Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. How are things in the world of Ex Deo?
Well good actually; things look very promising on this album. We’ve released the first single on the album, “The Rise of Hannibal” and its being very well received by the public and the fans and the media as well. In two weeks, we will be releasing the video clip for a song called “The Roman.” That will be coming out soon. We did it in an old Roman area in Serbia. It is very controversial, much like the Romans. It came out absolutely crazy, it’ll be really cool.
I saw the messages on Facebook that you were making it. It looks promising.
It was very intense; three days of shooting that. Some people quit because it was so much work so we had about forty-five people working on this project. It is going to be an impressive video I think.
That is a huge production.
Yes, absolutely, yes.
In 2014, you told the world that Ex Deo was on indefinite hold, now in 2017 you’re about to launch a new record. The question is what has changed in the last three years?
The thing is it’s been five years since the last album. The main reason for the hiatus was on the live front because we didn’t plan on touring with Ex Deo. We received a bit of pressure from the record company to release a new record, the fans also wanted something new. So we decided that we could do a new album but will not tour. We are too busy with also Kataklysm, we all have families now kids. It is more difficult to leave and support two bands. The whole hiatus thing was geared toward the touring thing but we will not close the door on that completely.
So you won’t be doing a tour for this album?
For now, no we have no plans to tour. We have demand, but we have not decided to do because right now we are still continuing the Ex Deo and the Kataklysm campaign. This is our other band, so we need to finish that first but we will see what will happen. For right now there are no plans for it.
I understand all your reasons, but it is a shame. I was able to see you in 2010 at Metalcamp in Slovenia, it was an incredible show.
Thank you. As you can see, though, with something like Ex Deo live requires a lot of attention to detail and it has to be big because it is the Roman thing and it has to be impressive. It is very difficult to tour with Ex Deo and I don’t think the band is at the point where we can sustain everything and make it amazing so that is one of the reasons. The main one is time though, but we will see.
Your new album, it’s called the Immortal Wars, it’s a great album. I really loved it. What can you tell us about the record?
Well I think it is a much more mature album. For Ex Deo it is different than the last two albums because this one is more of a concept record regarding the Punic Wars whereas the others were more an introduction to the Roman era, such as Romulus, which talked about Ceaser things like that. This record is more deep into the Roman history, and it deals with things like strategic warfare and two of the greatest generals that ever existed. I think that it created a new way of thinking of warfare and also changed the course of history. If Hannibal would have won that war it would have changed everything. It’s really crazy to see the direction that history could have taken and how close it came, you know, I think it was a very interesting subject and we had a lot of material to talk about so it was easy to put together at least a concept of it. We thought that we would do two trilogies of the attack of and the infiltration of Hannibal and also the response of Rome so I think it will be cool.
It is a lot of great history that you have to work with here. How do you think the world would have looked it the war would have ended the other way around?
Very hard to say because it is something that I haven’t really thought about but like anything there would have been rebellions later and things would have changed again. I don’t think it would have changed dramatically because once you have taken over you instill your own way of thinking and doing things so maybe a little more Muslim, I don’t know. It is hard to imagine because history is always written by the winners.
It is always moving. How did you land on the theme of the Punic Wars?
I think it is something that has influenced the world in a great way. It is also popular as a theme with people who don’t know a lot about them. The album is called the Immortal Wars though because they are exactly that. I think that these wars are still happening now. It is just masked by religion. In those times it was all about commerce, land, domination and installing your ideas everywhere and then religion came in and changed that aspect of it. The core reason was always about power and money. I think now we have the same reasons but we say it is in the name of religion and other things. In the end it comes down to the same things.
It is always about power, we just use different names. I agree. The story of Hannibal has always intrigued me. What makes this story special to you?
