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I'll give a little background before we begin, for those of you who have never heard of Fleshgod Apocalypse, and are wondering if you should check out Labyrinth. Fleshgod Apocalypse is an Italian band who started their career playing technical death metal, and pretty decent technical death metal at that. After only one album (2009's Oracles) they abandoned this style and set out to play a much more grand, symphonic brand of death metal. Many would say that they succeeded, but I am not one of those people. Let me tell you why.
I should probably start by saying that I like symphonic metal, when done right. Cradle of Filth, Wintersun, Shade Empire, Dominia, Septicflesh, etc. all have something to offer the metal universe. Unfortunately, we're not talking about any of those bands, or any of their albums. We're talking about an album that does everything I detest about the genre, and almost nothing that I love about it. Trust me when I tell you that Labyrinth is best listened to one or two songs at a time, at a safe distance (1 or 2 miles) and with hearing protection. What I'm trying to say is this: just save yourself the headache and don't listen to it, there's no point.
But, since I made the mistake of listening to this album, I'll try to describe the "experience" to you.
This album would be much easier to stomach if it wasn't 54 minutes long. That's a solid portion of your day to commit to the audio version of banging your head against a wall, and once the last notes mercifully fade and put your ears out of their misery, you probably won't remember anything except wall-to-wall blast beats, death growls that sound like a shih tzu burping, and incoherent riffs swamped in synthesized symphonic shit.
Let me try to explain this monolith of noise pollution properly: Labyrinth starts with "Kingborn", a song that tries to trick you into thinking this album has atmosphere by starting with the sound of someone walking for 45 seconds, then presumably entering the titular labyrinth, then walking some more. Upon hitting the 1 minute and 16 second mark, the album then sheds it's "atmospheric" disguise and reveals itself for the loud, obnoxious monster it is, and for the next hour, it will do nothing but pummel you with barely audible guitar shredding on top of an incoherent orchestral stampede, backed by confusing drums that refuse to let you find a beat to headbang to. And don't forget the vocals, which I can fully and analytically describe with one word: WEAK. Hyperbole, you say? Maybe a little, but this genuinely is a confusing album to listen to, and it leaves you with nothing gained when it's over. I've listen to this album four times now (the things I do for a review) and not one single riff, lyric or melody has stuck in my head. I'm sure a fan of this album would tell me I just don't understand it, but there's a difference between being inaccessible and just being garbage.
I guess the simplest way to describe Labyrinth would be this: imagine Time I, but remove all semblance of melody, double the audio on the symphonic parts, replace the vocals with weak, boring death growls, and get rid of any trace of subtlety. I know how weird it is to call Time I subtle, but in comparison to Labyrinth's brick-to-the-face style, Wintersun are the masters of subtlety.
If you hadn't guessed it by now, this album really boils down to a couple major flaws: It's confusing, poorly mixed, and unoriginal. It took a concept that had already been done well, and did it badly. The only reason I didn't give this album 0% is because it seems like at least on some level, the band was really trying to make a masterpiece. Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, they failed.
I had to rectify the flurry of negative reviews from the elite talking heads. They decry this album as the worst musical overload absurdness possible. Yes, that is exactly the point!
Some say that you cannot have a successful life of achievement without first having to enslave or ruin the life of another. Fleshgod Apocalypse wishes to remind us of that. This Italian band has created a dramatic soundtrack to the brutality of the human condition, what man does to himself and his fellow man in order to fulfill his own desires. Would it not be fitting for such a subject, long since rendered in the classical arts, to be accompanied by a dramatic symphonic score?!
The release of Labyrinth marks the next milestone in Fleshgod Apocalypse’s career. Having been blown away by their previous effort Agony, I was quite surprised to see the group ready to release another momentous work this summer. Already released in Europe, I happened to get my copy early when Fleshgod Apocalypse came with Wintersun to my local area and I got to see the masters in person. It meant having to miss part of Wintersun’s set, but it was worth it to get to meet the band themselves, particularly the pianist Ferrini.
Their show was amazing! They had their tuxedos and their guitars were polished wood with f-holes just like violins (nice touch)! I was also surprised to see the female opera singer Veronica who did studio vocal acrobatics for Agony on stage with the band on tour in a black robe and feathered masquerade masks. It all was a rather gothic visual setup, but you would not know it from the violent mosh pit they got out of the crowd!!! Anyways aside from meeting and chatting with the band, I was able to get a copy of Labyrinth they had brought with them from Europe which was very cool! I took it home, crashed out of exhaustion, woke up the next morning and immediately put that disc on my stereo and got ready for the incredible onslaught that was sure to come…
I could have not asked for anything better.
