Ex Deo - Caligula

I’m a big supporter of side projects. They’re a good way for musicians to experiment with different sounds; if they turn out poorly one’s main band doesn’t get its name tarnished, and if they result in success said artists now have two different sources of cash flow. The only problem is that they can cause rifts within bands if certain members become upset that their musical cohorts are putting more time into their additional effort than their primary group, or that the side project will become the main gig and leave the rest of the band in the dust. There is, however, a simple way to solve this problem: just include every member of the main band in the side project. No fuss, no foul.

Ex Deo are from Montreal and contain every current member of death metal elephant marchers Kataklysm plus Blackguard keyboardist Jonathan Lefrancois-Leduc. However, unlike the afore-mentioned Kataklysm, Ex Deo play historically-themed epic death metal along the lines of Behemoth, Septicflesh, and Nile, breathing grandiose ancient power into their work. On their second full-length album Caligula, the band whip through ten bombastic tracks of ancient wonder and bellowed battle-cries, adding some Mediterranean flavor to the mix with the help of female vocalists and (maybe digital) stringed instruments.

Sound a little overdone? Yeah, that’ll happen. There is little on Caligula that cannot be found on the albums of the aforementioned other bands. However, the men of Kataklysm — sorry, Ex Deo — are still expertly talented at writing catchy death metal riffs that pack a satisfying punch. On opener “I, Caligula,” vocalist Maurizio Iacono bellows “On this glorious day, I declare Gaius Augustus Germanicus emperor of Rome!” and you can’t help but smirk and nod along. The opening riffs of “Per Oculus Aquila” are designed for headbanging and floor-punching but maintain a discordant foreign quality to them, while the female-vocalized choruses of “Divide Et Impera” are eerily soaring, bringing to mind a whirling mob of crazed maenads. Later tracks “Along The Appian Way” and “Once Were Romans” both swing massive, boulder-sized fists in the air, mixing bellows with shrieked, high-pitched vocals while blasting through one infectious riff after another.

Fans should understand that there’s little to nothing raw about this album — from start to finish, Caligula is polished, cinematic, produced to a crisp and served up hot. But that’s… okay. This band, like that from which the majority of its members hail, is part of modern death metal’s empirical reign, in which melody, technicality, and clear sound are the fires in which the sword is crafted. Here, Ex Deo are more concerned with representing a time when things were brutal rather than called brutal. Just don’t call it a side-project. Or do.

(three and a half outta five horns)


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