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Metallum Romanum XIX – Qualis Artifex Pereo - 65%

Sean16, March 18th, 2023
Written based on this version: 2022, Digital, Ultimate Massacre Productions

Rome is burning again! To be honest, here is an album I may have rated higher, had I encountered it earlier on my never-ending quest for verum metallum romanum. Uncompromising technical death metal coming from (Roman) Britain, packed with conquering legions and irate emperors growling over the endless wails of their victims: it had some appeal no doubt, the sweet appeal of fresh blood. Only, coming after ADE, Ordo Inferus, or even minor local acts like Asterium, it appears a bit too much like another death metal band exploring the brutal side of ancient Rome, like another cover artwork painted with fire and flames – and like another band called Imperium, too.

No surprise, the general impression following the first spin of this Ex Mortis Gloria is one of total annihilation under the feet of a thousand praetorians, with little space allowed to breathe or merely cry for mercy. Granted, considering the album title, and further considering songtitles such as Echoes of Slain Kings or Burning Crucifixions in the Garden of Nero, we already knew it wouldn't be about chasing butterflies along the Via Appia anyway. Digging further, the underlying subtleties emerge slowly, revealing a more complex background under the bestial surface. These songs are different, clearly; these musicians are skilled, that's clear too. Still that's not enough.

Fact is, it isn't THAT technical. It's fast, no doubt; if you except the few occasional breakdowns it's constantly, obstinately fast; at times it's even very fast... only, technical or fast, this isn't exactly the same. Take the drums. That's incidentally Janne Jaloma, with already quite a respectable discography, behind the kit. So, what? The double bass may get fast to the point you can hardly distinguish between the hits any more, while the snare has to endlessly endure the most ferocious of the poundings – then that's it, really. Shall we blame the production, which buries the toms far too much? In the wake of this fury, the poor mortal you are is left forever starving for the extra acrobatics which would have made the drumming lines truly memorable. Same for the riffs, because for sure it riffs, it riffs fast, it riffs angrily, it riffs if only it had riffed slightly more, well, personal.

The leads are kind of a mixed bag, too. With often multiple solos per song, they're obviously an essential component of the sound; still, while they can reach moments of genuine grandeur, like in the as long as frantic performances closing Indignitas and Under Shadows of Giants, a tad too often they sum up to the guy pulling random strings for ten seconds because, you know, there had to be a solo there. Further on this topic, Per Silentium Noctis is a weird number, with its instrumental middle section which doesn't manage to fully convince, as if it was hesitating between a real melodic break and a more straightforward display of technical guitar skills, without being any of the two.

Thus, the best feature here are probably the vocals. On the one hand they're exactly what you expect, that is, exclusively growled, and of the most animal kind; on the other hand this animality remains varied enough to prevent monotony: it shouts – ha, these two screams on the final track! -, it barks, above all it bites, and bites deeply. Let's mention the few Nile-isms, too – or should we say, in order to fully stay in the Roman realm, some ADE-isms – with these short atmospheric keyboard licks, plucked strings and mid-Eastern psalmodies, alas too easily overshadowed by the rampant brutality: the general intro Para Mortem, a short break in the middle of Seven Legions, or a few seconds of eerie intro here and there before the slaughter resumes. The obligatory Mediterranean touch we'll gladly welcome of course, even if it's been explored, and explored more in depth, before.

Picking out songs from such a carnage is a minor matter, as even if, once again, said songs sound, indeed, different enough, that's the sort of work you'll usually listen to for its overall inhuman mood, rather than for its individualities. If we really had to choose, we may go for the most furious of the furious, that's Seven Legions, or, kind of the opposite, for Under the Shadow of Giants with its progressively increasing tempo building into a monument of epic proportions – a monument you're crushed under.

Finally Nero can but gaze over the charred remains of the Urbs he just burnt. Maybe he didn't burn it after all, so the historians say. Who Cares. Ex Mortis Gloria might not be the most extraordinary encounter on our quest, it nonetheless performs its destruction job up to completion. We observe, approve – then comes the time to cure the wounds.

Highlights: Seven Legions; Indignitas; Under Shadows of Giants.