First off, to all those who fell rabidly in love with Agony: Labyrinth is just as intense as before. The drums are still absolutely furious, the death grunts just as angry and guttural as ever. The music is still packed with so many notes and tracks as to be completely overwhelming, especially now so with a full live choir! To my ears, its no different that Agony save for maybe a slightly clearer sound, but that is as far as their metal goes. In fact, there is something new to Labyrinth. This album is , thankfully, not an exact repeat of Agony. The band found the soul of their sound with Agony. Now like a tool for them to use, they are applying said sound to construct a new concept piece, and here is how:
The first album was conceptually about the abuses man does to his fellow man. It is the same here, but now it has been filtered through the world of ancient Greek drama and literature. A very suited subject as much in Greek literature can be allegorical to man’s own emotions and actions. With this mystical new arena, the band has felt it has the room to give their music a little more atmosphere. That can be easily seen in the first track that begins with the sound of an exhausted man walking through a field of windblown grass, distant bird chirps, and buzzing insects. Then a clang of metal and the grinding of stone announces the opening of a massive door which he then walks though as it closes shut with a gust of dust filled cryptial air. The hero Theseus has entered the endless labyrinth seeking out the Minoutar. In actuality the man has entered the maze of life to do battle with a hated evil he does not realize is but a mirror of his own self. Wow, high drama indeed. So within the band has given more space to evoking this drama.
Labyrinth is not a straight assault bookended by a classical intro and outro like Agony. There are more pauses here for dramatic flair. The maelstrom will pause for piano and violin solos. Also, the piano is far more noticeable, with frenzied flourishes all over each song, adding another layer of virtuosity on top of the guitars, bass, and drums…. Oh and orchestra…holy heck this stuff is dense! Yeah just like before, Fleshgod does not leave the orchestra and choir to simply accent, but instead work it into the piece. Superb!
Anyways, towards the end is also an expanded classical guitar solo, a real pleasant surprise. Its entry is so sudden and its performance so gentle, that it serves to give a tear-inducing moment of sad peace, before the apocalyptic conclusion of the album. An immensely satisfying touch when incorporated as a whole. As I play through the album over and over, I notice also even more melodic highs and emotive feeling coming from the orchestral section. And finally, Veronica has returned once more to give her vocal talent as the lead soloist for the studio choir. Her vocal duties are expanded too, accompanying almost all the songs on this album. With this, the notorious and contentious falsettos of Paolo have been scaled back a little to give the choir more room. Something which may be a welcome to a few listeners or a downside depending on what side of the argument you are on.
One of the best parts of this new work of art is the ending. The song “Epilouge” tones back on the technical wizardry to make a more emotive and sorrowful expression. It’s a good conclusion to the drama of the whole album, even though it could be kind of a weak ending to the album, but it is not so, because it is a false ending. Rising like the Kraken behind it is the tech-tentacled beast that is “Under Black Sails”. Its passage is a massive hurricane that wipes clean everything until all you have left is the black empty ocean that is the title track, washing you out to oblivion.
So more dramatic orchestra, more choirs, symphonic solos and classical guitar, introspective atmospheric tracks. With this Fleshgod Apocalypse has taken their amazing brutal sound and sewn into it a more theatrical sound than ever before. Normally for most metalheads hearing this is usually indication to them that the sound has lost its violence and strength. I totally disagree with that. The band still sounds as intense as ever, they simply have given some extra room and pause for some more atmospheric theatre elements. In fact, for me, this is exactly what I could have hoped for. The band has kept the core of their sound (not scaling back on its intensity one bit thank God) and creatively worked in more drama and emotive expression. It makes me think of the many well revered artists from Carcass to My Dying Bride who in their heyday evolved their sound slightly with each album, and years later, those albums are still held as classics of the genre. I am sure the same will be so for Fleshgod Apocalypse.
I would expect this from a group of musicians whose staples were not only just a steady diet of brutal death. I should have asked the group if there were any classical composers they were especially fond of!!! One thing I did see is that the guitarist was wearing a Wintersun shirt after their gig. Also since I was a fan of Italian extreme metal, I asked the group if there were any other Italian bands that they enjoyed or found influence from. Ferrini answered right away saying “Rhapsody of course!” Hahah, yes of course, actually it’s really amazing to hear brutal death guys hail the name of that most seminal symphonic power metal band.
I asked the group if they would try to use a real orchestra if given the chance in the future. It would be a major challenge for unlike Septic Flesh, the band uses the medium all throughout its songs and therefore would be a real challenge to coordinate. Paoli responded, “depends on the money, what the label thinks”. I do hope that Nuclear Blast decides to risk such a venture, and when they do, I also hope that Fleshgod is ready with the most technical brutal stuff they can conjure! As the Wintersun set ended finally, the guys of Fleshgod Apocalypse took off, perhaps to go have a beer, while the rest of the crowd filed in to see if they could get some merch. I left happily with my limited edition copy of Agony signed by all the band, including Veronica. I also left with my copy of Labyrinth in my Tripp pants pocket. I had a wonderful time.
