When in Rome, let the fires roar.
The great exploits of history, both ancient and recent, have provided plenty of lyrical fodder for heavy metal going back as far as the genre’s primordial era. However, the specific subject of Roman history and mythology has been something of a road less travelled within metal circles, particularly insofar as bands specializing in conceptual storytelling. It’s a vast pool of exploits, both heroic and villainous, and longtime Kataklysm front man Maurizio Iacono has made an expansive career on the side with his project Ex Deo covering some of the more famous figures and moments of said history. Following an impressive stream of pomp-steeped symphonic theatricality with a death metal edge covering such noted figures as Caligula and events such as The Punic Wars, this part time fold from Quebec has opted to delve into the rule of one of Rome’s most notorious emperors with their latest offering dubbed “The Thirteen Years Of Nero.”
While this outfit often invites comparisons to the likes of Septicflesh and Fleshgod Apocalypse due to the heavy amount of cinematic bluster and dense orchestral sounds accompanying their impact-based brand of extreme metallic fervor, this particular studio endeavor does a fair bit to distinguish Ex Deo from the pack. Between the mostly deeper barks and snarls of Iacono and the chunky riff work that relies on a well rounded combination of groove and dissonant tones, the sound that emerges has a bit more of an Amon Amarth-like tinge to it, which is further bolstered by some tasteful yet fairly frequent singing melodic passages out of Stephane Barbe that bring a slight melodeath element into the equation. Likewise, the particular fascination that this band exhibits with Ancient Roman storytelling results in them becoming to said subject in a death metal context what Nile is to Egyptian-focused death metal, complete with occasional employment of some period instrument sounds.
The conceptual character of this album is about as blatantly worn on its shirtsleeve as they come, listening almost like a history book on tape. The expositional anthem that kicks off the album “The Fall Of Claudius” is adorned with a highly dramatic speech lifted from a theatrical account of Nero’s predecessor, underscoring his noted struggle with the Roman senate that often resulted in bloodshed, including his own. The music that ensues following the minute long speech has a grandiose yet haunting character to it, featuring a mostly mid-paced riff assault with an extravagant orchestral backdrop like something that Hans Zimmer might have dreamed up. But more so than an impressive wall of sound, it functions as a vivid template for a detailed narrative of the events leading to Nero’s ascent to the throne, one that is echoed in the somewhat more folksy yet equally menacing “Imperator” and the horn-driven battle anthem “Boudicca (Queen Of The Iceni)”, which also features a brilliant guest vocal slot by Unleash The Archers’ Brittney Hayes in the role of the British queen who resisted Nero’s rule.
For the most part, the anthems that grace this album follow a scheme of catering to the vocal and lyrical content of the album in a manner somewhat similar to Mayan’s approach, but occasionally things take on a bit more of an impact-based formula in keeping with death metal’s traditional roots. Despite an equally dense level of symphonic bombast relative to the rest of the album, the kinetic thrashing character of “The Head Of The Snake” listens a bit closer to something that could have been on one of Kataklysm’s past couple albums. The similarly animated “Son Of The Deified” ratchets this tendency up further with some shredding lead guitar work out of Barbe, a stand out moment primarily because his abilities are not exploited in this manner often, though the generally frenetic “What Artist Dies In Me…” also showcases some impressive fret board gymnastics. But ultimately this album’s forte is delivering massive sounding anthems with some infectious hooks, and on this front the ironically charming, folksy retrospective of Nero’s most infamous deed “The Fiddle & The Fire” steals the show.
Though some in online media may be fatigued at the prospect of another niche project yielding an album that is mostly by-the-numbers, “The Thirteen Years Of Nero” does a fine job of adapting a familiar blend of Swedish melodeath and symphonic pomp into something a bit less common. Everything about this album is an exercise in competence, while the massive character of the production job takes it a step further into sheer excellence, allowing for the prideful yet fatalistic subject matter to truly shine. It’s a foregone conclusion that those who will be most drawn to this album will be the ones that have divided their time between the likes of Behemoth, Septicflesh and Nile, but this is still rooted enough in the traditions of older melodic death metal that those who enjoy the rawer sounds of Kataklysm and Amon Amarth will find it agreeable. It’s slightly below the zenith that this band experienced on their second studio effort Caligula, but it gets the job done nicely and might even help a few high school students pass their exams on 1st century Roman history.
Released By: Napalm Records
Released On: August 27th, 2021
Genre: Cinematic Death Metal
- Maurizio Iacono / Vocals, Bass
- Jean-François Dagenais / Guitars, Production
- Jeramie Kling / Drums
- Clemens Wijers / Orchestrations
“The Thirteen Years Of Nero” track listing:
1.The Fall of Claudius
3.The Head of the Snake
4.Boudicca (Queen of the Iceni)
5.Britannia: The 9th at Camulodonum
6.Trial of the Gods (Intermezzo)
7.The Fiddle & the Fire
8.Son of the Deified
9.What Artist Dies in Me…
10.The Revolt of Galba
Order your copy of “The Thirteen Years Of Nero” HERE.
Quebec’s symphonic purveyors of Roman history and lore strike back with yet another cinematic, densely orchestrated opus with an extreme edge, now recounting the exploits of the former empire’s most notorious rulers