Fleshgod Apocalypse - KingFleshgod Apocalypse is well known in these parts for having produced a debut album that I worship and two albums since then that I don’t. Back in aught nine, the band released Oracles, which was a neoclassical death metal record unlike anything I had heard. The songs were intense, with intricate, artful, and beastly guitar work. Unfortunately, while songwriting was excellent, the drum sound on the record was a bit like reading a great Russian novel IN ALL CAPS; high art, ruined by someone’s inability to capitalize properly. 2011’s Agony was a better produced record than its predecessor in some ways, but the band undermined its own sound by moving all the interesting melodies and ‘riffing’ to the orchestras. When they returned to correct this problem on 2013’s Labyrinth, the master was so bad that all attempts to rectify earlier missteps were voided by the static of clipping master.

Twenty-sixteen sees these Italians back in action with their third Nuclear Blast release. And finally—FINALLY!—Nuclear Blast got them someone with the production chops to handle their sound. Jens Bogren helmed the mixing board for King and he does an excellent job of balancing the orchestral samples with the band’s acrobatic and brutal death metal riffing. Particularly of note as that for the first time in the band’s careers, the drums sound good.  Francesco Paoli’s drums are heavy, frantic, brutal, and blessedly well-mixed. Even more importantly, Bogren’s mix—and remember, he also produced Turisas’ last two records, both of which were loud, but well-balanced—finally manages to hit that perfect, nuanced middle ground where the sick riffing of the guitars and the interplay with the orchestras work.

King is a record that is defined by its songwriting. While every release the band has put together since Oracles has been a concept album, the total composition has never been as cohesive as King. From the introductory swells of “Marche Royale” and “In Aeternam,” it’s clear that Fleshgod Apocalypse has worked hard to make sure that each song is perfectly constructed. The amount of subtle variation—the kind one would expect of a band truly influenced by the greats of Viennese classical music—are frequently on display; the subtle time and tempo variations in “Healing through War,” the way the harpsichord, orchestra and the guitars play off each other on “The Fool”; the blend of riffy melodic death fretboard gymnastics with powerful choirs on “And the Vulture Beholds”; or the gorgeous use of Bordacchini’s voice on the moody “Syphilis.” And while I might be alone with this, I’ve loved Paolo Rossi’s clean vocals since their debut on Mafia back in 2010. Combined with the whole variety of sounds the band uses, King is far more than a neoclassical Hour of Penance; it’s a masterclass in blending death metal energy and power with sophisticated composition.

Fleshgod Apocalypse

Frequent readers will know that I don’t intend to insult the band when I say that they’re developing into a death metal [Luca Turilli’s] Rhapsody [of Fire]King is nothing less than operatic; epic, well-composed, dramatic. But each song stands on its own. While I haven’t been given lyrics or liner notes, the album sounds like a tale of woe and despotism with a story clocking in at an hour long. While most of the album is made up of chugging death metal riffs and Viennese classical-influenced riffing, the band uses a 2nd soprano (Veronica Bordacchini from unsigned In Tenebra) on “Paramour (Die Leidenschaft bringt Leiden),” “Gravity,” and “Syphilis.” At first I found the opera soprano jarring—”Paramour” isn’t an aria, exactly, but she carries the song with only a piano accompaniment—but her performance has developed into a key strength of this album to my ears. Her vocal timbre creates variation and tension in the storytelling, and she also voices correspondence between the paramour and the King in question. Voice overs? Why yes, Fleshgod and [Luca Turilli’s] Rhapsody [of Fire] do seem to share some ideas about drama and storytelling…

The old guitarist, songwriter, and producer from Iron Thrones one time told me that the goal of production is to be invisible—to get out of the way of the music. No band’s career and output has exemplified this more clearly than Fleshgod ApocalypseKing finally succeeds, allowing the listener to take the sound at face value and appreciate the deft songwriting and powerful vision behind the music. Getting Jens Bogren involved, in my opinion, was a sign that the band knows this, too. King is still heavily compressed—Bogren isn’t known for his full dynamic range masters after all—but the balance is good and it sounds good despite sacrificed fidelity.1 I’m extremely curious to hear how the vinyl master of this record sounds, because I anticipate that the fidelity of the orchestral samples and more dynamic range with the pianos and vocals could lead to a sound which is genuinely even more powerful than King already sounds. And ultimately, in Bogren’s deft hands King shines in a way that would never have been possible if it had been produced by most anyone else. This allows the 60 minutes of operatic death metal to pummel, twist, turn, and immerse the listener. And when finally given that opening Fleshgod Apocalypse did not miss the mark.


