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A lot of noise with no substance - 38%

Empyreal, October 2nd, 2013

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.