(This is DGR’s review of the new album by the Italian juggernauts Fleshgod Apocalypse, which will be released on May 24th via Nuclear Blast Records.)
At this point in their career every Fleshgod Apocalypse release has moved beyond mere album and into ‘spectacle’ territory, and their newest record, Veleno, proves no different. To repeat a point we’ve been guilty of raising a couple of times now, Fleshgod Apocalypse have made a career out of being the ‘most’. Oracles was their most straightforward brutal death disc — though it’s hard to deny the sheer power in the opening song “In Honour Of Reason” as it transitions from orchestral piece into death metal hurricane. Agony had the most bombast in terms of speed, Labyrinth tried to be the most ‘everything’ and wound up being the loudest amongst the bands discography, and — with Veleno included — King was probably the most orchestral the band have ever become to date.
But, if Veleno follows suit with its predecessors, where does that leave it within a collective that already defines nearly every element of the Fleshgod Apocalypse sound? Well, that’s the interesting part, because when you really nail it down, Veleno could be best described as Fleshgod Apocalypse‘s most carefully crafted spectacle to date.
Veleno is an interesting creature. It tries to accomplish a lot while at the same time making valiant attempts to avoid the usual Fleshgod Apocalypse tropes. To say that that the crew manning the good ship Fleshgod have developed a comfort zone in their branch of opera-infused death metal would be to put it politely, and it seems on Veleno that the group are aware of that, and tried to move outside those boundaries as much as possible.
Even with the lineup shifting between King and Veleno, there is still a recognizable core. There will still be one song early on in the album that is absolutely relentless and will kick you in the head. Fleshgod Apocalypse will still remain remarkably fast, trading on bombast sometimes to make up for the occasional faceless bout of ferocity. With Veleno though, the moments of trading on constant and ceaseless blasting have been leavened, as the group’s career has also involved learning how to reign it in a bit. Having found a very close equilibrium on King, they continue to maintain it on Veleno.
There is a sense of immediacy in the opening salvo. Veleno just starts. No intro track, no build up, no slow winding or fade-in of the instrumentation. It is just a quick breath and boom, the whole of the band is present in the ‘let there be light’ moment that is the opening segment of “Fury”. In fact, the first few songs up until Veleno’s first segue in “The Praying Mantis Strategy” are all delivered in a breathless and blast-heavy tempo — including the album’s first-released single “Sugar”.
“Fury” is the one that lays the initial foundation for those first few songs, reigning in the orchestral front and allowing Francesco Ferrini to morph from manic orchestra director and into something more like a madman pianist for the first few songs. While the brass segment may have been scaled back in the opening salvo, Veleno announces early that much of its bombast will be coming from choral stings alongside the usual Fleshgod Apocalypse weaponry, and “Fury” is a chief example of that, its punchier elements often amplified by a hammering choral segment on each following hit.
While much has already been said about the relentless nature of “Sugar”, it still remains an early album highlight, though the frenetic nature of its immediate predecessor, the slightly folk-metal-leaning “Carnivorous Lamb”, makes it more fun to dissect, as it changes tempos rather suddenly and at the drop of a hat. It’s also the first time bassist Paolo Rossi gets to break out the unhinged clean singing — which pops up rather sparsely throughout Veleno, but is very concentrated in the segments when it appears. You either get all of it, or none. He even takes the lead on the latter-half of “Absinthe”, which is one of the more interesting tracks in a back bit that’s more scattered in its pacing.
It is also interesting to hear the Fleshgod team throw caution to the wind a bit and make some true ventures outside of the death metal pyrotechnic-realm that is their comfort zone. “Pissing On The Score”, for instance, is one of the more traditionally catchy songs on the disc, where the orchestration provides the base melody but otherwise takes a backseat in favor of a guitar rhythm that would be just as comfortably at home in a melo-death two-step writing style as it is here. “Pissing On The Score” feels manic but is often driven forward by its chorus section, and its fairly conventional catchiness stands in pretty sharp contrast to its more bombastic predecessors in “Sugar” and “Absinthe”, or the moodier calm of the bass-guitar-driven moments of the “Mantis” follower, “Monnalisa”.
Veronica Bordacchini at this point has become one of the best weapons in the Fleshgod Apocalypse arsenal, having taken the lead on a small handful of songs for a few albums now. Veleno gives her the spotlight for much of “The Day We’ll Be Gone”, which sees her trading off with lead vocalist/guitarist Francesco Paoli, though the ratio of the two breaks down to a pretty neat 60/40 on that front. It’s a slower song on an album that closes out with slower tracks in the second half, as “The Day We’ll Be Gone” is followed by the ambitious, almost-eight minutes of “Embrace The Oblivion” before that segues into the traditional final song of the album, a piano instrumental bearing the album’s name.
Where Veleno merits its ‘carefully crafted’ descriptor — as referenced in the olden days of the intro of this review — is that whether the band are playing to their conventional strengths or stretching a bit, there is such a degree of overall polish applied to it that none of it feels all that wild. Whatever happens on Veleno sounds like Fleshgod meant for it to happen. There are no lucky accidents, or moments when the band seem to have captured lightning in a bottle. Every idea within Veleno’s track list feels like one that went through multiple rounds of forging until it was honed and sharp.
While parts of Veleno can feel truly reactive to how the band’s career has gone thus far, there’s just as much craftsmanship being applied to each song that you get the sense early on that the work on Veleno was almost ceaseless once it began. The result is a sense that Veleno may be one of the band’s most approachable records so far, with enough catchy hooks within it and enough paring back of the bombast that each moment when the band choose to overwhelm their listeners and smash them into oblivion is matched by a moment of quiet, especially in the case of the afore-mentioned “Monnalisa”, which is actually something of a ‘calm’ song.
Despite some lineup shifting in between discs, Fleshgod Apocalypse have responded with an album that is just as dynamic as the rest of their discography, even if the orchestral sections find themselves taking a bit of a breather.