, the burning rage to decimate the Romans. Ex Deo consistently manages to impress me with their ability to convey complex emotions through music, and this is a prime example.
While Caligvla left some not-so-little boots to fill, The Immortal Wars eclipsed all previous Ex Deo releases with one single intervention: the orchestrations created by Carach Angren keyboardist Clemens Wijers. A seasoned musician and an incredible composer in his own right, Wijers' very own brand of bombastic creations turned the aura enveloping Ex Deo's songs into majestic background music that intensifies and dramatizes every single song in an unprecedented way, ensuring The Immortal Wars’ place at the top of Ex Deo's discography.
The intermezzo alone gives me shivers every time. I don't want to put all the credit on Wijers of course, but there is a big part of me that strongly believes that this album would only be half as imposing if they had gone with a different composer. I hope they feel the same way and will keep working with him in the future.
Ex Deo's The Immortal Wars was by far my most anticipated album of 2017, and it delivered so far above and beyond my expectations. To say that it is their best album yet would be an understatement, and I really believe they have outdone themselves in every way possible with this one. My only qualm with it at this point is that the band has confirmed they were not planning on touring to promote it - so it's just a shame that such great songs will barely (if at all) ever be played in Ex Deo's legendary live intensity mode.
As far as the record is concerned though, it is as solid as Roman steel.
EX DEO — The Immortal Wars
Release date: February 24, 2017