Thursday 6 June 2019

Fleshgod Apocalypse - Veleno (2019)

Country: Italy
Style: Symphonic Death Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 24 May 2019
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Remember when Marty McFly convinced the younger version of his father that he was from outer space by simply popping an Eddie van Halen tape into his walkman and blaring it at his target? Well, I couldn't help but picture a fresh version of that scene when listening to this album.

Imagine waking up from a decades-long coma and the first thing you hear is Fury, the opening track to this album by Fleshgod Apocalypse. Even the name of the band could blow their minds, but this one track would convince them that they had someone been abducted by aliens and now residing on an alien planet.

It's extreme stuff but not in just the usual ways. Sure, it's a blitzkrieg of noise but it's full of strings and piano and choral voices. Where a band like Therion might craft that into a catchy metal number, this band layer them instead until we wonder if we're listening to three different radio stations all at once.

Initially, it's hard to figure out exactly what we're listening to. All the traditional instruments leap into Fury like boats into a maelstrom, the drums at hyperspeed from the very beginning and the guitars following suit. The vocals are death growls, low enough in the mix to be another instrument. Then, only ten seconds in, Francesco Ferrini starts wild runs up and down his piano keyboard and ten after that, a choir joins in for good measure. It's almost too much and this will be an assault on the senses for many.

But there are points where it really works. Of all things, a triangle kicks off a section a couple of minutes in that grounds what's going on here. It's like the clouds depart and we see a shining sky full of angels and death. I loved it but this isn't first time listen stuff. It needs three or four to really grasp what Fleshgod Apocalypse are actually doing and to start to appreciate it.

This approach continues on Carnivorous Lamb and Sugar, with other nuances. There's a female voice that speaks partway through the former but it's so buried in the mix that it's a sort of ghost, just like the strange laughter that kicks off the latter. The clean male voice that joins Carnivorous Lamb sounds like he's shouting from another studio through the wall. The piano that steals the early sections of Sugar and the guitar that takes heed later on sound like what Mussorgsky might write to accompany the flight of witches over a lake of fire.

In other words, this is death metal but it's not only death metal and adding 'symphonic' to the beginning of the genre doesn't cut it. This is wildly, uncompromisingly experimental in nature and it feels much more appropriate to compare it to the output of a jazz rebel like John Zorn as a death metal band like Deicide or Arch Enemy. There are similarities but the goal just isn't the same.

And, if we survive the thirteen minute onslaught of the first three tracks, we're thrown something completely different. The Praying Mantis' Strategy sounds like dark Enya with an oddly compelling metronome behind her, the final pair of delightful piano notes launching us into Monnalisa, a slower, more gothic piece initially driven by strings, piano and drum fills, with a decadent and narrative clean vocal from Paolo Rossi. It moves into Tristania territory a couple of minutes in but refuses to stay in any one place for long. There's a glorious contribution from soprano Veronica Bordacchini but it ends very differently.

There's so much in Monnalisa to detail that it's hard to give an impression of what it feels like, but it's a song that you feel as much as hear. The same goes for The Day We'll Be Gone, which features a notably wild pairing of soprano and harsh male vocal. Like always, it's done for effect but the effect sought is different here. This feels like a battle between good and evil for supremacy, because the voices both sing as leads and often at the same time. Veleno is an operatic interlude, a piano solo that does nothing outrageous but carries portents of what's to come.

Oddly, what's to come turns out to be a symphonic take on Rammstein's Reise, Reise, which ends with metronome and squeezebox, and a whispering gothic orchestral take on The Forsaking, originally recorded on Agony, the second Fleshgod Apocalypse album.

I have to call out special praise for whoever produced this, because it's the densest music I've heard but I can still hear everything I need to hear. With the amount of stuff thrown into this, that's a real achievement. Certainly the drums fit better into the mix than on previous albums. What results is something that's perhaps best described as an acquired taste. I have no doubt that this isn't for everyone, not even amongst the fraternity of death metal fans.

After a few listens, I have to say that I admire what Fleshgod Apocalypse have done here, especially given that most of it is the product of one man called Francesco Paoli, who contributes the lead vocals, all the guitars and the drums for good measure (yes, he has colleagues to do some of this live). Rossi adds bass and clean vocals, while Ferrini is responsible for piano and orchestration.

I can also say that I like it, but I really can't say how much. I think I need to listen to this album another couple of dozen times to grasp that.

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