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Ex Deo - "Romulus" (CD)

Ex Deo - "Romulus" CD cover image

"Romulus" track listing:

1. Romulus (5:17)
2. Storm the Gates of Alesia (6:31)
3. Cry Havoc (7:01)
4. In Her Dark Embrace (4:55)
5. Invictus (4:48)
6. The Final War (Battle of Actium) (5:01)
7. Legio XIII (5:53)
8. Blood, Courage and The God's That Walk The Earth (6:02)
9. Cruor Nostri Abbas (5:30)
10. Surrender the Sun (6:47)
11. The Pantheon (Jupiter's Reign) (3:57)

Reviewed by on June 16, 2009

"Ex Deo is without question its own entity completely separate from Kataklysm, and it seems like all of the musicians involved when to great lengths to clearly distinguish the two projects from each other."

If there ever was a period in history that would have been enriched by a heaping dose of death metal, it was ancient Rome. All of the clandestine political maneuvering, gladiatorial pit fits, high profile assassinations, massive battles between rampaging armies, and worship of ancient gods led to a time that was rife with nearly every type of subject matter that can be used as the base for a seriously epic extreme metal release. Kataklysm front man Maurizio Iacono, along with the rest of the Kataklysm members, have taken advantage of the wealth of material presented by the Roman culture and made an entire album centered on their myths and history.

Anyone who was thinking that “Romulus” will be a Kataklysm album with some vaguely Roman themed lyrics is in for quite a shock. Ex Deo is without question its own entity completely separate from Kataklysm, and it seems like all of the musicians involved went to great lengths to clearly distinguish the two projects from each other. The album features an impressive roster of talented guest musicians who were already involved with bands that had a historical element, including Karl Sanders of Nile, Nergal of Behemoth, and Obsidian from Keep of Kalessin.

The title track starts the album with a series of sound effects that make the audience feel like they are standing in a windswept plain alongside their legionnaire companions. The operatic choir comes in to let the soldiers know they will soon be preparing to test their battle prowess and preserve their honor in open combat. The drum beat gets added in as the soldiers begin their march towards either death or glory. It should come as no surprise when the heavy guitars and screams make their appearance as the combatants finally reach other in a clash of blood and death.

Despite the heavy emphasis on battle, the real highlight of the album is unquestionably the keyboard work. The synths and effects are implemented so well, and work alongside the other instruments so seamlessly, that they honestly produce an authentic Roman vibe instead of just adding in an unnecessary touch of the symphonic. The vocals frequently surprise as well, providing a huge amount of variation. Deep death growls massacre everything in their path during particularly intense sections, while higher pitched black metal style screams appear during more atmospheric moments. There is even some understandable “clean” shouting and yelling used from time to time.

The Roman atmosphere is pulled off flawlessly, but unfortunately that leads to a few unexpected issues. Because the album expends so much effort to painstakingly showcase every epic detail in plain view, the music occasionally isn’t as fast or heavy as it should be. While slower interludes can be used to powerful effect for contrast, it’s occasionally taken a little too far for how brutal the subject matter is.

Any fan of either historical themes in metal or death metal in general should get a lot of mileage out of “Romulus.” The heavy keyboard use also makes it a worthwhile purchase for those interested in more symphonic music. Ex Deo has definitely struck on gold here, and hopefully the guys from Kataklysm will continue to make new albums in between working with their main band.

Highs: Impressive atmosphere, great vocal variation, nice line-up of guest musicians

Lows: Sometimes a little more slow and toned down than it has a right to be

Bottom line: Epic Roman-themed death metal with heavy symphonic elements from the musicians behind Kataklysm

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)