Maurizio Iacono: “A lot of people chose not to do anything instead of doing something, because they prefer to wait until things get back to normal, but I have a feeling that the world will not go back to its old self for a very long time and I think that it is good to continue, adapting to the situation. I am a firm believer that you can adapt to anything, you cannot just wait on things.”
Toen we in de zomer van 2020 met Maurizio Iacono praatten over het nieuwste Kataklysm album ‘Unconquered’, maakte hij reeds gewag van het feit dat men aan een volgend Ex Deo album werkte. Bijna een jaar later is het dan eindelijk zover en wordt ‘The Thirteen Years Of Nero’ voor de leeuwen gegooid. Vandaar dat de tijd rijp was om de eloquente Canadese artiest een volgende keer te contacteren om vlijtig deze geschiedenisles te noteren. Want albums van Ex Deo zijn niet alleen weelderige muzikale evenementen, maar ook steeds een resultaat van historisch naslagwerk. We dompelen ons onder in het oude Romeinse Rijk…
Vera Matthijssens Ι 30 augustus 2021
Finally a new Ex Deo album is coming! When we talked about Kataklysm in September 2020, you told me that three/quart of the album was written for Ex Deo, but when did you actually start working on ‘The Thirteen Years Of Nero’?
When we released the ‘Unconquered’ album of Kataklysm, you know we spoke about the fact that it was time to release the album, no matter what, because we did not want to wait and sit on this album too long. Another thing was that a lot of stuff was already in the making and the record was finished. Unfortunately we could not tour for it due to the pandemic, so the album really got released on its own without much support for touring. It gave us right away the opportunity and the time to turn our focus on Ex Deo, because when you have no opportunity to tour and no opportunity to do much, you are just carrying on. It was about time for an Ex Deo record. So why not do Kataklysm in 2020 and Ex Deo in 2021? We focused on that album. We started immediately after releasing ‘Unconquered’. We started working on Ex Deo in the summer, but we started focussing hard and heavily on it in the fall time of 2020.
As I remember, a pilgrimage to Rome to get into a perfect mindset, was impossible, also due to the virus. So how did you actually do some investigation to dive deeper into this concept?
Well, there are a lot of great writers out there and books and documentaries that I watched. I already knew quite a lot about Nero. It is a guy who is not popular, it is kind of hard to get information on him. The right information, because there are a lot of rumours about his existence and his thirteen years of reign, but I think we used the best of our knowledge to get the best information possible and in the end I think it gives an accurate portray. We kept some of the controversial stuff. Like ‘The Fiddle & The Fire’, it says that he kept playing the fiddle while Rome was burning. At that time, there were no fiddles. It was maybe a guitar, a lira, or something else. But we still went with the mythological idea of it, because it is more cool and kind of the ruler that everybody knows. We are just continuing in that vein. There is a little bit of myth in it, but 90% is accurate of what is portrayed on the album.
How did you approach that concept? Chronological or just based on happenings in his life?
The whole record is chronological. It starts with the fall of Claudius, which is the emperor right before Nero. So the whole story sticks together in the same timeframe, going from song to song. It is like going through his thirteen years in a very short period of time. We did ten songs, covering his thirteen years. As I writer, I write short, poetic lyrics, in a sense that I go to the point. Everything is in there. It was not an easy thing to do, because you have to change your attitude when you go through the songs, because every song is a different era of this time. Some is more personal, some is more paranoia, some is more battle oriented, like ‘Boudicca’ and the rebellion of forces in Britain. So all that stuff happened during his reign. Claudius… if you listen to the album, in the beginning there is his speech to the people of Rome, to the Roman senate about how he is going to come in and put everything straight and get rid of corruption and all that. Then you hear, when the music starts, that plan, it kind of goes sideways, because Nero’s family had a different idea.
Indeed, he was very young when he entered the throne…
Extremely young. When he started to reign he was still trying to find himself. He wanted to be an actor, he wanted to be a musician, a poet. He was into arts, he was not into being an emperor. He was forced to do that by his mother, who seduced Claudius, killed him and then put Nero in power. There is also his step-brother Britannicus. There’s a lot of crazy stuff going on and there is a lot of paranoia surrounding the entire thing. He is always in the defence: “if my mother did this, who knows what anybody else can do?’, you know.
What is ‘Boudicca’ about? She should be a queen of the Iceni?
Basically, Boudicca is – and she still is today – a huge rebel image for representation for the British, for the English, because she was the one who fought Rome when the bond was broken between Rome and the Iceni, which was the leading group of Celts over there. When that was broken, the Romans slaughtered the King and took over some of the land and broke all the rules pretty much. She rebelled against Rome and she was very successful in her rage against the Roman Empire that was already habiting England. Ultimately she lost the battle, in Camulodonum, Colchester it is called now. The battle ended there and she died in battle. She is a symbol of freedom and rebellion in England. We had a special guest, Brittney Slayes from Unleash The Archers. The album has this really important narration and acting in it, because we wanted to have that theatrical feel, not only an album with music. So I wanted her to represent Boudicca the right way and I thought she was a perfect candidate for it. She agreed, she liked the part and she is a big Ex Deo fan and that was also awesome for us. That will be the next single after ‘Imperator’.