I’d like to finish this by saying one thing after listening to Agony and Labyrinth back to back, I’ve realized something. Agony is the unpolished brutal core of the band, something amazing I do love for bringing gothic metal to its most brutal and extreme incarnation by melding it with tech-death. Agony is the album I would give to someone as an introduction to the band, but I am now sure that Labryinth is the album I consider my favorite of the two. The band has a lot they would have to try and overcome for the next album. I’d advise them to work on a really experimental and hyper technical exposition of their sound, much like what Gorguts did or so. Although if they get the orchestra, Id advise them to repeat Labyrinth. After all, they have created a whole new sound to experiment with or perfect if they want. I eagerly await with open mind to see what is next in this grand story!
(Originally posted on my amazon page with a few updates here)
Italy's Fleshgod Apocalypse first came into the technical death metal scene with 2009's "Oracles" but didn't receive the massive amount of popularity they have now until 2011 with "Agony" an album that was a huge sounding release with blend of visceral and epic classical music and blistering and unrelenting death metal. Hearing that album for the first time three years ago, I did enjoy the record, but only on a superficial level. And once the novelty of "Agony" wore off after only a few short weeks, it slipped back into my CD collection. Skip ahead two years later, "Labyrinth" sprouts up pretty under the radar for me. I didn't have a whole lot of expectations for it, considering that my liking for the band had wore off quite a bit, so I didn't rush out to buy the album like I did with "Agony" but still borrowed a copy from a friend to check it out and see what was new. And unfortunately for "Labyrinth", it lacks a great deal of what made "Agony" enjoyable and any improvements are far and few between.
Like before, the main focus of the sound here is speed and brutality. The whole sound is just one massive wall of near incomprehensibly fast instrumentation coupled with massive orchestration to supply the music with a bit of melody. This mixture made everybody shit their pants back with "Agony" but has since become dry. Today the style, because its so focused on being a massive wall of complex instrumentation and just as massive orchestra arrangements, the music rips itself apart completely, trying way too hard to do way too much. The result is that much of the album feels senseless and directionless without much focus at all. Most songs, while grand and powerful, are also nigh impossible to remember due to their lack of focus. Something along the lines of a train wreck; violent and unrelenting but just a complete, utter mess.
This isn't the case with the whole album though. A few (very few) tracks on here actually have proper song structure and (*drumroll*) melody! More specifically songs like "Minatour (The Wrath of Poseidon)", "Towards the Sun" and the fantastic piano instrumental "Labyrinth" all are executed greatly. However the rest of the tracks surrounding them feel more like filler than anything else. There are moments on a few tracks that do invoke some positive feedback. There is more use of choir and female soprano vocals and less of those annoying clean male vocals. The orchestra as a whole is much more ambitious and well put together, and the more use of choir and female vocals I mentioned makes the album sound a bit more varied. But these are very small aspects in relation to the rest of the sound which, as stated, lacks proper structure.
One other problem that "Labyrinth" shares with "Agony" is the production which still sucks. It has definitely been improved since "Agony" but that isn't saying a whole lot. The problem with said last album is that the mixing was completely uneven. The orchestration was a bit all over the place, the guitars were near inaudible, the vocals had a tendency to bleed into the rest of the sound, lacking any real presence, and the drums just overpowered the living hell out of everything. Making the whole album sound like a symphony being preformed in the midst of machine gun fire that never ended. The problem here is pretty much the same here. Sometimes the riffs are a bit more audible and the vocals have a bit more presence. Other than that, the production is still muddy, with everything sounding cluttered and sloppy.
The album is not an utter failure. It improves on "Agony" but not by much. The music is a bit more structured (not much) than the previous said album, but still is messy and all over the place. It tries to leave an impact with its utter ferocity, but does little to make it memorable in any way. What could have been a fairly unique take on tech death ends up being just another pointless "Look how fast we can play!" record. I am disappointed.
Fleshgod Apocalypse formed in 2007 from Roma, Italy. Up to this point, the quintet has had two full-length records ("Oracles" and "Agony") and an EP entitled "Mafia" under their belts. These releases have already rose the band to high fame in the metal community for their destructive blend of fast-paced death metal and orchestral music. Naturally, because of this, the band's third full-length release "Labyrinth" would be heavily swarmed upon release in 2013.
The musicianship is not only as potent as ever, but it's also very well-utilized this time around. The vocalist's screams let out the same level of aggression as in previous records, and the operatic choirs in the background actually do pile onto the album's sense of eerie. Sadly, the clean singing is also as distracting as ever, and because of how silly and forced it tends to sound, it does get in the way of the album's enjoyment whenever it shows. Thankfully, it isn't to the point where it becomes a total nuisance. The guitars do not have much to show for themselves, but that is possibly what the band was aiming for; it blends in quite nicely with the orchestra, and it is a bit of an interesting way of going about guitar work in this album.