Rating: Excellent!
DR: 6 | Media Reviewed: 256 kb/s mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast Records [USA | EU]
Websites: facebook.com/fleshgodapocalypse
Releases Worldwide: February 5th, 2016

Show 1 footnote

  1. The band has moved from caps lock to small caps, sure. But still! Improvement!

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  • AndySynn

    Funnily enough I actually totally agree with the review, from an objective angle, even if the album as whole hasn’t really clicked with me (yet).

    But I am so, SO glad they got the production right this time around.

  • Kalsten

    Yep. I totally agree with this. It is the best album since their orchestrazination (this word should exist).

    I listened to it many times already, and I like every single part of it. To put in context, I listened to Labyrinth only once.

    Excellent review!

  • Heard the name before, but this is my first listen. Gotta say it’s badass. Going to be picking this up.

    • I say this as I hit the spoken word in the embedded. WHEN WILL IT STOP?!

      • Goldicot

        Spoken word sucks.

      • It’s over soon, good sir. But it works despite being a mild annoyance. Enough so that I sort of glossed over it in my remembrance of the record.

  • El_Cuervo

    While I don’t like it as much as you do, this is still a lot of fun. The Fool, Cold as Perfection and Syphilis are easy highlights for me.

    • El C, do you agree it’s better than the last one? Just curious.

      • El_Cuervo

        Ye definitely. Best work since Mafia.

        • We are in agreement.

          • El_Cuervo

            That’s because Alexs (Alexes?) are always right.

          • Duh. Yes of course.

  • Kevin Dillon

    Jens so strong.

  • Luke_22

    Yay finally the sonic frustrations have been rectified. Can’t wait to sink into this. Your mention of Iron Thrones reminded me of what a great and sadly short lived career they had.

    • The Stormin Mormon

      Visions of Light is such an underrated album

  • The Lascivious Snape

    Love the hell out of this record. Just solid songwriting where the clean passage don’t sound like cheesy also-rans but exuberant releases from the blistering heaviness.

    “Healing Through War” is my favorite. During the verses with those pounding triplets, the way the strings just barely poke through in between the vocal lines, like rays of light yearning to escape the darkness of hell, so taut and immediate-sounding.

    Definitely an early favorite this year.

    Edit: Will say, I don’t like the song “Paramour…” Not a fan of that style of vocal in general, and while it works in the context of the heavier tracks, just as a standalone little piece I skip it. Every time.

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    I love the footnotes on these reviews; have they always been around? And is ‘Banhammare’ a new thing?

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      My guess is that “Banhammare” is Swedish for… something.

      • Philip Pledger

        Considering that hammare is Swedish for hammer, my guess is that banhammare simply translates to banhammer.

      • AlphaBetaFoxface

        Can’t quite put my finger on it. I’m sure it is rooted deep in Swedish folklore.

    • André Snyde Lopes

      “Welcome to my banhammare… I think you’re gonna like it…”

    • I use footnotes because I think in paragraphs with footnotes. So I tend to keep my snotty comments relegated to the footnotes. Been doing that for a while.

      And yeah, I figured out you can change the name of the moderators. So I changed them to my Swenglish word for Banhammer, which also is a play on “Trollhammare,” a great song by Finntroll.

      • AlphaBetaFoxface

        The footnotes are brilliant. Always fun to be laughing even after the review has been completed. I’m a bit disappointed I didn’t notice until recently; snotty comments are welcome and invited in my book!

        I chuckled the first time ‘banhammare’ popped up on the site. The changes lately have been really fantastic, and i’m surprised you managed to come up with a heading more snobbish than snobbery itself. Ace stuff

  • Scionyde

    Hah! By rating the album “Excellent” I know that it’s a 4.5! You slipped up this time, AMG! :P

    • Sharp-Blunt Boy

      Bogus! The most appropriate score for one of the most bodacious Italian bands.