Well, you know, to me it’s one of those things where I look at the ambition behind it. To me, especially Hannibal in that time, his father couldn’t do it and he decided to take over and decided to defy an entire republic. He said I’m going to take over and that’s it. The fact of his classic words which were “we will find a way or make one”, that’s incredible to me, because it’s a lot of determination. Who would have thought in those times, to walk over the Alps, all the Italian Alps that are so high and frozen. There was snow and everything, with elephants! The idea of doing that is impossible, and that’s why Rome didn’t expect him to do it, and he did it! So the impossible can be possible. That’s the idea I get from it, and I have a lot of respect for both generals, because one did the exact same thing to the other. Scipio did the same thing that Hannibal did to him, and Hannibal didn’t think that he would do that. So it’s all about strategics, it’s like playing a game of chess.
Yeah, they were both really great generals, and they changed a lot in warfare. When I prepared for this interview I did some reading up, and one thing that really hit me is that both generals ended in exile. Africanus even had set on his head stone "Ingrata patria, ne ossa quidem habebis"—ungrateful fatherland, you will not even have my bones *laughs*
*laughs* Right. And it’s a shame, you know? I think a lot of heroes fall in that way, because there’s always jealousy involved. They both ended up in exile, and Hannibal took his own life, because at that point he was going to be assassinated anyway, eventually. It’s history, you know? But that’s what makes these people great in a way, because they gave everything for their country, for the idea of what the country represents. Both had their reasons to do it.
Well, the idea of Rome has always been even bigger.
Of course. And the idea of Rome still exists, in a way. It’s just that now we’re entering a new world of technology that is changing the landscape of everything, we’ll to have to see where it’s going to end up. The idea of a nation that lived and built roads, and infrastructure, and changed the ways wars are fought by fighting in a team instead of as individuals. They introduced a completely new way of thinking, and they accepted everybody. Rome was the biggest city in the world, with over a million people living there. It was the only city that big. It had a lot of problems, but it was the only city where all people were welcome, all different religions or whatever. As long as you paid your taxes *laughs*. Sounds familiar?
It does. *laughs*
So yes, that’s what it is.
It kind of reminds me of the Monty Python movie Life Of Brian, “What have the Romans ever done for us?” *laughs*
*laughs* exactly. There was no taking a shit in the bushes there in those times, you know? They even had toilets.
Exactly. If you look at how these two great generals were discredited, how do you look at the more shadowy sides of the Roman empire and its politics?
It has it’s bad seeds, bad apples as well. One of my biggest admirations is for Julius Caesar, because he was the rebel that came in and wanted to give back to the people. He wanted to take over, took down the system that existed. He became a dictator because the world needed somebody that could put everything in order. He couldn’t trust the senate, and all the people that were already corrupt. So he took over and did it, but then from that mentality, you have a good guy like Augustus for example who came right after Caesar and made thirty years of peace, which was unheard of in those times. But then you can have a guy like Caligula or Nero come in, who then destroys everything you’ve built. A one man power state, I don’t believe in it. It has to be governed by a number of people, that represent the people. It was better when it was a republic I think, then when it became a dictatorship, or empire, or whatever. An imperial.
It had good moments and bad moments, and that’s the way life goes. But in general, I think that the Roman philosophy and the ideology behind it was very beneficial to the world and the evolution. As soon as religion arrived, and Christianity came in and all the different religions, then everything went to darkness, it became the dark ages. Rome fell. There was no more society, you know? It was every person for itself, and in an almost animalistic way. The barbarians all came out. You don’t want to give me your wife and your food? Then I kill you. There was no order. I believe in a certain set order.
You need a system.
Yes, a system. There has to be one in place. It’s not perfect you know? But at least they had a system. I think that created a way for the future.
What do you think are elements of the Roman empire that we could really use in these modern days still?
Well, people may not like what I’m going to say on this. I believe that we are too accepting of too many things. I believe that humans are like children. You have to be disciplined. If you are not disciplined, you give them a little bit, they’re going to take more, they’re going to cry. Everybody is a winner today, there are no losers anymore. When I grew up, we learned that we have to win. If you lose, you lost. It’s not that you did not win, you know? Today everybody gets a trophy, whether you win or lose. That doesn’t develop into a fighting spirit. I think we’re becoming lazy and there is no discipline anymore. I think that the Romans did have that discipline, and I think that’s something that should still exist today. I wouldn’t even be opposed for having like a mandatory military thing where they have one year of learning discipline. To get their ass kicked so that they understand how it is to become a man, someone that can function in a society. When there’s no pain or no suffering at all, you take everything for granted.