Two of the greatest points where the band has improved are the drums and orchestra. While the drums continue with their incredibly speedy blast-beats, they actually have developed more substance; They have steadier paces and more true complexity to be an intriguing and very well done part of the band's musicianship. On top of that, the orchestral elements are placed much more strategically than before. As opposed to being just there, the violins, piano, and other aspects are used in a manner that generates a truly cinematic and grand atmosphere. Instead of sounding like an orchestra trying to keep up with rapid-fire death metal, they actually add to the music's violent drama, and that is certainly another area of vast improvement for this band.
Eyeconoclast guitarist Stefano Morabito (Also known as Saul) was the one in charge of the album's sound production, and his work certainly paid off. The mixing made the vocals and instruments sound very massive and resonant. Alongside the orchestra, it reinforces the dark, theatrical aura that the record intended to pull off. The production is definitely another plus to this album.
As expected from this renowned group, "Labyrinth" stays true to the band's staple fusion of symphonic and technical death metal. Unlike before, however, this album takes a somewhat different, if not better, approach to the formula. Instead of focusing on sheer velocity, the album leans more towards atmosphere, dynamic, and complexity, which is the album's greatest strength overall. In fact, "Minotaur: the Wrath of Poseidon" is definitely the record's largest highlight, and the ending title track is a slow piano outro that's just as ominous. On the other hand, though, the faster segments of the album do hold up as well. "Kingborn" is a powerful opener, and "Elegy" is particularly enjoyably chaotic. Unfortunately, the biggest problem with the record is that the music does get a little too repetitive and monotonous in the midst of its dramatic violence. Nonetheless, the songs are very decent overall.
As the follow-up to "Agony," this album is quite a strong improvement. As a stand-alone release, however, it's a very solid death metal specimen. It does get repetitive at times, and the clean vocals can be slightly grating, but those flaws are nicely outweighed. The musicianship is great, the production is quite phenomenal, and the songs are generally well-built. Fans of the older releases will want to get their hands on this, and symphonic death metal fans could probably take a liking to it as well. "Labyrinth" may not exactly be A-grade material, but it's certainly great to see the band taking a step in the right direction.
Originally posted on: http://metaljerky.blogspot.com/
When I say that Fleshgod Apocalypse’s latest album Labyrinth is noisy, cluttered, a total mess, substanceless or loud for the sake of being loud, I’m not going to take the road of the usual criticism and just stop there. Because really that’s what they intended this to be. This was supposed to be an aural assault with tons of elements crammed into the mix with little regard for actual songwriting. However, that doesn’t make it any less of a piece of trash. Intent does not signify quality. Just because something was supposed to be a certain way doesn’t excuse it from criticism.
I’ve never really heard any of this band’s other albums, so keep that in mind – I’m just going off of this one alone. Frankly, it’s about what I expected. The sound is little more than what I have already described. You get some loud symphonics, some loud growly vocals and some loud drums. The guitars are somewhere in there, playing some half-decent riffs, but really putting them at the front of the mix would only serve to make this more boring than it already is. The bulk of this album isn’t really about making good music, it’s about showing off. This whole thing is just a silly competition – which instrument can be louder? Sometimes instruments “battling” each other can be fun, when they try to outdo each other in virtuosity, but here they’re just fighting over who’s louder. Yup. Nothing else. The effect is somewhat akin to your annoying neighbor turning the radio up really loud with kind of a song in the background, but mostly just static blasting your ears because the station it’s tuned into is too far away. And then your other neighbor doing the same thing but a notch higher in volume.
The individual elements of this don’t really seem to matter – it doesn’t seem to matter one bit how interesting the symphonics or the riffs or the vocals are; just that they are THERE and constantly in your face all the time. Occasionally you get a decent groove metal riff in the background, and sometimes the drums will stop blasting long enough to snap into a headbangable section. But not very often. Occasionally the leads, which are quite power metallish in nature, crop up – they are about as generic as they come, without anything really interesting about them. Most of the songwriting is like that, drawing from clichés so bland that you can’t even really attribute them to one band anymore; so many have used them.
So with all that boring crap out of the way, let’s talk about the most important things the band wanted us to focus on…
The symphonics are certainly there, and they are competent and not out of tune. That’s about the best I can say. I mean, yeah – they’re definitely doing things, it’s not like the band just put in some random shit. But they’re not doing interesting things. They really only serve the purpose of adding in something faux-eclectic so metalheads can say they have broader tastes than they really do. You get some slow atmospheric bits here and there; some of them are decent. Most of the time they’re just space wasters. The band knows they want to do a slow atmospheric part, but have no idea what the atmosphere is they’re trying to evoke. Not that the sterile production job would really let them do it anyway, whatever it is.
The vocals…well, they pretty much suck. I guess he can growl or whatever, but his tone is dry like sandpaper and he doesn’t sound very menacing or unhinged or anything. When that mouth breather from Dethklok is a fair comparison, it might be time to just quit music. This is a very Amon Amarth-esque situation where the harsh vocals are so un-threatening and unnecessary to the rest of the sound that it might just benefit the band to hire a full time clean singer and ditch this guy. Which, I guess, they do on this album – two of them even. One of them is a horrendous screeching noise from either the bass player or one of the guitarists. It sounds more like a cat being tortured with razorblades than anything good. Picturing the kinds of people who think this sounds good is just scary to me – I’d rather not even go down those alleyways. Just listen to horrible cacophonous shit like “Elegy” or some parts of “Under Black Sails” – it’s like nails on a fucking chalkboard. Seriously, whose idea was this?
The other is a woman named Veronica Bordacchini, who does soprano vocals on most of these songs. She sounds kind of Nightwishy at times, which is ironic considering most of the people who like this would immediately decry Nightwish as “metal for pussies” or something similar. But if a singer like this appears on an album that has blastbeats and crappy death metal riffs on it, well fuck, it must be worth hearing, right? I dunno. She’s pretty good and all, but really doesn’t have much character to her voice – then again it’s not like the music’s claustrophobic nature really lets her do much. “Warpledge” has a good chorus, but otherwise it’s all pretty unremarkable.
The real problem with all this is just how unenjoyable it all is. It doesn’t even really sound like the band likes what they’re doing. Certainly they don’t seem to care too much for the bulk of the ideas they shoehorn into these songs – the soprano vocals, the slow parts, et cetera are all present, but they are just there to make appearances for a few seconds to make the band different, and then disappear. They are in love with their blasty sections and groovy riffs and boring vocals, but they can’t just be a death metal band. They have to throw in the other shit because otherwise they wouldn’t be unique.
And yeah, I know – obviously that isn’t exactly their thought process. They do care about what they’re doing, otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it. But the problem is that it just sucks. They undermine their own originality by not focusing on what makes them original. They don’t spend time lingering on any of these elements and actually exploring compositionally what makes them so cool to have in such a disparate musical style. They don’t really do much with it – they just let it all hang out, throw it all in a blender and then dump it onto a CD. What could have been an interesting experiment just becomes wasted potential with how weak the songwriting is. You could take out the symphonics and the goofy vocals and this would be like any other modern metal CD ever.
So, yeah, interesting idea, lame and disappointing execution. If these guys would just stop feeling so confined by the boundaries of modern technical death metal – not one of humanity’s creative zeniths – then they could possibly make interesting music. Until then I guess we’ll just keep getting disposable junk like this.
Fleshgod Apocalypse exists for a variety of reasons. One, this Italian metal act remains one of the most popular acts in the very niche genre of symphonic death. Two, Fleshgod Apocalypse serves as a constant reminder that Italy has more metal acts than just Rhapsody of Fire. Three, this band has been created to confuse people that think classical music and metal have anything to do with each other even more. No, Vivaldi was not metal before metal existed. Put down the vaporizer and look into my eyes.
Since 2009, Fleshgod Apocalypse has made an impressive impression upon the metal landscape with their near unique brand of calligraphic death metal. Imagine if every other death metal was chicken scratch written with crayon on a table cloth and Fleshgod Apocalypse was flourished script in fine ink on artisan parchment. That is right, elegant, fancy, and just as hard to read. Though their 2009 release, Oracles, was a success it was not until their 2010 release Agony with the music video for “The Violation” that the proverbial party got into full swing. At this moment in our timeline, the party has kicked into its peak and guests are starting to throw things through the windows.
Labyrinth is the third proper full length album from Fleshgod Apocalypse and follows the band’s obsession with themes and concepts. While Agony had a very nice naming convention with their songs, Labyrinth pulls out all the stops and presents a record about the Greek maze myth. Yes, this the Labyrinth at Knossos where the myth with the Minotaur originated. Yes, there will be horns at one point in this record. Yes, we are all wearing togas. It is this dedication to concept that makes Fleshgod Apocalypse somewhat charming as well as somewhat convoluted.
Labyrinth follows in the tradition of Agony by filling the space with as many things as it can, all at once. While the choir sings in the front, I want the string section in the back and the three other types of vocals over here, and right in the center I want the relentless drums. Upon initial listening, the whole formula feels flushed with seemingly needless material. True, I guess this whole complexity sort of fits into the maze concept but my head is starting to swirl. Labyrinth lacks the clarity heard in Agony and that seems to be one of the largest criticisms attached to this record. The music literally assaults the listener with clubs and does not stop until they have finished. At times, I was ready to give up on Fleshgod Apocalypse, and the possibly of symphonic death, then I sort of got it.
I did not “get” Labyrinth until the very end, particularity with everything that came after midway through the record. From the very excellent “Fall of Asterion,” to the piano closer, which also serves as the title track, the back half of Labyrinth offers much more reasonable compositions than whatever dominates the front. The frenetic technical style that is rooted in the band’s history is exquisite in “Under Black Sails” and the assault and quiet template works with the combination of “Prologue” and “Epilogue.” It is not until the second half that clarity, in which things make sense, really puts the first half in context. If you can, listen to this record backwards.
