WORDS: Henry Jones
Classical music and technical death metal have been just about inseparable since the latter’s inception, piloted by the likes of NECROPHAGIST and OBSCURA, among others. And while most acts remain firmly rooted within the confines of the traditional guitar-centric approach, others have broken the mould somewhat. One name in particular is notorious for their orchestral-orientated bombast and riveting string sections; FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE have returned with their latest offering, King, and it is certainly an effort worthy of its monarchic title.
2013 saw the band release Labyrinth, which proved a less than fitting follow up from 2011’s exercise in orchestral assaults, Agony. Labyrinth’s downfall was its lack of ambition. While the band pushed the orchestral envelope further, it seemed as though they somehow forgot to focus as much attention on other instruments. While most acts could get away with this shift in style, being a technical death metal band comes with its responsibilities. Namely, technicality.
King offers a sound much more reminiscent of Agony, with the band opting to write from the guitars upward, building orchestral layers on top of death metal tracks, instead of trying to construct a death metal song over an orchestral soundtrack. This revived formula injects some much needed authenticity into the mix, and evidences itself within the opening few tracks as a far more fluid and captivating approach to constructing the band’s sound.
The guitars are of particular note on King. The refreshed approach to writing has brought them once more to the forefront of the mix, much in contrast with the album’s predecessor. A virtuosic level of complexity has returned to the many guitar solos spread throughout the record, and after the beautifully phrased yet stunningly dull lead offerings of Labyrinth, the sound finds new energy in the form of expertly executed alternate picking runs and some truly huge melodic lead passages. No track demonstrates this point in finer fashion than does And the Vulture Beholds, which is perhaps lead guitarist Cristiano Trionfera’s crowning achievement.
With a return to the stylistic approach established on Agony, we see a return of bassist Paolo Rossi’s clean singing, which was noticeably absent on Labyrinth, and it is a most welcome addition. Indeed, Rossi appears to have significantly improved in his abilities, adopting a far hoarser, aggressive, but still emotive and melodically captivating style. In contrast, we see less of an input from the female clean vocals provided by soprano singer Veronica Bordacchini. While her performance across King is incredible, most notably Syphilis, she also brings forward perhaps the album’s biggest detractor. The track Paramour, a solo soprano piece in German with piano accompaniment, just stops this album dead. So completely, unequivocally dead. All pace, atmosphere, and general elation provided from the first half of the album evaporates into a slightly annoyed stupor as the track drags itself out past the three and a half minute mark. This is the technical death metal equivalent of Luke fighting robot Vader in Empire Strikes Back, so completely does this interlude degrade King’s intensity and arresting speed. Alas, one can only believe the album would have been better without it.
The album’s production is an impressive example of turning a wall of sound into something huge. Faced with many layers of intricate and harmonically sensitive material from a full orchestra’s performance, Jens Borgen (mixing and mastering for NE OBLIVISCARIS and AMON AMARTH, among many, many others) has done a wonderful job of capturing the best of the chaotic whirlwind of string sections and blast beats.
King may be many things – violent, pompous, disturbingly intricate, like many kings throughout history – but for the faint of heart it most certainly is not. This is classical music for crack addicts. This is an exercise in speed, proficiency, and the true limits of the technical death metal genre. King finds those limits with apparent ease and joyously exploits them, serving as a reminder that technical death metal still has much to offer as it approaches its middle ages.
This is the sound of a band finding the best in their abilities. This is the sound that will captivate both established fans and newcomers alike. This is the album FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE were always meant to make.
King is out now via Nuclear Blast Records.