Artist: Ex Deo
Album Title: The Thirteen Years Of Nero
Label: Napalm Records
Date of Release: 27 August 2021
After an absence of four years, it is with delight that I am able to sit and review a brand-new album from Ex Deo, ‘The Thirteen Years Of Nero’. For those unfamiliar, Ex Deo is the name given to the entity created by Kataklysm’s Maurizio Iacono in order to explore the history and machinations of the Roman Empire. For their third outing, Iacono has chosen the reign of Emperor Nero as the focal point for the lyrics. In order to bring the music to life, Iacono has been joined once again by guitarist Jean-Francois Dagenais (Kataklysm, Misery Index, Despised Icon) alongside newcomers Jeramie Kling of Venom Inc. on drums and Carach Angren’s Clemens Wijers who handles the orchestral aspect of the Ex Deo sound.
Happily, despite the change to 50% of the line-up, the musical approach has barely changed one iota. Ex Deo are clearly not interested in experimenting too much with their core sound, so if you weren’t a fan before, that’s unlikely to change with ‘The Thirteen Years Of Nero’. However, if, like me, you enjoyed the debut, ‘I, Caligvla’ and 2017’s follow-up, ‘The Immortal Wars’, you’re bound to lap up the music on this third full-length release. This is brutal death metal featuring that almost iconic guitar sound instantly recognisable as the work of Kataklysm, blended with an orchestral element that is so integral and all-encompassing, that it feels like we have been transported into the centre of a Hollywood blockbuster. Better yet, it feels like we are being thrust right into the heart of the Roman Empire; you can almost taste and smell it.
I said it before, during my review of ‘The Immortal Wars’, but there really is no better type of music to convey the oft-violent and turbulent reality of much of the Roman era. If you don’t believe me, just take a listen to the opening track on ‘The Thirteen Years Of Nero’. Entitled ‘The Fall Of Claudius’, it begins with part of the famous speech from the 1937 film, ‘I, Claudius’ delivered by Charles Laughton, who played Emperor Claudius. From there, a foreboding sound emanates from the speakers before a chugging, brutal steamrolling riff enters the fray. Accompanied by rich symphonics, the riff is captivating, inexorable, and brutal, accented by pinched harmonics and more than ably supported by muscular drumming, slow-paced and double-pedal in equal measure. To counteract the extremity, elegant orchestral melodies are permitted, striking in their beauty. In addition, this mammoth opener features further spoken-word parts to sit alongside the savage gruff barks of Iancono which compliment the extreme soundtrack perfectly. Rome never felt so alive.
As you might be able to tell, the music of Ex Deo fires something within me, something primeval almost. There’s something about the blend of crushing death metal riffs and cinematic orchestration that strikes a chord and scratches an itch within me that I don’t always know is there until I start listening to Ex Deo.
The music on ‘The Thirteen Years Of Nero’ is not all mid-tempo crushing brutality however, as tracks like ‘The Head Of The Snake’ ably demonstrate. Here, the pace is quickened in places, led by blast beats and frantic riffing. However, the music maintains an air of elegance thanks largely to the wonderfully adept orchestration courtesy of Clemens Wijers. Being relatively local to the town of Colchester, it is nice to see it’s history appear within ‘Britannia: The 9th At Camulodonum’, another fast-paced, uncompromising blast of ferocity and rousing bombast, laced with dark atmospheres and very subtle, almost hidden melodies.
Having previously stated that Ex Deo are not a band particularly interested in experimentation, I feel I have to draw your attention to the mighty ‘Boudicca (Queen Of The Iceni)’, a stunning composition that not only bludgeons the listener will all-out ferocity, but it also features the vocal talents of Unleash The Archers vocalist Brittney Slayes, who injects a new dimension to the track, as well as providing an element of memorable melody within the otherwise chaotic heaviness of the song.
Opening track aside, arguably my favourite of all ten songs on this record is currently ‘The Fiddle And The Fire’. It is the almost perfect blend of elegance and brutality, one that I keep coming back to time and again. It opens with a striking melody, almost oriental in tone and texture, before offering forth a slow and lumbering riff. And then, for the chorus, the orchestration takes flight. Dominated by gorgeous strings, the pace quickens and blast beats duet with a beautifully strong melody, a combination that leaves the hairs on the back of my neck standing to attention. I just love the smooth changes of pace, as well as the darkness juxtaposed to the bright, crystal-clear light of the soaring orchestral-heavy chorus.
There isn’t one track on this album that’s wasted, one misstep, one low point. The entire record is incredibly consistent in terms of quality, and as such, it really hits the mark. Additionally, because of the layers of sound, and the depth of the music, there is always something new that I hear, or that piques my interest. The groovy riff within ‘Son Of The Deified’ for example, or the unusual sounds used in the intro to ‘What Artist Dies In Me…’; the list goes on and it provides for much more longevity than can often be the case with music of this nature. Mind you, I’m hard pressed to think of another band that truly comes anywhere near Ex Deo if I’m honest when it comes to cinematic death metal. With ‘The Thirteen Years Of Nero’, Maurizio Iacono and friends have once again delivered the goods, crushing me, pulverising me, and drawing me unnervingly into the opulent and violent age of the Roman Empire.
The Score of Much Metal: 92%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: