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If Hour Of Penance, Rome’s favourite brutality-loving sons, have been happily tearing scraps out of the book on mixing the most extreme forms of coruscating death metal with orchestral compositions and fanciful embellishments, then their sister band Fleshgod Apocalypse seem to have gone several steps better and are by this point shredding the volume to tattered slivers, absorbing any and all ideas the tome may conceal and throwing them into their own work with borderline gleeful abandon.
That’s the first aspect of ‘Oracles’ that strikes the eardrums, even on first listen. There is a certain sense of ‘abandon’ here; an undeniable feel of enormous energy and unbounded enthusiasm that stand out from its peers. While all too many technically proficient death metal albums fall prey to sounding phoned in, as though the artists have spent more time working through every fanciful note sequence possible for the sake of it, rather than play with any sense of bright-eyed passion. On ‘Oracles’ the band never once lose that fire in the belly and that twisted love for the brutal that motivates all the best death metal – that they manage to marry all this with the perhaps more po-faced elements of their classical inspirations so seamlessly makes the album an absolute stormer to listen to, each and every time.
While the record has all the myriad of chord progressions needed to stimulate the tech-heads (‘Sophistic Demise’ will blown thy brains out thy arse), and is imbued with enough pummelling, relentless riffage (delivered through a full-bodied, crunching tone, most notably on ‘Post Enlightenment Executor’) to more than satiate the thirst of those out for more brutal fare, ‘Oracles’ carries itself with an air that could also be described as regal. While there are moments where the band simply source straightforwardly orchestrated pieces to open and close their material (an idea used with surprising success on ‘As Tyrants Fall’), they weave the grandiosity of classical compositions more fluidly into the material.
The subtle layering on the lead vocals, tasteful use of feminine backing vocal tracks, and the galloping, soaring quality of the riffs all combine with the more overt influences in their sound to give the songs an epic feeling that is far more understated, and by degrees far more individual and unique, than the usual overly bombastic fare dominating classically influenced metal these days.
That the players here are more than able to match up to the ambitions of their songwriting – Francesco Paoli delivers an astoundingly powerful performance, pummelling seven shades of shit out of his kit whilst Christiano Trionfera must surely have been bleeding all over his strings after playing at these speeds – certainly makes the experience all the more enjoyable.
While Fleshgod Apocalypse’s approach will hardly tick everyone’s boxes, bearing a few too many similarities to modern-day Behemoth for many a metalhead’s comfort and a seeming inability to ever slow down until a song’s conclusion, this is nowhere near enough to tar a record of consistent quality, zealous gusto and brazen adventurousness.
Surpassing all the members various other concerns (even the primary ones such as Hour of Penance and Eyeconoclast) by a country mile, ‘Oracles’ is an easy contender for the title of top death metal album of 2009. Not a bad way to kick off the running, eh?