The death metal scene is still catching its breath from the pummelling delivered by Labyrinth, Fleshgod Apocalypse’s 2013 release. Yet here we are, only two and a half years later, and their newest album, King, has dropped, and its sure to further cement their status as true heavyweights of the Symphonic Death scene. On its surface, King raises some parallels with Labyrinth in its structure as a concept set well back in history, but this is where the similarities end.
The difference between the symphonic compositions alone between their previous efforts and King is staggering; King truly thrusts the listener back into the Baroque period with charming yet mocking harpsichords, regal trumpet arrangements and swaggering string sections. However, this time around Fleshgod has taken their ability to unite the orchestra and the metal band and has ramped it up a level. The scorching guitars and pummelling double bass that they are renowned for now feel as if their natural environment is the orchestra pit of a royal concert hall. In fact, at times the four-string varieties actually shred with more vivacity and ferocity than their six-string cousins.
Opening with the majestic Marche Royale leading into In Aeternum, King instantly asserts not only the power that Fleshgod have in their sonic arsenal, but the maturity and control they have over their genre. The military flavours of snare rolls and cellos are backed up with cackling guitars, and with that the opening movement is off in a thunder of double bass drumming. The beauty of this track, much like the rest of the album, is that despite the complex orchestrations, the sound is charmingly simple, especially when Paolo Rossi’s clean vocals ring out during the chorus. As always, Tomasso Riccardi has brought his best, and his deep, guttural voice booms forth with all the head-slicing villainy of King Henry VIII himself.
Throughout King, Fleshgod Apocalypse displays a mastery of texture through sound that many other Death Metal bands could learn from. The breathtaking speed of tracks like The Fool are contrasted by the lumbering weight of Mitra and Gravity that aren’t afraid to trade off some speed for extra kick. Then there’s the gorgeous Paramour (Die Leidenschaft Bringt Leiden), an operatic interlude that is guaranteed to induce chills down the spine. Throughout King, every guitar tone, every orchestral phrase and every vocal lick is precisely controlled; each instrument has incredible depth to its sound which turns King from a regular death metal record into something truly special.
Part of this fresh reinvigoration of their sound is maturing, which has come about as the band has honed their craft relentlessly on the road. However, the sonic breathing space that makes King sound so massive is largely due to the talents of Marco Mastrobuono of Kick Recording Studios who handled the record’s production. In the past, Fleshgod’s sound has almost been too large to contain, and the recording quality felt the strain of one of the world’s most powerful metal symphonies bursting its way out. This time around, Marco has given every riff, every orchestral hook, and every scream and howl enough room to stand out, and enough oxygen to keep their death metal inferno burning. All these factors together have combined to ensure that King will go on to be a staple of not just Fleshgod Apocalypse’s discography, but of the Death Metal genre itself.
Gorgeous music aside, King is a step forward for Fleshgod Apocalypse lyrically as well. King is somewhat of a concept album, which Tommaso Riccardi (speaking to Music Injection) explains, “explores the old world values, of justice, integrity and responsibility. Perhaps old isn’t the right word but a world in which these values are valued. On the other hand, the characters (of King) are representing a direction this particular historic society is moving; a direction that goes towards a lot of superficiality.”
The King himself, on the other hand, “is viewing this society, and its downfall. In my opinion, this type of moment occurs cyclically in societies. The intention is to remember that this King is something everyone has inside. Obviously everybody is a drop in the ocean, but this ocean is representative of our whole humanity. If we can choose our King, the part of ourselves that are aware of what the important things are, then we can make a difference and lead this world in a better direction.”
When asked where his inspiration came from, Tommaso explained that “we just looked around at the time we live in and the direction we are going. It came very naturally. We wanted to point out our vision on what we could do to make it better”.
Indeed, King is a feast for the ears and mind. Not only is it a piece of technical metal mastery, the lyrical content is well thought out, and goes hand in hand with the emotions of the music. To put it simply, King is the thinking man’s death metal.
Australian fans, it is only a matter of time before Fleshgod Apocalypse come to reign with King down under, so sit tight. In the meantime, this record is more than enough to sate any hunger for symphonic metal. This is a must listen record for any fan of the extreme arts.
Review and Interview by Jordan Sibberas