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Howling before the kill. - 70%

GrizzlyButts, June 8th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, Digital, Nuclear Blast

A greedy and mercilessly tempered little man who was as round as he was insufferable, the late Cangrande I della Scala was a noble and a land-greedy pissant in reality but thanks to his commission of the great Dante Alighieri he’d be a small name made bigger by his inclusion within a great work. By 1329 Cangrande had spent the better part of twenty years conquering the greater boroughs of the Venice area, finally holding long contested Padua and easily toppling Treviso thereafter. In late July he’d paraded as a great winning warrior through the associated territories staking final claim and, as records would curiously speculate, Cangrande would drink from contaminated water and die just four days later. His beauteous tomb encased him for a full six hundred and seventy five years ’til his body was famously unearthed, his organs were miraculously preserved and thusly examined showing the all to clear sign that the brutish and unimaginably rich noble had actually been poisoned with a very potent dose of foxglove (digitalis). There he wretched as the room spun around him for a few short days, shitting uncontrollably and becoming deeply yellow in the eyes. Cangrande would have died delirious, losing control in every sense and seizing out his final painful breaths. The shaking loose of whatever personal pain or poison within popular Italian symphonic death metal band Fleshgod Apocalypse that had built between 2011 and early 2017 would reach the point of purge for the artists involved and allow for some self-exploration as the band would shuffle their presence and pull from a quintet back to their earliest days as a trio. ‘Veleno’ is not a return to the sound of ‘Oracle’ (2009) but an entirely different fifth full-length from the band.

Thought they’d sucked out the poison in 2017 the wound that’d heal beyond would find founder and key songwriter Francesco Paoli (Coffin Birth, ex-Hour of Penance) stepping down from his impressive seat at the drums and back on vocals/guitar. Die-hard fans might remember he had been in this role for the early years of the Rome based outfit including their first demo, album and EP. Though there was mass trepidation among fans that Fleshgod Apocalypse wouldn’t sound the same or be written differently because of this paradigm shift in the line-up, it quickly becomes clear that Paoli has incredibly similar register and plenty of experience as frontman in firing up ‘Veleno’. If anything the style and structure of this new record pushes back towards ‘Agony’ (2011) while balancing in slightly more technical death metal and dark metal elements. The result is a far more accessible than the pompous, overly ambitious ‘King’ (2016), while also simultaneously showcasing ornate and somewhat memorable compositions. If there is a space between pre-2008 Behemoth, modern Dimmu Borgir and the satisfyingly neoclassical flex of Cor Scorpii it is surely occupied by the Fleshgod Apocalypse of today.

To be clear ‘Veleno’ is a death metal record build up to be symphonic and operatic much like it seemed was the ambition with ‘Mafia’ (2010) EP before the band would begin to write the symphonic composition first and then integrate guitars later. This won’t feel like an old Nile influenced record as some are wringing their hands hoping for but instead I’d suggest that Fleshgod Apocalypse have written one of the more brutal symphonic metal albums of the last decade or so. It might not completely warm the dry husk of old technical death metal fans but I’d figure most of those types had left beyond ‘Agony’ anyhow. It was clear that the band needed to adapt and change drastically to remain with any artistic integrity so at the very least I think they can be commended for finding a practical way to still feel as big as a quintet despite the album being realized as a trio.

When I say drastic changes have been made, I don’t think I’m at all overstating the state of accessible metal mutation witnessed within ‘Veleno.’ A quick flip to “Monnalisa” reveals a dark metal track that combines the piano driven compositions of the last few ballad-heavy Amorphis records with the whispering gothic hum and guitar prowess of Rotting Christ circa ‘Sleep of the Angels’. As adventurous as ‘King’ had been as a big, bawdy concept ‘Veleno’ is very much a reintroduction to the world stage for Fleshgod Apocalypse that finds them finally filling the ‘mainstream extreme’ metal shoes they’d been ill-fitting for a couple of albums. The split in line-up changes might’ve directly allowed this change of pace by proxy rather than intentioned in the sense that whatever downtime they’d not scheduled between ‘King’ and the follow-up was given some months to regroup, rethink, rewrite and conceive an album with deeper symbolism that is refreshingly not pure nihilism.

