Author: Gay For Gary Oldman
Artist: Fleshgod Apocalypse
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
There’s a longstanding criticism prevalent amongst metal journalism that metal fans are by and large a conservative bunch of people who hate change and have narrow tastes. Upon first hearing this viewpoint I was largely offended and perplexed, as I typically view metal as being a particularly broad genre, ranging widely in speed, intensity, emotions, technicality and external influences. However, I was eventually forced to concede that my mindset on metal music is in the minority. The metal fans I typically associate with and the bands which I follow are but the tip of the iceberg in what I refer to as “investigative music interest”, seeking out new sounds, whilst the great lumbering mass beneath the surface of my attention are people who are typically restricted to liking their own concepts of “classics” and new albums which venerate and immitate them.
However, sometimes that viewpoint flips on itself when a band of formerly modest success alters their sound and achieves mass appeal due to it. Fleshgod Apocalypse is a band which, in my thinking, blurs the lines in the minds of fans between narrow, conservative thinking, and accusations of “selling out” or dumbing down their music.
Fleshgod made this change before I was aware of their existence, but I still see many listeners lament that they miss the days in which the band were naught but a solid brutal technical death metal band. I have returned to their debut Oracles and follow-up EP Mafia a few times, and enjoy them. That isn’t saying much, as brutal death metal following in the footsteps of Suffocation and Cryptopsy’s technicality is basically my bread and butter. They were indeed good releases, which created dense and intricate melodies amidst the flurry of guitar fury, with a small dabbling of neoclassical flair in lead work and composition (albeit a smaller dabbling than I feel those early releases get credited with).
On Agony, the band introduced the element which would earn them both wide renown and much scorn. Loud, intense and dense neoclassical orchestration. Small elements of orchestration was present in their previous music, but not at such a degree to really make note of. The real bombast, classical elements and melody were all created by the guitars. From Agony, Fleshgod Apocalypse incorporated full symphonic orchestration. The upside is that they have created a god-damned wall of sound with beauty, brutality and complexity that dwarfs any other attempt I’ve ever heard of bringing symphony into extreme metal. The downside is that the band themselves were largely relegated to the task of rhythm. This record, King, includes a second disc of pure orchestral versions of the tracks. But it should be fair to ask what a purely metal, un-orchestrated version of their albums would sound like. The answer, sadly, would be “flat.”
I love this band. They are a band whose music is truly greater than the sum of its parts. If I was forced to choose today between the neoclassically-technical death metal of their early days, and the overblown bombast of these recent albums, I would gladly choose the latter. There really is no other band that is even approaching the accomplishment that Fleshgod make with these albums. Dimmu Borgir and Septicflesh never reached this level of brutality with their symphonics, and Behemoth’s overladen polish (pun) is minute by comparison.
As to the album itself, of which I have thusfar neglected to properly describe, I would argue that the songwriting is a solid step for the band; but whether forward or back is a matter of perspective. The melodic force and peaks of their previous two albums were largely achieved by the orchestration, but it appears to me that the criticism of “generic death hiding behind a symphonic gimmick” has provoked the band into response, and as such the band strive to match the compositional heights of the orchestration. Unfortunately, the first two songs (ignoring the orchestral introduction) fail to highlight this, the latter, Healing Through War, featuring almost ENTIRELY palm-muted chugs as a guitar part, until the solo kicks in towards the end, and we are reminded that there is more than one note on a fretboard. Still relentless and epic, with impressive clean vocals to boot, the songs still manage to succeed despite the limitations placed on the guitars.
Luckily The Fool, complete with dazzlingly quaint harpsichord introduction begins to subvert these issues, as the guitars frantically keep pace with the tremolo violins and harpsichord leads. But it is immediately followed with the dull, dragging Cold as Perfection (which was granted a pointless and terrible film clip), which doesn’t pick up until the female soprano sweeps in to save it past the halfway point of the song.
The album breaks for an intermission with the soprano led female vocals of classical interlude Paramour. But at this point, some of the songs are beginning to drag. Mitra and The Vulture Beholds manage to keep the intensity high, but Gravity and Syphilis lack both the fury or the interesting guitars to keep me interested, instead resolving to a some plodding and brooding mid-paced songs. In this regard I feel a bit for the band. Pedaling the unshakable fortitude of Labyrinth led to complaints over lack of dynamics in the music. Now that a few songs have slowed down, I’m finding myself struggling to find reasons to enjoy them.
Reading this review over and over, I feel myself being increasingly critical of the band’s output, especially since I prefaced this review with the statement “I love this band”. The difficulty is the temptation to review the album’s individual parts. The drumming is consistently furious and omnipresent but uncreative. The vocals, both clean and harsh are employed as needed but don’t carry any surprises. The guitar solos kill, but it’s really the only time that the guitarists get to show off. The overall melody is impressive. But as pointed out by my housemate, like the Power Ranger’s Megazord they only really achieve brilliance when combined together into a singular cohesive unit. Listening closely to try to parse out the merits of individual elements is akin to standing too close to a painting. There may be a deceptively rudimentary simplicity to much of their performance, but taking a step back to be impacted by the thing as a whole is truly a unique experience in compositional intensity. I find myself enjoying the record far more when I’m not paying so close attention to it. Hmm. Maybe that isn’t the best praise.
- Gay for Gary Oldman