His approach was met with the faint indiscernible tumult of the rhythmic section pulsating beneath his feet. Each step stirred a wisp of dust that danced around his time-worn black boots, coming to rest in the wake of a distant but rising crescendo. He had trod this path many times before; it was as familiar to him as the labyrinth of streets that twisted and vexed throughout the Eternal City, Rome. As he ascended the steps to the amphitheater, he became acutely aware that this day was unlike any other. The usual mellifluous sounds that reverberated throughout the palatial antechamber of the Teatro Argentina were replaced with a dysphoria and malaise that infected every pore, enveloping his very being. His steady, confident gait immediately gave way to sheer consternation just as the shrill, maniacal intonation of a mezzo-soprano reached its climax. His pulse quickened as he peered up at the prodigious door looming before him; its ornamental complexity writhing and undulating to the malevolent-yet-exotic soundscape from behind. Anxiously, he reached out for the door. Peering in, he was instantly struck by an impetuous wind, carrying with it the paralyzing malodor of carnality. The door, ripped violently from his weary grasp, was now a distant memory as it hurdled back whence he came. In its place was a vision unlike anything he had seen before; a ubiquitous orgy of spastic, contorted, convulsing bodies, all surging to the sonorous timbre of iniquity and deviance arising from the distant stage, now transformed into a pulpit for the volatile, anomalous histrionics of the evening's performance. Unable to avert his gaze from centre-stage, he felt his inhibitions acquiesce to this imposing maleficence. The chaos consumed him; compelling him ever-forward with its anesthetic-like assuage and universality. With seduction as his guide, he became transfixed by the tearing of flesh, ripping of sinew, and crack of ribcages emanating from beneath boot; their cries of agony stifled by the tempestuous symphony now before him. Standing there, unveiled, both in body and soul, the soft, tranquil vibrations of a pianoforte interlude resonated through him, the aria accompaniment to his life's end. With a devious grin, the demented conductor, guitar in hand, looked out in pleasure at all he and his cohorts had wrought... just another night at the symphony.
The demented conductor is none other than Tommaso Riccardi, lead vocalist and guitarist of Italian technical death metallers FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE. I immediately asked Tommaso to weigh in on the symphonic, classical, and orchestral leanings so inherent to his bands sound, visuals (which inspired my fictional account of a night at a Fleshgod symphony outlined above), and success. Has the recent decline in the relevance of pomp and circumstance-infused metal made popular by the DIMMU BORGIRs and CRADLE OF FILTHs of the world effected their vision?
"I think what really works is when you have a clear vision and idea, something that is personal and passionate." explains Tommaso. "Regardless of the style, people will relate to this passion... they will feel it. There definitely are trends in music that come and go, but whose influence can live on within the context of other bands and genres. This isn't to say we don't see our fair share of criticism. Really, it all comes down to the evolution of this style of music. On one hand, we have these sweeping orchestral parts, and on the other hand, we have a very Americanized death metal sound at our core. This is particularly evident with the rhythmic section, where we are much more extreme than the orchestral black metal bands. That said, we do share similarities as it relates to the melodies and harmonies, which are reminiscent of the European school of metal."
One listen to the band's latest album, Labyrinth, released on August 16th in Europe and August 20th in North America, via Nuclear Blast, and it's quite evident that Fleshgod have ramped up the extremity of their death metal elements. At the same time, they've taken the orchestral components to a new level, adding a touch of the melodramatic, typically found in centuries old grand operas.
"Labyrinth is definitely more operatic, especially considering the usage of the female vocals," confirms Tommaso. "We still have Paolo (Rossi - bass guitar/clean vocals) lending his talents to the compositions, but the duo of both female and male vocals just makes the songs that much more massive and classically operatic - but never at the expense of extremity."
Like some of the greatest Italian classical eras to have existed - such as Plainsong, Trecento, Secular, The Renaissance, and the Seventeenth Century - their composers sometimes spent decades conceiving their master works, often at the expense of madness, succumbing to their work. Labyrinth, a labour of love, is certainly madness personified, but it's composers are fairing surprisingly well.
"We started working on this album around September/October 2012. We hit the studio around the end of February for about a month and half. Towards the end of the recording, we had a tour commitment with Septic Flesh, so we ended up coming back from the tour to finish up the recording and perfect things. In total, we spent about eight months from start to finish on Labyrinth. Obviously, the composition process starts in pre-production, before the recording, but we try to continue that creative process right into the recording phase. There are elements that often need to be adjusted, particularly with the lyrics and how they are positioned within the structures of the songs. It's also important to hear the songs within the context of the studio recording, and overall sound, which could also dictate how certain arrangements are constructed.
With such a diverse and unique musical ethos, I broach Tommaso about Fleshgod's ability to appeal to any touring lineup or festival.
"We play with very extreme metal bands such as SUFFOCATION and festivals with band's like CANNIBAL CORPSE, where we compliment each other perfectly. On the flipside, we are here tonight playing with WINTERSUN, who are quite melodic, but still extreme in their own right. Even if on the surface we aren't perfectly suited for a particular tour, our symphonic elements are such that they appeal to those who wouldn't normally listen to Fleshgod. Hopefully in the process we gain some new fans and appreciation."
Visually, Fleshgod's show is a stunning example of extremity and complexity, with an underlying tone of thespian tragedy and dark, dramatic art. From the moody lighting, to the tattered sartorial workmanship hanging from their earthly tenements, the importance of aesthetics is immediately apparent, but this never takes a back seat to the music. As much as we all would love to see the boys backed-up by a real, honest-to-goodness orchestra-of-evil, at this point in their career, the band is content to hone their skills as a six-piece onstage, with aspirations for grander schemes in the near future
"Yes, right now, for obvious reasons we could never have all those instruments onstage with us," says Tommaso with a hint of disappointment. "But, we certainly try to bring as much life to the songs as possible when performing live. All the piano pieces, clean vocals, and even some of Francesco's lead strings are played completely live. We spend a lot of time practising before a tour to ensure that we represent our recorded music in the best possible way for the fans. It would be a dream come true to play with an orchestra, such as Dimmu Borgir have done, but it's still not possible at this time. We are still growing as a band and musicians, so to rush into something like this would not be ideal. It should feel right. When it does feel right, we are open to exploring the amazing possibilities that could come out of such a collaboration."
Labyrinth is available now worldwide through Nuclear Blast.
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