Fleshgod Apocalypse has a style that works very well. Not wanting to subtly dance around anything, the band is very good as unleashing everything at once. Some of the first half material, especially “Elegy,” is a blinding whirlwind of drums, operatic screams, and growling vocals. It works very well. Though I may be blurry eyed afterwards and slightly nauseous, the template of “pull all of the levers at once” is effective when reasoned and processed correctly. Though everything may just sound like needless noise at the beginning, there is structure in it, and with some exceptions and the right type of umbrella, it all works sort of well with each other.
Labyrinth has its successes, though it lacks the immediate surprise that hallmarked Agony. There are few that will be surprised who have heard Fleshgod Apocalypse before. With that being said, Labyrinth is a decent enough record for the Fall. Despite the first half being an avalanche and some chunky guitar riffs in “Minotaur,” the record matures with time and finishes stronger than it began. Hell, even writing this review I started to enjoy it more. I mean, I need to take some Ibuprofen right now but I am still enjoying myself. Just give me a moment, I just need to lay down in this quiet room for a bit.
[ Kaptain Carbon ]
Originally Written for Hollywood Metal
Personally, I created a lot of expectations for this new Fleshgod Apocalypse effort, mainly because I think the previous one, Agony, is a true classic of modern death metal.
But not even nearly Labyrinth can tackle its majestic predecessor. The album follows obviously the same musical structure of Agony, but this time the exaggerated mixture of growling vocals, guitars, drums at the speed of light, clean vocals, operatic vocals, pianos and many, many symphonies, made Labyrinth something difficult to understand. Throughout the album, the sounds just come and go in no particular order. Of course this was never a prerequisite for a death metal album, but in this case, there are dozens of different sounds to be assimilated by the listener at the same time at a very fast speed. It makes the music easily forgettable.
Nevertheless, something that shows new is the theme used by the band, addressing the Greek mythology in the compositions. It's really remarkable the effort of Fleshgod Apocalypse in making Labyrinth absolutely epic, inserting passages with ambient sounds of battles and mythological characters. The big problem is that this goal ends up getting lost throughout the album, due to passages with unstructured riffs and without much connection with the operatic parts covering them. At least this time (and this is a huge improvement over Agony) one can distinguish the sound of guitars amid the mix of other instruments, for which his predecessor was heavily criticized. Moreover, the presence of female operatic vocals (which appeared a few times in Agony) is constant on much of the songs, but it ends up confusing the listener, because they just do not seem to belong to the climate of the music and are not absolutely good to hear (try Towards the Sun).
Individually, we must again highlight the brilliant work of Francesco Paoli on drums. Fast, accurate, the sound of their harrowing blast-beats is one of the great advantages of Fleshgod Apocalypse. However, amid the chaos caused by the other band members, often the sound of the battery just seems to fill the void that separates the riffs and the symphonies. Tommaso Riccardi’s guttural vocals did not change, appearing in Labyrinth even a little less potent. The guitars do not have much to present, they’re just a constant tremolo picking and stand out basically when the tempo drops slightly, or in the creative guitar solos, that I always thought are one of the strengths of Fleshgod Apocalypse. These are melodic and rhythmical and give time to the ears of the listener to rest a bit. Obviously we cannot forget Paolo Rossi’s clean vocals, who were widely worshiped in Agony. Sincerely, in Labyrinth they most seem one unsuccessful attempt to achieve a serious tone like the legend King Diamond or some Helloween-based stuff.
Labyrinth was designed with a great responsibility which was to be the successor of a masterpiece, Agony, but I believe that even the most ardent fans of the band will not endure to hear it often. Fleshgod Apocalypse failed deeply thinking that the same formula squared, cubed, to the thousandth power, would generate a result proportionally better. What happened was that the chaotic sound that the band advocated became a meaningless noise of about one hour.
Originally posted in opusoculto.blogspot.com.br
Symphonic death metal seems to be the big underground movement over the past 5 years. If you search for pure symphonic death metal LPs and EPs by year, up until 2007 the most you would ever see is 6 releases a year. Come 2008, 17 Lps/EPs were released. That is more than double in a year. Last year alone had 22 releases, and they are slowly but steadily on the rise. Symphonic death metal seems to be the next big thing. Unfortunately, Fleshgod Apocalypse's latest “Opus” is just another swagger of their symphonic death metal penis. They are too drunk to notice that their cock pales in comparison to just about every other band's. That and they haven't washed it in a couple days.
Probably one of the talked about parts of FA is the drums. They are fast, heavy hitting if a little loud, but hey....and totally fall in the mix. When I can make a full discernment of them, I like them.