The lead single, “Sugar”, and its grandiose music video accompaniment is an entirely appropriate window into where Fleshgod Apocalypse are today both sonically and personally as it deals with the subject of heroin/opiate abuse. Paoli does not glorify or romanticize the pain of addiction but depicts it as a damning curse that hits like a lightning strike and spreads rapidly as a plague that shouldn’t be swept under the rug, so to speak. It is an angered patronizing of the sick that perhaps shows its depth only if you sit with the lyrics and focus on Paoli‘s enthusiastic ‘brutal’ vocal delivery, which I’d say is actually more effective than the last couple of rounds from Tommaso Riccardi. The theme of poisoning and toxicity fittingly runs throughout the veins of ‘Veleno’ as the lyrics deal with the fake, the cheat, the liar, the addict, the destroyer and the sycophant through metaphoric prose that all appear fueled by very personal frustrations. It is both cathartic as a weird mix of operatic, symphonic, and death metal textures swept together in very technical and fastidious arrangements that aren’t simply ‘neoclassical’ but damned near prog-power metallic at times.

Whether I gave Fleshgod Apocalypse my full attention as ‘Veleno’ played or not it’d end up being enough of a spectacle to get it either way. Though the piano pounding death operatic battery of it all would become exhausting, there is no doubt these Italians remain energetic, impressive and compelling in the works they create. I ended up losing the plot as I would take a break from ‘Veleno’, though, as there are several memorable highlights there are just as many pieces that serve to simply keep the furioso going. Adventurous technical-progressive death metal fans who aren’t afraid of some catchiness will find some heavily detailed guitar and keyboard work here to needle over, perhaps some of the projects most complex runs to date. I’d approach a record like this for its catchiness, feeling and couldn’t care less about technical flair or hammering brutality unless it was integral to the experience. This is where I’d disconnect with Fleshgod Apocalypse a bit as the spectacle does eventually overtake the passionate songwriting and it becomes a great piano-crashing burst of flame and furor that eats some of its depth for the sake of spectacular showmanship. Maybe I’m getting a bit old for all of the brutal bombast but, at some point I’d found myself wondering what an album of songs like “Monnalisa” would sound like and if that might be the growing strength of the band moving forward.

Taken as is, and across perhaps nearly twenty non-challenging listens, ‘Veleno’ is a modern and uniquely presented return to the world stage for this brutal-yet-bold Italian death metal project. The future is bright for the popular act as this record shines a light upon many redeeming directions the future might hold while still eclipsing the standards the band had set for themselves previous. Though my tastes probably align a bit closer to their earliest beginnings I still greatly appreciate the imaginative and exuberant progression on display here and despite losing what most folks had felt were very key staff. They’ve prospered and delivered in the face of ruin and for that I can give high praise and moderately high recommendation of ‘Veleno’. For preview the given singles are “Sugar” and the anthemic “Carnivorous Lamb” but I’d suggest “Monnalisa” and the (‘Passage’-era) Samael-esque “Pissing on the Score” as unmissable tracks.


Arise as Night Falls - 73%

hardalbumreview, May 31st, 2019

After the release of King in 2016, which could be considered as a springboard for the band to shoot them through the skies of international success, the Italian Symphonic Death Fleshgod Apocalypse parted ways with two of their members: Tommaso Riccardi on vocals and guitar and Cristiano Trionfera on guitar. This departure, contrary to what one might expect to happen in such cases, did not affect the band considerably, and in fact, it brought Francesco Paoli, the mastermind and the dark heart and soul of the band behind the mic again, after about a decade. They went on to drink the devil’s Venom and come out with a new album.

The fifth LP on their short-lived yet thriving discography is Veleno (or venom in their native tongue), an eleven-piece collection of asphyxiating death metal and elegant symphony. As far as their composition of music and quality of production are considered, Veleno is a step forward, indicating the right path the band have set for themselves. But an album cannot be constrained and reduced to only the sound of its music, there surely are some other factors such as strength of singing and artfulness, purposefulness and eloquence of lyrics at work too. So a music album is never “exceptional” without observing standards of lyricsm as well as instrumentation and sound production. This album lacks the said qualities.

There can be found some truly soul-crushing guitar and drum work on this album, something to stimulate the Restless Neck Syndrome in metalheads (if you know what I mean), such as Fury or Worship and Forget which leave the listeners breathless when the final note is hit. On other occasions, we have grand displays of symphonic expression, songs like Embrace the Oblivion showcase the band’s acumen in terms of working with instruments and orchestra. And the duet of drum and bass on Monnalisa creates a memorable moment on the album, as well as its piano lines which fit the theme.

But what might be the greatest loss on this album is the vocals. The guttural singing style of Paoli is not uncommon within the genre. However, it does not deliver what is expected of this act; it can’t hold a candle to the grandeur of music and orchestration. And that is not the worst part! When you consider the clean singing and even screams (Holy hell! What on earth is the miserable screaming on Absinthe! Or the one on Carnivorous Lamb!), you wish they had stuck to gutturals. At times, which are not so infrequent, it becomes an utter dross. On Sugar, as one example, they strife to sound like Lemmy Kilmister, and boy they fail so miserably! Even inclusion of a female operatic voice hasn’t redeemed the album; it sure enhances the experience, still accompanying the male voice, it falls out of harmony – the collaboration and synchrony between them is faulty (the worst case is The Day We'll Be Gone, a song which could have been a highlight). And when choirs are added to diversify the jumble of vocals, they go hand in hand with the orchestral texture and bulge in combination with the lead and backing vocals.

Still more defective than vocals are the lyrics. Random infusion of curse words where they obviously do not belong, pretentious and incongruous use of pompous words, lines out of rhythm which were force-sung to fit in the music and whatnot. Their take on such subject matters as addiction (Sugar) or science (Fury) is something worth mentioning; however, it is the execution of such ideas that lag behind.

And what on earth were those two bonus tracks?! The band’s cover of Rammstein’s Reise, Reise couldn’t be any more off-point. The Forsaking (Nocturnal Version), supposedly a dark opera, is a tad bit better than its predecessor, even so, only an instrumental version would be preferable.

On the whole, this album hints at brilliance but fails to deliver it. It is truly a Symphonic Technical Death exemplar if and only if we take the music into account and turn a deaf ear to the words and singing of the album. This is particularly the reason Fleshgod are in arrears in comparison with the likes of Septicflesh.

Highlights: Worship and Forget - Embrace the Oblivion

Lyrics: 6.0
Artwork: 8.0
Musicianship: 9.0
Vocals: 6.5
Overall: 7.3

The beauty seduces the beast - 75%

kluseba, May 26th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, CD + blu-ray, Nuclear Blast (Limited edition, Digipak)

Ambitious Italian trio Fleshgod Apocalypse combines technical death metal with vivid rhythm changes, complicated guitar riffs and aggressive vocals with classical music in form of professional opera singers, vibrant string sections and domineering piano melodies. The band's fifth studio record certainly needs some time to open up because many songs include too many ideas performed at high speed to digest them at first contact. However, once one gets used to this ferocious clash of genres, the song material certainly grows on the listener.

The most outstanding song is however the record's calmest and smoothest track in form of ''The Day We'll Be Gone'' with melancholic piano leads, cinematic orchestral sounds, smooth drums and percussive elements, elegant female lead vocals and atmospheric growls that make for a wonderful gothic song that would do the soundtrack to any dark fairytale justice.

An honourable mention goes out to the wonderful cover of Rammstein's epic ''Reise, Reise'' that can be found on the limited edition which also includes one more bonus track, a BluRay featuring an entire concert in the band's hometown that covers its greatest classics and a cool patch. The Rammstein cover makes the melancholic original song even greater with enhanced orchestral arrangements and choirs while the raw lead vocals and vivid drum passages create an intriguing contrast.

In the end, Fleshgod Apocalypse's Veleno combines technical death metal with classical music in an ambitious, balanced and challenging way that needs some time to open up. Especially the calmer tracks manage to stand out and convince emotionally and intellectually. If the band enhanced its calmer soundscapes on future releases, it might even appeal to a wider audience and broaden its own horizons.