5th February 2016 – Nuclear Blast Records
1. Marche Royale
2. In Aeternum
3. Healing Through War
4. The Fool
5. Cold As Perfection
7. Paramour (Die Leidenschaft Bringt Leiden)
8. And The Vulture Beholds
10. A Million Deaths
Despite what their name may suggest, Italian operatic death metal outfit Fleshgod Apocalypse actually have a tendency to make rather beautiful music. Beginning in 2009 with their uniquely ferocious album Oracles, the band have transformed over the course of an EP and two more LPS, pushing their orchestral implementation and operatic influences further with each subsequent release.
Over this time Fleshgod Apocalypse have sunk into something of a formula: blasting drums courtesy of human drum machine Francesco Paoli, combined with basic orchestral flourishes, harsh vocal laden verses, all juxtaposed with passionately deranged cleans from bassist Paolo Rossi and topped off with an emotional guitar solo thrown in for good measure. As a result, their work has often suffered in full album format as the tracks begin to blend together and feel indistinguishable, aside from a few notable highlights.
The formula has also been marred by poor production. As the Italian mavericks have squashed more elements into their sound, they’ve failed to find a way to expand their production to a suitable level, resulting in releases that sound crushed and sonically flat, regardless of their instrumental aspirations. In 2016, signed to a major metal record label, there’s no real excuse for that to keep happening, so this is an aspect of their sound that they really needed to prove themselves on.
Enter King, their fourth and frankly, most accomplished album to date. It’s yet another concept album, this time taking us away from mythology and focusing on something more relatable to the world today: the band describes King as an album about “the fear-based corruption of human beings and its subsequent effects on global society”. What exactly does that mean? Well, naturally we’ll have to deal with a few obnoxious spoken word passages that feel superfluous at best, and completely disruptive to the flow at worst; that “faux-depth” you may hear from a concerned distant relative that once swallowed a foundation philosophy book.
Aside from this small self-indulgent oversight, King is impeccably composed throughout, delivering a suitable synthesis of their disparate, long conflicting elements into an album that sounds rich and lush. Mixed to near-perfection by engineering juggernaut Jens Bogren, Fleshgod Apocalypse finally have an album that sounds deserving of the breadth of their ambition.
What’s more, seemingly emboldened by the refinement of their sound, King sees the band push their songwriting abilities to new extremes, mixing up their previously established formula with an expanded set of orchestral prowess, and several new technical death metal tricks. Whether it’s the emotional devastation found on “In Aeternum“‘s climax, or the majestic power of the album’s epic penultimate track “Syphilis“, King sounds enormous throughout.
Traditionally, thanks to detrimental production, the impressive guitar work of Cristiano Trionfera, and Tommaso Riccardi was often lost in a maelstrom of noise, but here the riffs finally break through. Not only are they a huge presence throughout the album, but they deftly switch between atmospheric tension builders on “A Million Deaths” to unbridled savagery on “Mithra“. In fact, the latter is easily the most menacing song of their career, and the fact that it beautifully segues into “Paramour (Die Leidenschaft Bringt Leiden)“, a Franz Schubert-inspired piece of Viennese opera is a masterful touch of tonal blending.
And that’s their greatest strength: now that Fleshgod Apocalypse have corrected their sonic issues, their music sounds gargantuan, like it’s being played in a cavernous great banquet hall (more than appropriate, considering the concept). You can hear the regality in all the individual instruments, and the onslaught of drums finally sounds punishing for the right reasons. It allows their intricate balance of tone and styles to breathe in a far more natural manner, with each song offering new flourishes for discovery upon concurrent listens. In that way, they’ve perhaps surpassed previous genre titans Septicflesh (although a couple of moments of King feel like they were lifted directly from The Great Mass), or certainly given them a run for their proverbial money (everyone knows there’s no real money in death metal).
Fleshgod Apocalypse may have begun their career as a death metal band with classical music influences, but King has seen them substantially evolve and transcend into the technical death metal answer to Nightwish. And it’s fucking glorious.