I think that’s it, yeah. We take too much for granted.
Exactly. Now when we have no internet for two minutes, everybody is freaking out. It’s like the end of the world, you know? And back then they had no electricity, imagine that. I feel a part of the world is going in the wrong direction with that. We need a little bit more discipline. Stuff like that, what the Romans had, I’d keep that. The rest of it, the corruption and all that we can do without, but we’re still living in a very corrupt world. I don’t think that would change.
I think to really appreciate what you have, you have to understand where it comes from.
Exactly. And I think the most important thing is to learn from history, and to learn from the mistakes, the good things and the bad things. I think that’s what we have to do to evolve. Nowadays it feels like nobody cares about the past. Nobody cares about the history, they want just what is in the future and what’s now. And I understand that it’s important to live in the moment, because life is short, but it’s good to have an understanding of the past. I think that Ex Deo is bringing at least some sort of history, some knowledge, some ideas that is different from other Metal bands. I think that’s really cool. There are a lot of viking bands, so it’s cool to have a Roman band as well, you know? *laughs*
Absolutely. What I really like is that you bring a bit of knowledge, that can usually only be found in the form of a boring book and you bring it into popular culture.
Yes, absolutely. Nobody would really get interested in this material, unless you’re able to portray it in a different way. Hollywood has done it with a couple of really good movies, like the old Spartacus, the Gladiator movie was great, the Rome series was great, those all had something that got the people interested in the history a bit, in a more popular version, but to really read about it and read how the philosophers, the ideas and the people talked in those times, it’s incredible. How they really took the time to think about things. It’s not like now, where we don’t have two minutes to think about anything. Everybody has ADD and everybody is running everywhere and doesn’t have time for anything *laughs*. Too much distraction, too much news. I don’t know.,
It was the age of thinkers, and we’re now in the age where everything is already thought of as far as we’re concerned.
That is a very good acknowledgement.
Where it comes to the new artwork on the album, I really loved the cover image, the covered dead elephant. Who is the artist, and what was his assignment?
Eliran Kantor was the artist, he did Testament, Soulfly, and he did the last Fleshgod Apocalypse as well. He is a very talented artist. He thinks ancient, you know? And that’s what I wanted. I wanted somebody that could depict something that comes from history, and the sky he built was insane. It was almost a Leonardo Davinci type of art, it was really well done. I wanted to depict the end of the war and obviously the Roman victory with it. But at the same time you can tell that the Roman soldier, the General, it could be Scipio or anybody, it’s just a General that’s looking at it in a pensive mood. It’s a dramatic thing, he’s just thinking about what happened. It has a very epic feel to it and I think he did a phenomenal job. Then on the inside of the booklet, all the art was done by a different artist. It’s actually my wife that did all those, and all the different pictures are related to every song, about the time and era. That’s very well done as well. If you buy the album and you listen to the record, every page has like a depiction of the times that have to do with the songs. It’s really cool.
Cool, a lot of details then! What I really loved about the cover image is the respect that shows in the soldier, the General. He’s looking at the elephant that’s covered up, and it just really shows respect for the fallen opponent.
Exactly, exactly. And there was. The last moment where Scipio arrived in Carthage at the end of the war, he saw families who, instead of surrendering to Rome, a mother with two kids throwing themselves off the buildings into the fire. It broke him as a soldier. He started crying. I think he understood at that point that there is nothing good about war in the end. It was a very emotional type of people in those times as well. They fought for something, and they believed in something.
Meaning. Very important. Where it comes to your creation process, how does the creative process of an Ex Deo record look?
