Maurizio Iacono is a busy man. Between melodeath masters Kataklysm, Roman history themed Ex Deo, heading Hard Impact Artist Management, founding Distortion Music Group, and co-owning booking agency Continental Touring, it’s hard to imagine Iacono having much free time on his hands for anything, let alone a third musical project. Taking it easy and kicking back, however, isn’t Iacono’s style so fans can mark October 21 as the date in which his latest heavy metal project, Invictus, releases its first album, Unstoppable.
Fans of Iacono’s work with Kataklysm and Ex Deo should be chomping at the bit for the debut release from Invictus. Iacono’s inimitable vocal stylings haven’t lost a step on Unstoppable, even if they are a tad more on the cleaner side than fans might be used to. Musically, Iacono’s longtime axeman in Kataklysm and Ex Deo, Jean-François Dagenais, is along for the ride, laying down riffs that will imbed themselves deep into your brain. Lyrically, the album leans more toward the reflective side of Kataklysm but with even more introspection and social commentary than you typically get on one of their releases. If you’ve followed Iacono’s career for any period of time, Unstoppable won’t shock you (the vocalist hasn’t gone prog metal here or anything funky) but it will present a new side of the iconic frontman that fans should thoroughly enjoy.
I recently caught up with Iacono via Zoom as he took time out of his busy schedule to chat about the new project, what makes it unique, and how it fits into his current musical world. We also talked about working through personal situations and the current social state of the world through musical output. To top it all off, our chat took place right as Hurricane Ian was bearing down on Iacono’s adopted home state of Florida, almost as if the fates were challenging the vocalist’s choice of names for Invictus’ first record. When the rains cease and the damage is done, there shouldn’t be any doubt that Iacono will prove that even the fury of nature can’t stop a man who has shown, time and again, to be truly unstoppable.
What’s the origin for Invictus? How did you get it started and what made you want to do another band?
Maurizio: During the pandemic we had a lot of time on our hands, obviously. I had the Kataklysm record (Unconquered) done, I had the Ex Deo record (The Thirteen Years of Nero) done…actually the Kataklysm album was ready to go and the Ex Deo album was getting done so we were in between everything. Everything was already kind of pre-organized but then the pandemic hit and that gave us an extra two years of “What are we gonna do?” We postponed that Kataklysm record a couple of months because when we were ready with it, it was really the beginning of the whole thing and it just wasn’t the right time. We waited a couple months and released it anyway and then the Ex Deo record was in the process of getting finished. We were going to do a back-to-back type of thing, Kataklysm and then the Ex Deo, and then we were in the position where we had to make a move and the initial plan didn’t work out like we wanted to but we released both records and then had some time where we were just going like this [twiddles thumbs].
I’d always wanted to do this type of project. I’m the type of guy, as you can probably tell, that can’t stand still. I’ve gotta do something. I’ve had the idea of doing this project for some time but I wasn’t sure if it was ever going to materialize. This was the perfect opportunity to do the record and so we decided to go for it, to try some new things from what I usually do. I got together with a friend of mine, Chris Clancy, he’s in the UK. He’s an incredible writer and a great singer and we had the idea of putting something together and finally we had the opportunity to do it.
What were some of those different things that you wanted to experiment with on this one that you might not have gotten a chance to with Kataklysm or Ex Deo?
Maurizio: First, the clean vocals are already something that we’ve never done and I experimented, myself, with it. Chris took the lead on a lot of it but I pushed myself to try something new with that as well. It’s also more organic as a band in the sense that it’s a little more commercial and has a little more reach than what I usually do but it’s still me, you can still feel that Kataklysm in there. No matter what we do, it’s going to have that touch in there. The other difference is that, production wise, it’s a very clean sounding record. It doesn’t have that grit that a Kataklysm record has or that grandiose feeling of Ex Deo. It’s something in between all that stuff. It’s mainly focused on my influences from rock all the way to death metal, obviously. It’s everything I like and all of the bands that I grew up with, my influences, are in there from that. It’s a very personal record, there’s a lot of personal stuff in there and it’s a more direct hit on the social aspect of the world as we know it now. It’s a very truthful record for me.