      (Although I have been known to walk through the Uffizi,
      stroking my chin, saying: “that Botticelli is definitely a 3.5”).

    • You wot m8?

      Isn’t it a 4.75 because of the exclamation point?

    • IBlackened

      There’s a 4.5 tag.

  • Pimpolho

    I loved all the tracks they have released so far, but i won’t listen to the leak! Am i evil? No i’m not. Fantastic review, by the way.

  • Hammersmith

    This is very good news! Been a fan since Oracles, but it is definitely their high point. Labyrinth I did enjoy though, despite the production.

  • El Lado Oscuro

    Overproduced, way too melodic, terribly recorded, too bombastic and lacks of real tech death… I really did not like it

  • mtlman1990

    Love it.

  • strychnin

    This sounds just great!!

  • Thatguy

    Thanks for a thoughtful review, AMG. I’ve been looking forward to this but wondering whether it would be worth it. Your review tells me it will be, and we don’t need numbers – or even the one word summary – to know that.

  • The Stormin Mormon

    This sounds promising! Good to hear that Fleshgod is back in form

  • Reese Burns

    Not a fan of the female vocals, though the rest is wickedly brilliant.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    I thought Madam X may have done this.
    Nice review AMG, Very keen to dig into this one!

  • Zadion

    That embedded track sounds SO GOOD compared to their backlog. I’ve always wanted to really like this band but just come away “sort of” liking them because their drums ruined the music for me (yes, even Oracles). But man, that embedded track reinvigorated my interest in the band. Your review seems spot on and I am looking forward to this!

  • Rob

    I’ll be seeing them this coming Monday…fresh off 70,000 the tons of metal cruise with Carach Angren. I’m pretty fuckin stoked. I think they tour with Veronica Bordacchini, I’m especially excited to hear that aspect of their sound live. Should be an outstanding show.

  • Jaba

    If I’m not mistaken Borgen was also responsible for Haken’s The Mountain, which has a truly amazing vinyl master.

    • But a kind of terrible CD master. :

      • Jaba

        I don’t know…it’ loud, but the mix itself is well balanced in my opinion. I feel the same about pretty much everything he produced. I like his sound, deal with it ;)

        • It’s loud but well-balanced, I agree. The loudness works in some contexts better than others. The last Enslaved and Borknagar records were both disappointments. But he did awesome work with Turisas and Fleshgod (and Haken).

          • Jaba

            Uhm, I didn’t know that he worked on Winter Thrice. At least there is some low-end there from the bass guitar (finally). I am tempted to buy it on vinyl. Would be nice to know whether it has more dynamics. If it’s anything like The Mountain, then it’s a must for me! :) Now let me check that Turisas record…

          • Am I wrong? I thought he was involved…

          • Jaba

            He was, mixing and mastering.

          • tomasjacobi

            I own quite a few vinyl LP’s mastered by Bogren and they all sound like they were mastered with more dynamics than the CD/digital release. I was going to buy the vinyl of “King” on that account, but I just found out that it’s released by Cargo Records who in their wisdom decided to cramp the whole 57 minutes spectacle onto a single LP. I doubt that’s a good idea…

  • Óðinn

    Hmm…I’m going to say…no.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    Good god almighty I was hyped for this but now I am foaming at the mouth for this record.

    I’m still hoping they will release a full dynamic range version of all their discography down the line.

  • madhare

    Operatic and bombastic metal is a curious thing. Some bands can make it work while others can’t. And I don’t really know why. It’s like there’s a fine line between awesomeness and just cheesy pretentiousness.

    Fleshgod Apocalypse has never clicked for me, and judging by the embedded track this won’t either. On the other hand, Rhapsody doesn’t work for me either. It seems that – for me – these bands just are on the wrong side of that cheese divider.

    • zombieisdead

      I think the same too.

  • Guillotine of Papal Crowns

    -Your highness, you could use a haircut… And there is a new band of bards as per requested in the Grand Salon.
    -It´ll be a jolly good show.

  • Andrés Pintos Nocerino

    5.0

    • Nah. 7th Son of a 7th Son is a 5.0. This is excellent, though.

  • Dethjesta

    Wow, It’s only 3rd Feb and I may already have my record of the month.
    Although, the new Omnium Gatherum record is out later this month and Jukka says it’s the best yet (he wouldn’t lie).

    • AndySynn

      The two songs they’ve released thus far have been almost PAINFULLY underwhelming… so I have my doubts about that I’m afraid!

      • El_Cuervo

        Do you think so? I LOVE Frontiers.

        • AndySynn

          Yeah, unfortunately. And I am a BIG fan of the band. Redshift through Beyond was just a fantastic run of albums.

          But “Frontiers” just sounds so lacklustre to me… there’s no flow to it, and the chorus just lacks something, when it’s clearly meant to be epic akin to the best of Shadows/Beyond. The whole track almost sounds like the band are unconsciously parodying themselves.

          The outro solo is cool though, and I like the verse riff… but, yeah, really not a good start in my opinion.

        • Hammersmith

          Frontiers is the bomb. Skyline was kind of underwhelming though.

      • Dethjesta

        I also like Frontiers – It sounds much like a continuation of Beyond to me.

  • Scourge

    Preordered this weeks ago then did some research (and by research I mean read some snarky comments about the band) because I’ve never listened to them, then promptly cancelled my preorder. I preordered it again yesterday after reading this review. Thanks AMG!

  • One More Thing

    I need to hear the full album but I’m still not digging this album as much as Labyrinth. The Fool is a really, really good song but the other two that I’ve heard (the embedded track and Gravity) haven’t impressed me at all. It was a good review but I’m not sure that I’m sold on the rating given what I’ve heard thus far.

    • The album is definitely one where flow is more important than the songs. I think it’s as a whole that it works, not really about individual tracks (though, I think they’re all good, too).

  • Wow, this is good!

  • Krzystov

    Never really cared for this band much, but that song, “The Fool.” Not bad. Not bad at all. And I completely agree with the production. “Operatic death metal.” Who would have thought?

  • Cedric D

    I loved Oracles (and Mafia) but found Agony completely unlistenable. Labyrinth wasn’t much better. Glad to hear they’ve got a decent production this time around, though my issues were as much with their musical direction as with the production.

  • Rob

    So I’m just going to say, Paramour is SUBLIME. It’s a really fucking tasty interlude into the album’s proceedings and I hope they include it live. Also, I think Fleshgod suffer from a self-inflicted curse. Their writing is obviously catchy and innovative within their “subgenre” and they nail the sound they’re going for, but capturing it on disc is going to be eternally elusive. It HAS to be loud, and it HAS to have dynamic range.

    This album does certainly approach that necessary range…I heard several moments that let the piano and orchestrations shine above the grinding (which is always impressive, I don’t think they are trying to prove how Br00tal they are anymore) and the snare has a satisfying snap to accompany the clarity of the vocals. It’s a great balance, but I don’t think It’ll ever sound perfect to the discerning ear. Septic flesh does an outstanding job of balancing the loud with the orchestration, but they also have a fair amount more of “softer” moments. Fleshgod is relentless, There are a great many relentlessly brutal bands, but I commend this one for being tasteful and surprising about it, and having an innovative approach.

    Long story short, this band’s catalogue has a handful of really standout songs, but this entire album has in its details to warrant repeat listens. It does feel a tad condensed (and the spoken word bits can use some polishing) but enough of this band’s signature sound weaves throughout the album to garner new fans and keep long-timers double bass tapping their brake pedals and punching windshields in addition to nodding in approval and playing for their grandparents raised on opera and classical music.

  • Here’s Johnny

    Bought the album, will download the FLAC when I can. Question, do you review the production and DR with the 256k MP3? The worse the quality, the more compressed it sounds, especially guitars. I think the production sounds fantastic.

    Half way through and it is going to be top 10 album of the year contender, for sure. Will be back once listened to it all.

