EX DEO Interview: The History of Nero Through Metal

Metal meets history, you have heard and seen it before, but the story of Nero might be a story you have not yet uncovered. I will say, by the end of this album, it will be a tragedy you will not forget. Maurizio Iacono is a master story teller of this dark tale. Ex Deo brings the adventure to life with musical brilliance and cinematic soundscapes. Each song will have you eager to hear and understand more. Take a stroll down the wild side of metal history with The Thirteen Years of Nero which came out on August 27th, 2021.

Ex Deo was brought to life by two members of Kataklysm, including vocalist, Maurizio Iacono, Jean-Francois Dagenais (guitar). Joined by Jeramie Kling (drums), and Clemens Wijers (bass). This dynamic group of musicians have created a death metal cinematic experience for both your ears and your brain. Bringing together intense guitar work, orchestra harmonies, and aggressive vocals, you will feel a mixture of emotions and a level of entertainment you might not expect. This is their fourth album release, following the 2017 album The Immortal Wars. They originially banded in 2008 and released Romulus  in 2009 quickly on its’ heels was second album, Caligvla in 2010. Keep your eyes peeled for this symphonic death metal experience, they are still evolving at a great pace with wonderful live show ideas. 

Maurizio sat down with Metal Nation to give us a closer look at The Thirteen Years of Nero:

The first five minutes, Maurizo and I discussed his difficult move to Florida in the beginning of the shut down of the pandemic. He had to hurry from Chicago to Florida on a one-way highway, which was the only one open, to get his family safely there. We talked about history repeating itself and how pandemics usually last between two and three years, and discussed the importance of everyone getting on the same page to get on the other end of this. We talked about how social media is not helping with this, which is bizarre, because it seems like it should be helping us all collaborate better.

“I got the shots, I am going on tour with Kataklysm and Deicide. I will not be in all these clubs with all these people everywhere, and on a tour bus with all these people, sharing the same air, without protecting myself at least a little bit. I figured it was logical. I have gotten shots before in my life when I toured South America and Columbia and places like that, way before this pandemic even hit. You needed a shot to get into the country just because of the mosquitos they have down there will kill you *laughs*. In the end you have to trust some of the science and let some of the propaganda go sideways. You got a trust a little bit, you don’t have a choice.”

You have little ones as well that are not at the age of being able to get the vaccine correct?

“Yes I have a 2 and a 5 and I also have a 17 year old that is in Chicago. He unfortunately got covid up there, but he is over it now.”

Good. You enjoy history which is obvious with the Ex Deo project. The Thirteen Years of Nero, your fourth album, was recently released.

“Yes! We have been looking forward to it. It is a different type of record because it is an album that deals with Nero, which is an important figure that everyone has heard about at least once. It was a challenging thing because we needed more cinematic style music, more of a movie type feeling. More in the moment, which was a difficult thing to pull off but the pandemic gave us that opportunity. We had a lot of time on our hands and we were able to work with the orchestra and make it like you are in a movie.”

I think you pulled that off really well.

“Thank you so much. We worked hard. It was a complex record to put together because it is in chronological order. It starts with the end of one era with Emperor Claudius, then goes into Nero and all the craziness starts, so it is kind of a cool journey and crazy ride going through the whole record. ‘Imperator’, is the first song introducing Nero. ‘Fall of Claudius’, is the end of the first era.”

The video for “Imperator” is intense!

“Yeah the blood banquet *laughs*. Nero wanted to be an artist, so he hated the Senate, he hated government, he hated all those guys because he thought they were all super greedy and to themselves. It is based on a true story, I am not sure if he chopped a guys face off like that, *laughs*, I kind of exaggerated a few things but he took his revenge on them. I know he invited a bunch of them to dinner and got a lot of them eliminated, or a lot of them turned for their lives. They didn’t like the fact that he wanted to be an artist, they didn’t accept that at that time. They thought that was for slaves, we don’t do stuff like that when you are in the Roman Senate. He should be out there ruling land. He didn’t want to do that, that is the whole story about it. Which is cool because it is a different type of idea. He was placed there, he didn’t want to be emperor.”

There is a lot of parallels with that story too, especially with you being an artist, even with the politics of music, not even counting the government.

“Of course. Look, a lot of things are parallel to today also in terms of everything. We have a lot of guys that were also actors who became president. We have a lot of different things that have happened in our society that are very similar to Roman times. That is why I always go back to history to get educated on where the human greed and things come from and how sometimes the storyline repeats itself. It is kind of to see if we learned anything. We did not. *laughs*”

*Laughs* Spoiler alert, we learned nothing. With the world how it is right now, people having their strong opinions and politics being a hot topic in general, do you feel nervous to put out these Ex Deo albums that have these parallels?

