This one’s been a long time coming and I don’t just mean since the band’s last release Caligvla back in 2012. Since then, the Kataklysm side project announced they were taking a break of undetermined length and then came back with news of The Immortal Wars… a whole year ago. So here it is, finally, in our grubby battle-scarred mitts.
As with Romulus and Caligvla before it, The Immortal Wars is themed. This time it’s the tale of Hannibal – that guy with the elephants (which is about everything most schoolchildren know about him). Hannibal himself wasn’t Roman – he was from Carthage, a region the Romans ruled over, and he wasn’t too happy with the arrangement. The Immortal Wars covers his rise from the Second Punic Wars (his father was a commander in the First) to his eventual defeat in the Battle of Zama.
These eight songs, both individually and together, can only be described as “epic”. It’s not the size of the tracks – we’re not talking 13 minute monsters here – it’s the all-encompassing sound that makes this such an incredible piece of work. There’s a great use of orchestral overtones to add a little classical depth throughout the whole album (courtesy of Carach Angren’s Clemens “Ardek” Wijers).
Opener “The Rise of Hannibal” is one of the best songs on the album, a great introduction to what’s to follow. It’s simply huge in tone, an absolute monster, rivalling even one of Hannibal’s own war elephants in scale. Slow, heavy, very “death metal” but still with wonderful melodic overtones because of those keyboards. As with Kataklysm’s own work, and Ex Deo’s previous releases, Maurizio Iacono’s vocals though growled, can easily be understood which is all the more important given that this album isn’t just a piece of music, it’s a history lesson.
Samples and spoken word are used from time to time as they have been in earlier songs, and this is first encountered as “Hispania” draws to a close. An incredible, hammering number it ends in an orchestral flurry, with the pounding of drums and the thrashing of elephants naturally leading into the “Crossing of the Alps”.
This flow of one track to another means this isn’t an album to be dipped into. It’s very much one to be listened to from beginning to end. The story is half of what makes it so good. Add to that the meaty production and you’ve got something really special, though I’d ensure you have some good headphones or speakers to make the most of the bass tones. This is a rumbler and my cheap headphones sometimes didn’t quite keep up!
After a brief break with the short instrumental “Suavetaurilia”, we’re back into the thick of things with “Cato Major Carthago delenda est!” The intro to this is simply superb, and the kind of thing the band could walk out to. It’s all pomp and ceremony buildup and then it lets loose with a great heavy rhythm that should have crowds bouncing. It’s an absolute belter of a battle anthem, named for Cato the Elder’s famous cry that “Carthage must be destroyed” – the recognition that amongst all of Rome’s enemies, Carthage was the one to be most concerned with… and to a large part that was down to Hannibal.
Ending with as much pomp and ceremony as an imperial banquet on steroids, we move into the fateful “Ad Victoriam (The Battle of Zama)” detailing Hannibal’s most famous defeat as he was pushed back to Carthage by extended Roman forces. Again, I simply have to say that this song is… I’m running out of superlatives. I’ve used epic, incredible… stunning? Can I go with that? The brash brass sound adds an extra element to the pounding proceedings making it another particular highlight on a strong album.
As the album draws towards a close, “The Spoils of War” details the submission of Carthage after its defeat and final track “The Roman” – the longest at six minutes offers a pace-changing close. At least to start with. The airy first minute leads into another bruising number ensuring that the album as a whole leaves us bruised, battered and spent… yet impatient to press the play button again.
You can pre-order the album in a multitude of fancy formats direct from Napalm Records in Europe and North America. As the band themselves have said, actual proper orders are what help them ensure the band’s continued existence.
The Immortal Wars is out on February 24th
NOTE: This video is very much R-rated for sex and violence. Please be aware before viewing.