The guitars do have a small hearken back to Oracles. Some guitar parts like the ones in “Pathfinder” do call back to better times. Besides that you get a couple wanky bits for a half second in a couple songs. But in all truth, the most noticeable part of the guitars are the solos. Not in a “Hey, these solos ROCK!” type of way. It is more like “didn't I hear this in Agony?” I'm pretty sure you could swap solos between Labyinth and Agony and not notice at all. They follow the same type of melody, pattern and note choice. The only solo I got enjoyment was from “The Fall of Asterion” as it sounded out of place. But besides that, the guitars blend badly with the keyboards. Same with the bass, so much so that they only get one sentence of mention. I felt like copying the album in barely mentioning them.
Tommaso Riccardi's vocals are fine. They are your typical modern death metal vocals. Sometimes you can hear the lyrics, sometimes you can't. Thankfully, you can hear the lyrics in his death metal vocals.... It is his spoken vocals you have to look out for. The songs “Minotaur”, “Pathfinder” and “Toward the Sun” have laughably bad spoken word parts that you can't understand at all. More so the former two of the three songs. The latter isn't that extremely bad with their spoken word part, but it is still pretty laughable.
When FA played Summer Slaughter, before the release of Agony, they had four songs that were a little more notable due to the clean vocals. “Thru our scars”, “Conspiracy of Silence”, “The Violation”, and “The Egoism”. I was pretty gung-ho. Sure, they weren't that good. But they came out of nowhere and for me, had an good effect. To put a long story short. When played live. The clean vocals SUCKED ASS and after having a clean vocal part in essentially every song of Agony, I got tired of them. I think everyone else got tired of the gimmick also. I think the band learned their lesson on this one. For the bassist's high pitched vocals stay in the background. Just wailing along at certain parts. They range on either bad (Under Black Sails) to horrible (Kingborn)
And speaking of gimmick. Remember the opera vocal in “The Egoism”? I thought that part was fucking badass. Unfortunately FA though so also and felt like cashing in on it. For Labyrinth, they switch the bassist's clean vocals with opera vocals. Boy, they wore out their welcome fast. In Agony, they were in the first track and “The Egoism”. In Labyrinth, they are in “Kingborn”, “Toward the Sun”, “Warpath”, “Epilogue”, and “Labyrinth”. The difference is 2:5. She in half of the songs and she doesn't even sound good. At the most, she is passable. But then she tries to hit the high note and fails miserably (Towards the Sun). Backtracking a sentence. Yes, I did say she is on the song “Labyrinth”. The opera vocals are in the piano solo that graces the end of every FA album. Not only that, the symphonics are in it also.
Fuck you Fleshgod Apocalypse.
Oh, and the Symphonics? They sound like shit. I'm pretty sure they were all put into one track with no equalizer. To their credit, they sound upgraded. But this type of upgrade is the equivalent of adding a bigger stock to a Raging Bull. The keyboardist tries to fire it off, but his arms are weak so instead of being a crack shot, he instead succumbs to the recoil and messily butchers the target. Only now, he can shoot a couple extra shots. Either that or he heard the orchestra build in “A Day of a life” by The Beatles and thought. “I CAN USE THIS”. Oh, and there is a cello solo in Epilogue. It was done on a keyboard. It sounds like shit.
Of course, the biggest thing griped about in Fleshgod Apocalypse's Agony was the horrible mixing. The keyboard symphonics buried everything, the drum kicks became indistinguishable from the guitar chugging, ect. You shall be happy to learn the mixing sounds better, you can actually hear guitars in the mix. Unfortunately, that isn't a good thing. Not a good thing at all. Since Labyrinth has upgraded keyboards, more goes on in the background. That would be good if you couldn't hear the guitars at all. Instead, it becomes another instrument that blends in with everything else, fighting to be the dominant flavour. One example is “Toward the Sun”. The intro is such a mess it is rendered unlistenable. I love “Wall of Sound” productions. This is...well...a labyrinth. I feel exactly like Theseus. Only problem. My thread was replaced by string cheese.
Now, I was going to elaborate on some of the good parts of the album. Like the fact the opera vocals in “Warpath” aren't half bad, the mixing get's better from “Pathfinder” onward and that “Prologue” is a nice intro-filler. But I'm still at a loss on why they had to add the keyboard orchestra and the opera vocals in the final track. With so much flavor in each album the piano piece at the end acts like a palette cleanser. I still have the bad taste in my mouth.
Perhaps it's just old age catching up with me, but I think it telling that Fleshgod Apocalypse's substantial third full-length album Labyrinth gave me a headache within about 10 minutes of the grandiose intro to "Kingborn". Funny enough, so did their last album. A few Tylenol later, I was armed and ready to return, and after giving this more of a chance, I found that I could appreciate it ever so slightly more than Agony. While they are still insistent on performing this symphonic re-branding of their debut Oracles (good stuff), I felt like at least this time they did a superior job of mixing the synthesizers in with the rhythm guitars, and created a greater depth of maniacal Mozartsian brutality. That's not to say that this is a step up or a step down in terms of songwriting, or not even remotely as unique as some will make it out to be, but as more or less a hybrid of Sigh's Hangman's Hymn, Septic Flesh's last three records, and Death Cult Armageddon-era Dimmu Borgir, it's at least functional.
