Fleshgod Apocalypse exists for a variety of reasons. One, this Italian metal act remains one of the most popular acts in the very niche genre of symphonic death. Two, Fleshgod Apocalypse serves as a constant reminder that Italy has more metal acts than just Rhapsody of Fire. Three, this band has been created to confuse people that think classical music and metal have anything to do with each other even more. No, Vivaldi was not metal before metal existed. Put down the vaporizer and look into my eyes.
Since 2009, Fleshgod Apocalypse has made an impressive impression upon the metal landscape with their near unique brand of calligraphic death metal. Imagine if every other death metal was chicken scratch written with crayon on a table cloth and Fleshgod Apocalypse was flourished script in fine ink on artisan parchment. That is right, elegant, fancy, and just as hard to read. Though their 2009 release, Oracles, was a success it was not until their 2010 release Agony with the music video for “The Forsaking” that the proverbial party got into full swing. At this moment in our timeline, the party has kicked into its peak and guests are starting to throw things through the windows.
Labyrinth is the third proper full length album from Fleshgod Apocalypse and follows the band’s obsession with themes and concepts. While Agony had a very nice naming convention with their songs, Labyrinth pulls out all the stops and presents a record about the Greek maze myth. Yes, this the Labyrinth at Knossos where the myth with the Minotaur originated. Yes, there will be horns at one point in this record. Yes, we are all wearing togas. It is this dedication to concept that makes Fleshgod Apocalypse somewhat charming as well as somewhat convoluted.
Labyrinth follows in the tradition of Agony by filling the space with as many things as it can, all at once. While the choir sings in the front, I want the string section in the back and the three other types of vocals over here, and right in the center I want the relentless drums. Upon initial listening, the whole formula feels flushed with seemingly needless material. True, I guess this whole complexity sort of fits into the maze concept but my head is starting to swirl. Labyrinth lacks the clarity heard in Agony and that seems to be one of the largest criticisms attached to this record. The music literally assaults the listener with clubs and does not stop until they have finished. At times, I was ready to give up on Fleshgod Apocalypse, and the possibly of symphonic death, then I sort of got it.
I did not “get” Labyrinth until the very end, particularity with everything that came after midway through the record. From the very excellent “Fall of Asterion,” to the piano closer, which also serves as the title track, the back half of Labyrinth offers much more reasonable compositions than whatever dominates the front. The frenetic technical style that is rooted in the band’s history is exquisite in “Under Black Sails” and the assault and quiet template works with the combination of “Prologue” and “Epilogue.” It is not until the second half that clarity, in which things make sense, really puts the first half in context. If you can, listen to this record backwards.
Fleshgod Apocalypse has a style that works very well. Not wanting to subtly dance around anything, the band is very good as unleashing everything at once. Some of the first half material, especially “Elegy,” is a blinding whirlwind of drums, operatic screams, and growling vocals. It works very well. Though I may be blurry eyed afterwards and slightly nauseous, the template of “pull all of the levers at once” is effective when reasoned and processed correctly. Though everything may just sound like needless noise at the beginning, there is structure in it, and with some exceptions and the right type of umbrella, it all works sort of well with each other.
Labyrinth has its successes, though it lacks the immediate surprise that hallmarked Agony. There are few that will be surprised who have heard Fleshgod Apocalypse before. With that being said, Labyrinth is a decent enough record for the Fall. Despite the first half being an avalanche and some chunky guitar riffs in “Minotaur,” the record matures with time and finishes stronger than it began. Hell, even writing this review I started to enjoy it more. I mean, I need to take some Ibuprofen right now but I am still enjoying myself. Just give me a moment, I just need to lay down in this quiet room for a bit.
Released: August 16th, 2013
Label: Nuclear Blast
Score: 5/9 Hammers