How tough was it for you to adjust to laying down cleaner vocals?
Maurizio: I wrote all the lyrics for it and all the arrangements for the vocals as well so it was kind of my first time going into almost a producer chair to get the melodies [to be] not the same thing as death metal, although I would sing it first in my head in a death metal way and then tell Chris, “Look, let’s try the rock version of that.” He was like “You’re crazy to try things like this” [laughs]. I guess in my death metal approach I enunciate my words a lot and I try to make sure that you can understand everything. That puts me in a place where I can get different ranges going.
This project, honestly, took a year to put together just because of the timing of everybody’s stuff. We had a lot of stuff going on. Colin Richardson, he’s a producer [in the UK] and he’s worked on Machine Head and a lot of other stuff. Every time we came together and said we need a song in a week, it was done. It just came so quickly, as far as writing was concerned. What took time was us getting together to finish. It was a very natural album.
In terms of members of the band, how did that come together?
Maurizio: Me and J-F (Jean-François Dagenais) in Kataklysm and Ex Deo, that’s my guy. I’ve known that guy since I was, I think, 15 years old, so a long time ago. We’re talking three decades and I have a hard time writing without him. Even though he’s not the main writer on this record, Chris has actually written most of it, he’s still the guy that comes in there and puts in that engine riff that I go “Ah, fuck, that could have been on a Kataklysm record maybe.” You know his touch as soon as he comes in and that makes me feel secure in what I do because I’ve been with him for so long. J-F is still the pinnacle of my career.
Chris is the guy that, like I said, I worked with him on the Kataklysm Unconquered record for the first time and we hit it off. He’s a great personality and an awesome writer. I felt he was a key guy to bring this together so that I have three projects that are not the same. Ex Deo is something else, then you have Kataklysm, that’s the baby and the social aspect of everything, and then you’ve got Invictus which is a personal thing that’s trying new things and is more progressive, I would say, than Kataklysm or Ex Deo. We needed something in there to gel it all together. I didn’t have a drummer for the project but I have a good friend here that lives in Tampa, Jeramie Kling, that’s also in Venom Inc. and he was in The Absence and is in Inhuman Condition, he’s the singer in that band. He recorded all the drums for it. It all came out real natural and real quick. I usually feel good when something comes together like that. When I’m procrastinating on a record and it’s taking too long, I’m going in the wrong direction. For me, that’s been the recipe.
How did you settle on using the name Invictus for the band?
Maurizio: I’m big into Roman mythology, as you know. That’s the stuff that’s always got to me in my soul since I was a kid. I always knew the word Invictus, nobody knew the word 20 years ago, because it’s in our stuff, in our family, and it just comes back for generations. In the mythology, we learn about Romulus and Remus since we were kids because that’s how we are brought up as Italians. Any Italian will tell you that they know the story. Invictus represents the unconquered sun. Sol Invictus, which means the unconquered sun, because the Romans worshipped the sun because it’s the thing that gives life to everything. Without it, there’s no life on Earth so, basically, it’s the only thing that can’t be conquered and that’s why they called it the unconquered sun, because it’s the most powerful thing that we have for life. It gives birth to everything that we have, in a way, and it balances out our ecosystem. They used to worship the sun and that, for me, has always been the unconquered soul…it’s the same thing and where I put it together for me.
I’ve been a rebel all my life and I’ve never really conformed to much unless it was something that we needed to do or whatever in society but I’ve always been a person who questions everything. Basically, Invictus is that for me. You can take my body but you’ll never take my soul. That’s what it means. I had it tattooed here [forearm] for years and then we needed a band name. The only problem is that the algorithms for online is bullshit when it comes to this. We’ll get the movie and get all kinds of crazy stuff so it’s kind of difficult with this project to get the algorithms going because of that. I still think it’s the right name and the right thing to do. I didn’t want to call it Maurizio’s project!
You mentioned that the lyrics on this project are more personal than they have been in the past. Did that change your lyric writing process at all?
