When given the terms “megalomaniac” and “Roman emperor,” most people today can name Nero and Caligula, and perhaps Commodus thanks to “Gladiator.” But the Romans themselves in their later history often included one more in their canonical lists of exemplary tyrants. That was Titus Flavius Domitianus, known to us as Domitian. While not possessing the glamorous legacy of electing his horse consul, or fiddling while Rome burned, or fighting in the arena, Domitian nevertheless went down in infamy as a megalomaniac, whose delusions of godhood and paranoia precipitated a 15-year reign of terror between the untimely death (foul play?) of his brother Titus in 81 CE and his own long-overdue assassination by a palace coup in 96 CE.
Domitian’s youth was spent in the shadow of his father Vespasian and brother Titus, who both achieved brilliant military victories before attaining the ultimate prize of the imperial office – Vespasian after a bloody civil war following Nero’s suicide, Titus after crushing a Jewish revolt, sacking Jerusalem, and burning Herod’s temple to the ground. Lacking these opportunities for glory, Domitian nursed his jealousy, and when Titus died, he stopped at nothing to outshine his dynastic predecessors as a new Augustus. True, his reign saw a resurgence in the arts and literature, but his style of government was less progressive. Used to solitude, he preferred to micromanage every aspect of public administration and social morality, rather than delegate and cooperate with the senatorial class. Instead of first among equals, Domitian declared himself “Lord and God” to be obeyed and worshiped. As these delusions swelled, so did his paranoia, and his fear of conspiracies led him to execute scores of senators and other citizens. Yet like a hydra, his bloody attempts to foil one plot increased resentment and gave rise to new plots, until one finally succeeded in 96, as his own family and courtiers grew fearful that they would be next on his hit list.
Hailing from Seattle, USA, Swallowed Whole is a one-man project that combines elements of black metal, drone, doom, and industrial to create an atmosphere of terror and despair. It is a fitting canvas on which to portray the cadre of historical personalities infected with the title of this 2018 album Megalomania. Domitian is joined by others who throughout history wielded immense power to commit ghastly atrocities against enemies, subjects, and cult followers alike. These include Leopold II of Belgium, Maximillien Robespierre, Jim Jones. So check out Swallowed Whole for a suitable soundtrack to the darker side of history.