I was surprised by the oriental vibes in the music from time to time, I did not expect that in a Roman adventure…
We tried to reproduce as much as possible the ancient instruments, the ones that were present in that time and we tried to achieve this addition together with Clemens ‘Ardek’ Wyers from Carach Angren. Obviously he is an incredible writer and orchestral score guy and he did an incredible job on this album. He was able to capture a lot of the ancient sounds. We worked very closely together to get the right image or mood for it.
There is also a new drummer, isn’t there?
Yes indeed. Jeramie Kling. He is the drummer of Venom Inc and The Absence and a lot of different bands as well. He is a great drummer. He was the right guy for this album, because he brings in this to the point bluesy-rock-typed of drumming which is important, because this is also a rhythmic album. It needs to let everything else breathe, while having that pumping drums in the back. He is a very hard hitter, so it was an easy choice for us. He lives in Florida, where I live now, so he was right here to do everything and it worked out well.
By the way, how do you feel now, living in Florida? Does it feel like home?
Yes, very much so, to be honest with you. There is nothing better than having palm trees and beaches during the pandemic, while everybody else is kind of locked in the house. We were allowed to leave. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the mask mandate that was in the state a couple of months ago, you would not have known that there was a pandemic here in Florida. It is pretty good and well governed, you know. A lot of freedom was given to us, so we were very happy about that. It has been pretty cool. Right now it is fully open. We are actually preparing for the next couple of weeks, I think three weeks from now we are starting our tour with Deicide here with Kataklysm in the US and it is the first official tour since the pandemic for everyone. We got a lot of sold out shows already. People are waiting for concerts to come back, so we are very excited to start this.
Wow, that’s amazing that concerts are allowed again in the US! The album ends with ‘The Revolt Of Galba’. I know since today that Galba was the successor. What happened exactly?
Well, towards the end of Nero’s reign, during the last few years of Nero’s reign, Nero grew less and less interested in staying in Rome and doing the politics, so in the meanwhile he had a lot of rebellion starting against him. I know he spent a lot of time in Greece, because he was learning the philosophy, to become an actor and all this stuff. He was fascinated with Greece, so while he was there a lot of stuff happened behind his back in Rome. One of the main people who wanted to get rid of him and take over was Galba. Galba was in the outposts of Rome as a general and he was preparing his revolution against him. He was the guy who took over as soon as Nero was dead. Nero committed suicide, but inside Rome there were already plans for his assassination. They gave him an opportunity to kill himself and he did. Then Galba came in and took over. For a short period, because after that he also got killed (chuckles). In that time you did not last long as an emperor if you didn’t do the right things. You have to satisfy the people and then you have to satisfy the corrupt senators. Very likely of what is going on today, you know. Those two things usually do not align. The people and the senators don’t align in their goals, so you are always kind of in the middle.
A captivating title for a song is ‘What Artist Dies In Me’. Any thoughts on this one?
And these were – according to many people who wrote the stories – also the last words before he killed himself. Before he did that, he said: ‘What pity, what artist dies in me today…’ and then he just killed himself. Pretty epic (laughs).
But the music is very epic too, surely the last songs…
Yes, that is a good acknowledgement, because some people did not notice that the record starts very aggressive and very dark, with a lot of guitar oriented music, and then as the record progresses towards the end, it becomes more epic, grandiose, more orchestral. The second half of the album is more orchestral than the first part.
That’s a nice development!
It was done on purpose.
Nero was accused of being the cause of the great fire in Rome…
A lot of rumours about that are going round. Some said that he started the fire, so that he could erase everything there and then build his golden palace. That is one of the things. I don’t think that he did it purposely, according to what I have read, because there are a lot of rumours that he was not even in Rome when it happened and when he arrived he opened the gates to the palace to a lot of people, to help them, because the whole city was burning. If he would have been in a sense of trying to do it, I don’t think he would do that. Obviously, after the city burned, there were a lot of people who wanted answers: who did it? why they did it? So it was easy for him to blame it on the Christians, because they were cult at that time and they were already doing a lot of little rebellions all over the area. So there was a lot of misconception about that stuff. It is one of these things of which you don’t know if it is true or not, if he started the fire or not. But obviously the legends want you to believe that he did, because he was so notorious.
The album was preceded by a single and video clip for ‘The Philosopher King’, but it isn’t on the album. Why?