Maurizio: Some parts were more difficult. I don’t think, as you grow up and become a man from a child, that things you experience go away. The scars remain, somehow, and not everybody has the same life. I had a really rough upbringing. It wasn’t something like an abusive family but I was in a very tough area. I grew up with my fists a lot when I was a kid. My father wasn’t around. I had a lot of tough stuff and a lot of people have their stories. I was the odd kid out. Go to school and I was the odd kid out; I never fit on anything. I always knew that I would accomplish something. I didn’t know what, but I knew that one day something was going to open up. The inspiration for Invictus, that makes it different lyrically and everything, is that I’m more personal on it.
Kataklysm’s lyrics, for example, are more open. So, basically, I will write something and have an idea for what it means to me but I will write it in a way that’s more open. You could read it and to you it means something different and that’s cool. That’s why I write it. Everybody, when you listen to music, it’s about what it does to you. In this specific one, I’m more…songs like “Ghosts of Father” and things like that are going to be real personal. You read those lyrics and you see that something happened there, stuff that I’m probably still dealing with unconsciously. I live a good life and am very happy where I am but you still act on things because of stuff that happened and it’s deep in your brain. It’s called experience and sometimes it’s traumatizing. My dad was a bad boy, he was gambler, and did all kinds of crazy stuff. An old school Italian, he didn’t speak English or French, because we were in Canada at that time, so he was just involved with a lot of crazy stuff and it reflected on my family a lot. Never anything bad to us but when he’s not around, because of all the stuff that’s going on, it’s crazy when you’re 13 or 14 and the man of the house. You have to be and I was put in that situation. A lot of people in metal are suburb kids who grew up and their parents had the money to buy them an instrument. I had none of that. I had to really dig hard and really want to be a musician and try to make it on my own. It was very difficult compared to a lot of other artists and it’s why I don’t relate to a lot of other artists sometimes. We don’t have the same upbringing.
That’s really what Invictus is. There’s a positive message in the end. It’s called Unstoppable because I never let anything stop me. Every time there was a barrier, I broke it and I went and did it anyways. I’m still facing it with this record. I’m still going through all kinds of crap and weird stuff but we’re fighters. That’s why I try and inspire people with that. If I can do it, anyone for sure can do it.
I wanted to ask about that song, “Ghosts of My Father,” specifically. Was there ever a point in writing the album and songs like that where you found yourself getting more personal than you wanted and had to pull back a little? How did you determine where that line was?
Maurizio: I hesitated a little bit, I hesitated but I said that if I’m going to do the project [in a way] that’s real, I have to open up a little more. I had to dig a little deeper in it and it’s tough because I have kids now. I have three kids and I try to be here as much as possible for them but I’m kind of in the same position I was when I was a kid because of touring. It’s not because of gangsters or all kinds of stuff. Us Italians, I know it’s a taboo…my dad came [to Canada] when he was 20-years old from Sicily. You’re gonna find the people from there here, and that’s your upbringing. When you’re rough and tough, that’s how you live your life. He was never around because of that and, long story, because of what happened he had to leave the country at some point. I have to do it because of work, because of my band. I sometimes feel guilty because I’m not around and I don’t want it to be the same way that it was for me. It’s important because I notice a lot of people are in the same position. I try to show that, in the end, there’s a good path if you really apply yourself and decide that this is how it’s gonna be. You don’t have to be a copycat of whatever your educated with or have seen in your life, especially if it’s traumatic. I do it because I need to, it’s a little bit like a diary, but I also do it for people that need that reassurance that there’s another way out.
As an artist, how important is it for you to have these different creative outlets where you can express yourself in different ways, whether it’s more general with Kataklysm, more personal with Invictus, or about your own interests in Ex Deo?
Maurizio: I always feel like, at some point, I always preferred playing live but recording? I didn’t like it. It was difficult for me to do early on in my career, during the first Kataklysm records. But at some point, it’s the opposite now. I prefer recording and creating music versus touring as much. I almost took a huge hiatus and was going to be out of the game for a long time. I was planning it but then I had a lot of talks with the guys and we still have a lot to offer, especially with the writing we’re doing now. It’s coming out great and I was like, you know what, let’s keep going and let life decide how it goes.