It’s always a bit different but we always have our own way of doing it, every album. But this record we took a different approach, because it’s a concept album. I had a lot of the orchestra done beforehand. I did it with Clemens Wijers who is the keyboardist of Carach Angren in Holland and he just has the great touch to do this, and he had the right ideas to put together with me. He was the right guy to do it and he did a phenomenal job. This album was different because of its concept and this idea. We wanted the songs to represent the mood also of what’s happening at the moment, you know?
If you look at The Rise Of Hannibal, it’s an intense type of build up into a song where the General is rising. It’s a nervous type of song, and powerful and mean. And then you have the attack of Hannibal into Spain, which is Hispania, the second song, and that’s where you right off the bat feel the attack. And then you have the dramatic begin of a song like Crossing Of The Alps where he is arriving in Rome, so it’s a very dramatic and sad moment for Rome, but at the same time you have a rollercoaster of emotions. So the whole music was composed in that way, to make you feel like you’re part of the whole thing. And then when Rome responds in Carthago Delanda Est, then you have the attack of Rome, which is the only blast beat that we’ve ever written on a song *laughs*. It’s in the beginning of that song, because it’s an attack, back into Carthage. It is a rollercoaster of emotions, that’s the best way to explain it.
When I listen to the record, what I really like is how everything flows well from one song to the other and how the music itself is already telling a story it seems. I really love that.
Yes, yes. Absolutely. The album was written with that idea, that we could press play and it would one big song. Could we do that? That was the idea. Obviously we don’t want to do one song that’s forty minutes long. It is all cut up but it all fits together, and I think that’s cool about it.
Would you say there’s something like a distinct Ex Deo sound, and what would that be?
I think there is a distinction between Ex Deo, Kataklysm and all the other bands. I think that we all have a different approach. If you put on an Ex Deo Record and listen to it, you instantly know that it’s Ex Deo. It doesn’t sound like, let’s say Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth, or anything like that. It sounds like Ex Deo, you know? It has an epic feel to it. Also we used ancient strings on this album, sounds that are coming from ancient times, where a lot of bands don’t do that. I really believe that we’ve been able to replicate the Roman ambiance. I think that makes us unique.
I think so as well. An epic feel from ancient times, I like that.
So, what’s next for Ex Deo and Kataklysm? What is 2017 going to look like?
RIght now we don’t have plans to tour for Ex Deo because that was part of the hiatus thing as explained, we’re going to take time off, so right now there are no planned shows. We’re going to release this video next for Ex Deo, then we’re going to wait and see what happens, and then we will decide if we will do something or not. For Kataklysm we are closing up the campaign for our last album “Of Ghosts And Gods”, with a tour in April. We’re going to Latin America to do like 11 shows, so that’s going to be the last part of that album campaign, which was very succesful.
The band’s 25th anniversary is this year in September, so we decided to do a couple of exclusive shows. We’re going to do two weeks in Europe and a couple of shows in Canada I think because the band was formed in Montreal. We’re going to do the albums “Shadows & Dust” and “Serenity In Fire” in its entirety, and it’s going to be at the same night. So like a whole evening with Kataklysm. We’re going to do that, and tour the classic Kataklysm albums, it’s going to be a really cool time, that’s the plan.
An evening with Kataklysm, I instantly imagine you guys in tuxedos and such *laughs*.
*laughs* Yeah, drinking champagne. But it’s not called an evening. It’s called a moment in time, and it’s a 25th anniversary tour and we’re going to do 15 shows in Europe with Graveworm as the opening act, because they’re the band that toured with us in those times, in 2002. Fifteen years ago they toured with us on that album. We wanted to bring back a band that we spent time with back in the day. That’s the idea.
Very cool! We should definitely do a followup interview in September then, for Kataklysm!
Yes, I’m totally open! We can do that for sure.
Alright, then I have one last question, and that’s do you have any last words for our readers?
I just want to thank everybody for the eternal support they have given us. We’re one of those bands that never give up and we’re working really hard to continue to satisfy our fans. We just want to thank you for the opportunity, and everybody who is behind us. So, thank you!
Thank you for your time, and I’m looking forward to the release of the video!
It will be crazy, mark my words!