Because it was a stand-alone digital song. It talks only of itself. It talks about Marcus Aurelius, one of the most important emperors of Rome and he was like a philosopher king, that’s how they called him. So that song is separate, it is just a one off song. The video we released for the album, is called ‘Imperator’, that one got released with the album and that one is very bloody at the banquet you know. It was kind of fun to record and film. The video was extremely challenging for me, because usually I shoot all my Roman stuff in Europe. I go a lot to Serbia and places like that. They also understand this culture much better than in the US. So for me it was a bit of a challenge to be able to reproduce it, but I think we did a great job. I think everything came out great. I had to drive off to Atlanta to do it. The producer Scott Hansen made also the Kataklysm videos and I had to tell him everything. This is how we are going to do it, we had to buy all these costumes and do this and do that… it was very challenging, but I am happy with the result.
I noticed that the photo credits go to Suzzy Iacono. Is that your wife?
Yes, she is my wife. Obviously, because of the pandemic we were very limited in moving around and do stuff. She is also graphic artist and she was able to reproduce me into Rome (chuckles). So we took some pictures and we worked on a few things together. We tried our best, this is very uncommon and difficult grounds. A lot of people chose not to do anything instead of doing something, because they prefer to wait until things get back to normal, but I have a feeling that the world will not go back to its old self for a very long time and I think that it is good to continue, adapting to the situation. I am a firm believer that you can adapt to anything, you cannot just wait on things. I am a believer of that, so we put it into place, you know. We made it work. That’s important.
The artwork is done by Seth of Septicflesh again. What is the symbolism?
Well, Seth is one of the best – in my opinion – artists out there for metal, and not only metal but anything that’s dark and morbid and I think he represented a great job on the ‘Caligula’ album for me and I wanted to represent that again, because, when I talk about an individual person, it is good to have him as the central figure and I wanted to connect Caligula and Nero, because they were in the same era, almost. Because Caligula was before Claudius. Claudius was the one in the middle and then there was Nero. So I wanted something that would connect both records. ‘The Immortal Wars’ was done by Eliran Kantor, which is an incredible artist as well, but he has more of this ancient touch and feeling in his paintings and I don’t think he would represent this as accurate. I wanted something, almost modern, because he is able to connect ancient stuff with organic stuff, Seth. If you look at the details on the bottom of the artwork, they are incredible, you know. I was very happy with the result of it.
The tour is delayed again with Fleshgod Apocalypse, to the autumn of 2022…
Well yeah. Unfortunately. Everybody wanted to do the tour this year, but the problem is that this type of tour has way too many shows. It has way too many countries involved and the problem is that some countries are ready and some not. We play Belgium, but we cannot go to England for example. We can play France, but now Holland is shut down again. It is difficult, because of that, we decided to be safe and push it again a year from now. Hopefully a year from now, Europe can catch up with the vaccines and stuff and then everybody can go back. We have to be a little bit more patient.
How far are you with the solo album?
We are halfway written with it. So kind of the same situation we were with Kataklysm and Ex Deo. We were releasing the album in the summer and then I was already halfway Ex Deo. Right now our focus is on the Kataklysm US tour, because we have to concentrate. It is the first time we are going on a US tour since the pandemic, also with the new drummer James Payne, so we have to prepare for that. When we are going to come back from that tour, we are going to put full effort to finish the solo album. ‘Invictus’ will probably come out in March next year. It is a very different album. It is a little bit of all the stuff that influenced me in my years, music-wise and there will also be some clean vocals in there, so it will be different, but it is very aggressive, so it is going to be a really cool album I am looking forward to release it.
Since you have Italian roots, didn’t you have a nice time, watching the European Championship Football?
That was ecstatic! (laughs) I was really happy, but it was nerve-wrecking, you know, because I was thinking I could not take this pressure. First Spain with the penalties and then again with England. That was crazy, but I am so happy, because I am the type of person that really supports the underdog, because I have been the underdog many times in my life and sometimes I still am with certain things. Italy was completely destroyed after not been able to qualify for the WK in Russia, it was the first time that Italy did not make it in how many years – hundred years maybe? We were devastated as a nation because of that, because in Italy you eat soccer everyday, so to go from that to two years later completely revamping the team and doing this group effort team that won the EK is amazing. I was very happy for that as the main reason to be honest. And how quickly we were able to bounce back! That is a good encouragement for the nation as well, because Italy also suffered very much from this pandemic. It is good to be rewarded with something.
If I forgot something, this is the moment to add some words…
No, not really. Basically this is a record we worked very hard on. It has been four years since the last Ex Deo album and I think this is a very important record. Kataklysm is taking more of a break in the future. We are going to give it some rest, because Kataklysm has released 15 albums in 30 years. That is almost every two years a new album and touring the world after it. I think it needs to have a little bit of a break and I think we are going to focus more on Ex Deo moving forward. There’s going to be a next Ex Deo record coming before the next Kataklysm. We are going to push it a little bit more. We would love to do a headliner tour at some point and bring more Roman theatrical aspects to the show. We are focussing hard to try and get all the stuff done. This is going to take some time, but that is part of the plan right now for us. We encourage people to share, stream, listen to the album and if they like it, share it. We need that. We need all the help we can get to get the word out.