The three outlets are different and serve different purposes for me. Invictus might just be one record, I don’t know, because of time. It takes a lot of time to put all this stuff together and so I don’t plan things ahead for it. If it happens, it happens…another album or something. I know for sure that Kataklysm and Ex Deo will continue to produce more. Kataklysm has a lot to offer and there’s a huge rebound happening with Kataklysm at the moment. There’s a lot of hype behind the band and we feel that there’s renewed energy. The last record did really well for us, considering it was coming out during the pandemic, it did really killer coming out of it. We’ve got great ideas for the next one so we’re already in the process of working on that.
Ex Deo feeds something different for me. It’s historic and I love history. I think that it’s an untapped world in metal. You’ve got vikings left and right but you do not have Roman [stories]. When I did this project, at the beginning, in my opinion, I had the courage to do it at the most difficult time because when Romulus came out it was right in the huge hype of Amon Amarth, the viking stuff, the Pagan stuff, the folk stuff. I said, listen, if there’s any subject that needs to be in metal, it’s the Roman empire, which was devastatingly strong with all the brutal stuff. They invented the crucifixion. All the crosses you see in black metal and everything, that’s coming from the Romans. It’s a great subject because it’s real, also. Everything you speak about could be a book but it’s actual things that happened. It’s awesome to be able to put that into kind of a soundtrack to a movie theme type of thing and get transported. I love to go back to that because Kataklysm is very grounded, it’s very now, but [Ex Deo] is like, put your candles up, get your glass of wine, we’re going back to Rome. We are going to write more, there’s gonna be more of that stuff.
Getting back to the new record, the video for “Exiled” is a really cool one. Was that filmed at a real prison?
Maurizio: Yeah, it was close to Jacksonville in Florida and it was filmed in the oldest prison in the United States. I don’t remember exactly where it was but that’s where they used to keep all their prisoners in the state. It’s a very old prison that’s an antique and it’s become a museum now. They let us film in it and we were able to get our hands on it. It was really cool to do that.
Having had the chance to listen to the promo copy of the album, I wanted to ask about the inspiration behind a couple of the songs. “Get Up” to me feels like a real rousing call-to-action song. I was wondering what your headspace was like when you were writing that one.
Maurizio: The pandemic was tough. I’m a guy that’s very centered and I’m very common sense. I’m not into stuff that doesn’t make sense to me. Two plus two to me will always equal four. When somebody is trying to tell me that’s not it, that’s a problem. We have an issue here, you know? I’ve let a lot of this stuff not affect me in life because you can’t change all things. There’s stuff that merits an outlook of getting it better and [improving] life in general. We want everybody to be happy on this earth but I think sometimes I started realizing that everywhere I turn, everybody is complaining. Back and forth, back and forth but they do nothing, right? You’re either afraid or you don’t want to say anything anywhere and then you have to shut up. You have to put up or shut up in life, that’s the way it is. It’s got a multi-prong effect, the song, it’s not only about one thing. It’s about either stand up and say what you’ve got to say or don’t. You’ve got to stop crying about it. The other thing is it’s also about personal gain in life, meaning you can dream about things and you can have a goal but until you pull the trigger or give the effort, nothing’s gonna happen. You gotta eat a lot of shit before anything happens that’s positive. That’s just the way it is. I find that society today is saying no, you don’t have to do that. It’s ok to not work, to not give any effort, to fail. I’ll never believe that. I’ll never believe that it’s ok to fail. It’s ok if somebody else believes that but I’ll not bow to that. I don’t care what it is. For me, sometimes, there’s things that’s worth fighting for, especially with my kids. If I didn’t have my kids, it’d be whatever, it’s everybody else’s problem. But it’s my problem because I don’t want my kids growing up thinking that it’s ok to be like that so the song is really about standing up for what you believe in.
How about the inspiration behind “American Outcast?” With you growing up in Canada but living in America for years, were you writing that song about yourself and your own experiences?
