With the strength of 37 mighty African elephants, Hannibal marched 40,000 of his bravest men, 1,500 miles through the Alps, to challenge Rome’s supremacy on their own soil. Such is the premise of Ex Deo‘s latest historical undertaking, aspiring to tell the story of Hannibal, the 26-year old mastermind behind one of the most recklessly daring military maneuvers in history. Born to exact vengeance, raised to achieve the impossible, Hannibal will forever be known as the greatest enemy of Rome. A full year after announcing the demise of his project band, Canadian based Maurizio Iacono (Kataklysm) returns to bestow Ex Deo‘s third melodic death and orchestral undertaking. Can they successfully convey the magnitude and magnificence of Hannibal’s historical campaign?
Right out of the gates, “The Rise of Hannibal” presents a mid-paced anthem that succeeds in setting young Hannibal’s account in motion. After a brief and menacing intro incorporating a middle-eastern intonation, the instrumentation escalates with a bombasity that’s not dissimilar to Septicflesh and Kataklysm, while incorporating melodic death melodies comparable to those of Omnium Gatherum. That, along with the use of epic cinematic elements, forges a song quite uniquely Ex Deo. Maurizio’s vocal delivery is firmly in command; a gruff rasp that’s still clear enough to pick up on each integral line. It’s Olivier Beaudoin (drummer for both Ex Deo and Kataklysm) though who ultimately stands out instrumentally, bringing with him dynamic technical death experience from his time with the now defunct Neuraxis. “The Rise of Hannibal” is undoubtedly the high point of Immortal Wars and a triumphant beginning.
“Hispania (Siege of Saguntum)” and “Crossing the Alps” increase the energy levels of The Immortal Wars. “Hispania” backs off very slightly just prior to the 2-minute mark and then again just beyond the 4-minute mark to introduce a melody that bears resemblance to the melodies Borknagar applied on Universal. Though largely an unrestrained track, symphonics are tactfully incorporated and well layered, their grandeur standing out most prominently at the back-end of “Hispania” where they’re used in conjunction with cracking whips to signal the arrival of the war elephants. Though making a slow start, once again inspired by the melodic death sound of Omnium Gatherum, “Crossing the Alps” quickly develops its level of destruction. This is largely due to Maurizio’s vocal interplay, contrasting rough death rasps with piercing screams and narrations, developing cataclysmic intensity. It’s around this point of The Immortal Wars that it hit me, this is probably one of the most convincing concept albums I’ve experienced in a long while.
Moving on from the belly dance-like fluidity of “Suavetaurilia,” “Cato Major: Carthago delenda est!” develops the cinematic side of Ex Deo, at times bringing to mind Shade Empire‘s much loved Omega Arcane release. The song goes through any number of shifts and changes, all with a distinctly combative edge that’s ideal to get that mosh pit churning during a live performance. The Synyster Gates inspired guitar solo at 3:44 is a thing of beauty, and a nice contradiction to the militant atmosphere of the rest of the track. “Ad Victoriam (The Battle of Zama)” and “The Spoils of War” continue on in the same manner as previous tracks, making use of a variety of vocal styles, impactful lyrics and irregular percussion, backed by attractive melodies. With a total run-time just beyond 38 minutes, The Immortal Wars comes to a close with “The Roman.” Opening with an unhurried pace, the track expands and escalates, somewhat out of character with what’s come before. Building on dramatic effect, moments of A Forest of Stars-like violin melody weave themselves into Ex Deo‘s sound, creating something austere that’s not only memorable but also quite striking.
It’s difficult to point out faults on an album that I’ve been waiting for with equal measures of anticipation and trepidation. While I’m beginning to enjoy Kataklysm‘s sound, Ex Deo is the band I want new material from. I’m pleased that Ex Deo went on to create The Immortal Wars. That said, though it’s better than Romulus, The Immortal Wars is not without fault, never developing the staying power or memorable nature of Caligvla. Similar sounding melodies, pacing, persistent hammering intensity and being that The Immortal Wars is bookended by the strongest, most memorable tracks, has a tendency to make the mid-section pass by in a blur if you’re not paying attention. Looking past this, The Immortal Wars is a triumphal release from a band that I hope has many more campaigns left under their chest plates!