“I am not nervous about it, but I do understand we are in a very delicate environment at the moment and you can’t really say anything about history because it is either racist or this or that, we are dealing with weird situations and you can’t erase who you are. We have a history, to say to erase all of it is, to me, really wrong. We are living in a digital world, can you imagine eliminating all the books in our history? Then people can just invent whatever history they want to fit whatever agenda is going on. I am not for that. I will never bow to that. We have a history for every nation, a history for everything around the world, I think we should learn from it. There is a lot of things we can learn to better ourselves in the future. If we didn’t know a pandemic ever happened before, and how it happened, we could say it is the first time ever. We have never dealt with this in the world before and now you have to do this because this is the only way. We know that is not the truth because we have dealt with this before, they were wearing masks, they were protecting themselves too, everybody researched it and that’s the truth right? I am a storyteller, I love metal and I love history, I think those two things go together, especially with the Roman Empire. Nero, for example, coined the term Antichrist. Let me give you another history lesson, he coined that term because he was persecuting Christians in that time. They were seen as a cult in the beginning and he was persecuting them because they were affiliating themselves with the Roman way. We use the term Antichrist a lot in metal and the upside down crosses you see everywhere, which reflects rebellion, because when he was persecuting them and putting them on the cross. A lot of them said they wanted to die like Jesus, so he put them upside down and crucified them. People wouldn’t have known that if it wasn’t for the Romans. The whole 666 thing comes from that time as well because his year was 66, it is all these things that are related to something that happened way way way back. It is used and modified and used in art and whatever, but to me history is important. I will never deny my roots and if I get in trouble, I get in trouble. *laughs* I could talk about the greatness of Rome and the abomination, but I am not just talking about that, I am talking also about a lot of Roman defeat. I show the weak spots, talk about history. On this record I talk about Boudicca which led an entire region of Romans in Britain, she fought back and she was a rebel freedom fighter of England at that time, Britain. So I show the ugly side as well. It is kind of a storytelling of what happened.”

Right. Not an opinion, a story. With the song “Boudicca”, you have the almighty Brittney Slayes as a collaborator. How did this come about? You two sound great together by the way.

“I already work with Unleash the Archers. I have a management company, so the band is with me. For this type of figure, I needed a rebel, and there is nobody more rebel than Brittney Slayes. She has the great voice, and we needed somebody to play Boudicca because Ex Deo was role playing a little bit and she is the perfect candidate for it. When I asked her she jumped on it because she is also a fan of Ex Deo. It was a match that happened and worked really well. It was my first duet and it was pretty cool *laughs*. It came out pretty good, I am very happy with the results and so was she.”

It appears many people have been looking forward to this album. I saw comments early on of all the anticipation.

“It’s moving in the right direction and hopefully we get to tour with it so it can reach its’ actual potential. Now we are just counting on getting the word out and doing interviews with you *laughs*.”

Speaking of live shows, are you planning to do theatrics to go with the theme of the music?

“It needs to. When we play live, we are already wearing the Roman armors and it looks really cool and we already have some sort of gimmick going on with it, but we need to bring it further so we can actually maybe reenact some things. We want to turn it into a more theatrical show. Ex Deo is still in development, and we will most likely do more with it in the future, but we are going to first do a tour that is lined up next year with Fleshgod Apocalypse across Europe. After that we are going to look into coming into the States and try to bring this project to life.”

What do you feel is the biggest obstacle with Ex Deo as opposed to Kataklysm?

“It requires much more time, it is more artistic so it needs a lot more preparation and is more expensive to produce. Kataklysm is more of the everyday, going to the gym type of music *laughs*, more of a working class type of band. We go on stage and wear our T-shirts while we are rocking out *laughs*, it’s a different world. Beer in hand and good times. Ex Deo is more like role playing, you need to like history so you have to portray this entire classical theme, so it is much more expensive and much more time consuming, but I think it can be rewarding if we do it right.”

You have been working hard on this album, what else have you been doing with your spare time?

“I spend a lot of time with my family, which is something I rarely had the time to do in the past, and it was very rewarding. It made me open the perspective that I don’t have to tour as much. All these years I have been touring, since I was 18 or 19 years old, I have been on the road most of my life, I didn’t know anything else. Now I know I can take more time at home. I also started working on a solo album, which I just signed to eOne, it is called Invictus, which is my nickname I guess. It is different from both the other projects and will come out in March next year.”

That is awesome! I will be excited to hear what it sounds like.

“Right now I am focusing on the next tour and looking forward to that, to have some kind of normal. I’m ready.”

What do you do for self-care as you are on tour or even during Covid?

“I work out a lot and I discovered that I like bicycle riding. I bought a mountain bike, which I hadn’t done since I was a teenager. Every day I go 4 to 5 miles, it cleanse my mind and I feel good after doing that. Long walks as well.”

The Thirteen Year of Nero is a complicated production of musicianship through not only death metal, but strings and harps and the lyra along with the rest of the orchestra. It pushes you to emotions throughout with its’ perfectly timed soundscapes and energy. The way Ex Deo keeps going, I believe they will be having many fans continually following behind and eagerly anticipating their next move.

Ex DeoMaurizio IaconoThe Thirteen Years of Nero
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