Maurizio: The America that I know, when I moved here over 20 years ago, I’ve almost been the same [amount of time] in Canada as in the U.S. so I consider myself an American and my kids are American, it’s not the same country [any more]. I can tell you that because I’ve seen the difference. All the things that I thought it was and I learned about, now are not cool any more, are not good. To me, it’s common sense and it’s not there any more. I can’t believe that you wouldn’t want your country to be the best at something. I’ve never shifted, I’ve always been a guy that understood both sides of the equation. I’ve never shifted and I find that now I feel like an outcast when I say something that offends absolutely everybody. I’m huge on anti-censorship. I do not like censorship for whatever reason. If you don’t like something, don’t listen to it. You can turn your head around and ignore it. You don’t have to shut it down. If you start doing that, there’s no limit to it. As a musician, that’s a huge problem.
Freedom of choice is a huge problem to me as well. I think everybody should have the freedom of choice to do whatever they want with their body, whether it’s the vaccinations or even the abortion problem. America used to be everybody together, nobody talked about politics in metal. Nobody gave a fuck what side you were on. We used to go and talk about all kinds of stuff and that was the last thing you’d talk about. Now you go and hang out with people and it’s like, what side are you on? I don’t care about that. I feel that my interests, as far as I am as an American, I feel like an outcast sometimes. I feel like, am I part of the same country? I think it’s more of the division that’s going on. When you leave the country and go somewhere else, even five years ago, you’d say you’re American and everybody would love you and then depending on who’s president, they hate you. It’s crazy. I have to use my Canadian passport sometimes so I don’t have to deal with that stuff [laughs].
I don’t want to only say the bad stuff because it’s not all negative. That song, to me, was really meant to say that it’s ok to think the way that you want to think. You don’t have to conform to something just to be accepted. That’s pretty much what that song is.
To me that type of message feels like what’s great about metal as a genre in that it’s more for the outcasts or the people that don’t really conform to what’s going on in the mainstream.
Maurizio: Right, but we’ve become conformists also. Metal, in general, I don’t recognize either, even my scene. With Kataklysm we got in trouble last year, in 2021, with the trucker thing that happened in Canada and we supported that because I have a lot of family that were crushed in Canada. We were open across the country here but in Canada we were still applying the stuff where, let’s say there’s 10 cases across all of Quebec but we’re still shutting everybody down. At some point it doesn’t make sense anymore. When they started attacking the truckers and all that stuff, we decided [to speak out] but then promoters started writing us off [saying] it’s not a good look, it’s not a good look. Then we started getting pressure and it’s like, again, that thing of freedom. I’m a big believer in being able to say what you want without being shut down. That’s where that comes from, for me. Again, we get into trouble sometimes but for freedom, I’ll do it [laughs].
Along those lines, “Weaponized” really stood out to me as another song that takes aim at the current social climate. What was your inspiration with that one?
Maurizio: One of my favorite songs on the record. It’s Chris Clancy’s favorite as well. The whole world is like that now: they take something that is small and make it big and they weaponize it, whatever it is. It could be a stock market thing, it could be anything. When I say they, I do mean the elites. I’m not a conspiracy guy or anything but I do believe that anytime they have a chance to gain power or control people, they weaponize a situation to their advantage and they brainwash people with it. They do it over and over; they’ve been doing it forever. The difference now is the internet, the information gets out faster. It’s hard to hide stuff. You know, it used to be in a paper before but now someone comes right back and says boom, it’s not true. I know it’s not true, I’ve got the proof and then it’s like, you’ve got all this confusion. There’s a weaponization going on, in my opinion, of social media, of issues around the world that affect people in different things. They use whatever they can to have control over people. We’ve got a lot of people right now on Earth so they have to tighten their grip and I believe that’s what’s happening. They play with your mind a lot and I believe that’s what’s happening. That song is inspired by that, that control.
What do you want listeners to get out of the new album when they sit down and listen to it?
Maurizio: An uplifting message, in the end. The title says it all. What it means is that whatever barricades are put in front of you, you’ve gotta break ’em through. If the door is locked, find a way to open it if that’s what you really want. Happiness doesn’t come with how many things you’ve got, happiness comes from what’s inside your brain and your heart. It could be a very simple thing. You learn to live every day being happy and not [thinking] about the things you don’t have. This record is about that. It’s about earning your life and also enjoying your life and not letting the negative stuff take over. That’s what the message behind the record is in general.