The problem is, like with the last album, that a lot of focus here is on playing as quickly and intensely as possible with no regards to catchy rhythm guitars or truly brilliant dynamic shifts, and that's why it retains a sense of 'faux orchestration', like someone fast-forwarding an old black & white artillery march set to Wagner in an incessant loop of crescendo. Exciting in small chunks, but exhausting and uninteresting in the longer run. Probably a good eight of ten riffs, and about half the keyboards immediately depart the memory after entering, and so the listener is generally left to stand 'blown away' by the speed of the drumming and the spastic, spasming energy of the colliding and contrasted choirs and 'strings' flying around everywhere. But I wont' fault Fleshgod Apocalypse for not trying here. This isn't just a straight blasting migraine, they actually do embed the 54 minute track list with some versatility. There are a few 'breathers' among them, like the acoustic "Prologue" and the dramatic piano finale "Labyrinth", but I do wish they had come a little earlier in the run time. They also divvy up the importance of the orchestration and methodic guitar picking here, so while "Warpledge" might rely very heavily on the girly operatic screams and choirs over its raging substrata of kick drums, other tunes have plenty of surgical riffing harmonies.
But the intensity is a constant, and often a nuisance. We don't really feel like we're being allowed to travel on this journey of splendor and terror through Greek mythology, but rather, we're being kicked along, like by a cadre of annoying, bullying, brutal death metal ushers in a theater. 'You done with that popcorn yet?' 'Let me have those candy wrappers.' 'Shut up and LISTEN to the fuckin' choirs!' 'No making out in the theater!' 'This is the good part, now move along, nothing more to see here.' Any time I think they're on to some tasty flight of strings or pianos, or a delicious riff pops up through the surging bombardment, it's gone in a flash and I find it irrevocably frustrating. I won't doubt that many hours went into sharpening Labyrinth, crafting the densest and busiest recording imaginable, but when at the end of the day it sounds like Dethklok paying homage to Virgin Steele, I can't really give credence to this pushing the boundaries of 'extremity' like so many fans of Agony decried. And I'm not saying that as some crusty vest-metal advocate who defies everything that sounds like it came out after 1993 because it doesn't fit into my carefully-cultivated self image; I enjoy quite a lot of modern, triggered clinical tech death and always will. This has all been done: Fleshgod is simply filling in what few blanks remained in the phrasing, with symphonic overkill.
So, what DID I like about Labyrinth? Well, for one, considering just how fucking much is happening here, I was impressed that I could make out almost all of the details. Francesco Paoli, as usual, is a goddamned bull. Don't get me wrong, he's a 'mechanical bull', inhuman, and very likely to side with Skynet once our robotic overlords come to prominence, but if I were to watch this guy perform I'd have to untangle my jaw from my shoelaces. Meticulous, brickwork blasting and untiring kicks everywhere, I just don't see drummers going further than this without cybernetic implants. That's not to say the beats are interesting, they're really just setting the pace for the sum shitstorm of Labyrinth's components, but that he's incredibly driven and talented is impossible to deny. The soaring lead harmonies, where they appear, are also like a spike of sunshine parting the turbulent storm-clouds of orchestrated excess, rays of 'class' amongst the barrage of cheese. The screaming, wannabe King Diamond vocals here are consistently irritating, but hey, at least they try and break up the monotony of stock growls that, while loud, are nothing all that special. The bass lines are probably sick, but they blend in too well against the rhythm guitars and I often lose them altogether...
Ugh. I wanted to like this so much more than I did. Labyrinth might not be the most unique choice of Greek mythological concepts, but I think the lyrics are handled with some passion and knowledge of the subject matter. Minos, Daedelus, Icarus, they're quite thorough with this little subsection of the lore, even throwing in a reference to Procrustes the Stretcher. Not to mention, the title alone seems to gel well with Fleshgod Apocalypse's style, because there's much to traverse and pick apart here, even if most of the riffing ideas wind up at dead ends like Asterion's maze. 54 minutes is quite long here, and the flow of the record would have been bettered served with a piece like "Labyrinth" earlier in the roster, but then, this is not something I'm going to find myself listening to in its entirety very often (if ever). 1-2 tracks I can stomach, but even then there are few which really deserve the attention. Despite the sheer magnitude of the Italians' efforts and capabilities, I always had the feeling I was headed somewhere but never arriving. I guess that's the point of a 'labyrinth', to trap the aspirant into a sense of claustrophobic, unending dread, but unfortunately there's no aural ball of string, no Theseus to give us the comeuppance, the payoff all this chugging, banging and sweeping calamity deserves.