    • Actually, that’s not really true. DR on a 256 kb/s does not significantly differ from a lossless file (trust me, I’ve compared a lot of them). And the ear can’t actually hear any noticeable differences between a 256 kb/s mp3 and a FLAC. That’s been reproduced a lot of times in studies.

      Also, the production sounds very good. My issue with the production is that the dynamic range compression robs both the orchestral samples and the drums (especially) of their full sound.

      • Here’s Johnny

        Really? Maybe i just have a good ear because i can defintely tell the difference in quality, really noticeable on the guitars/drums(they sound more squashed each time it goes down in kb/s). Cant tell the difference right away with Megadeth 320k and the Flac.

        Those studies are not set in stone though, its a topic nobody can agree on it seems.

        The production still suffers from the usual modern woes, too loud and as you said the samples/drums can get lost. However, it is a massive step forward for Fleshgod for sure.

        • The last time I looked, the studies that had been done had shown that people can’t tell the difference. Have you ever done double-blind studies to check? Because we often times trick ourselves into thinking we can tell the difference when we can’t.

          • Here’s Johnny

            It depends what you are listening too. Rap music? Can tell no difference between 320/FLAC, metal though? Especially bands like Dimmu with there 100’s of tracks, yeah you can tell the difference.

          • Do the test. Then come back to me. I think just the opposite after doing a lot of tests myself: You are going to be surprised how much little difference there really is. Try it!

          • Here’s Johnny

            I did try Fleshgod and it is difficult to hear a big difference but as mentioned above the mastering is the problem with a lot of these albums. When more care is taken with the master, you can hear subtle differences, sometimes big differences.

            FLAC also seems more tolerable at louder volumes, prolonged listening. Try Nile’s recent album, the FLAC is so much better. Again though a lot of this is subjective, sometimes i tell a big difference in listening quality on some albums others i dont. 320k is fine but start to decrease then it is noticeable on almost every album. I’m trying to replace all my older albums into 320k.

          • That’s not MP3 compression HJ. That has to do with Fletcher Munson. Read my article “Level Matching Your Life” for a full explanation. If you use ReplayGain with both FLAC and MP3 you’ll see that both formats sound like crap at low volume levels for the type of music we listen to, i.e. it has nothing to do with the format but more so on how our ears respond to loudness and intensity. Again, the aforementioned article explains it in great detail.

          • I guess I’d look to Alex’s responses. He’s got his nose in the science way more than I do, and he says that you can’t.

        • Oh, also, you’re likely not going to hear it in the guitars at all. You’ll hear it in the drums, bass, and vocals when it’s over-compressed. But again, dynamic range compression is not the same as file compression. File compression takes out inaudible parts of the spectrum, whereas dynamic range compression does something different.

          • Here’s Johnny

            Well yeah didn’t mean DR explicitly but when the file is compressed i can definitely hear it. I listen to music in headphones a lot, plus have a great setup at home. Most people wouldnt notice the difference much at all.

          • HJ, do this: Open foobar2k use the ABX plugin. Load a 320K MP3 of the new FG record and the FLAC version. Take the test. Report back your results.

            My setup at home isn’t too shabby either and I will be the first person to tell you that with this level of DRC and brickwall limiting, I probably couldn’t tell the difference between the FLAC and MP3. Btw, you are using ReplayGain to make sure that you are listening to the FLAC and MP3 files at the same level of loudness, right? RIGHT? :-)

            Though I agree this is a big step up in production for FGA, the record still suffers from Loudness War style mastering. Put simply, FGA went from God Awful to Mediocre at Best. YMMV.

          • Here’s Johnny

            I’m sure i have done that test a long while back.

            I think the recent album i heard a big difference was Abbath, there is a sure fire difference between the 320k and the FLAC. The 320k just being a bit muddier but still perfectly listenable.

            I do agree that most albums you can barely tell the difference and 320k is fine but if they have been very careful with the mastering then you will be able to tell between the 320/FLAC. It is very noticeable.

            I will have to get Fleshgod on FLAC see what it is like and report back. The album is brilliant by the way.

      • mtlman1990

        I can differentiate between compressed 256 kb/s and FLAC easily. Especially with good speakers at higher db SPL. Not only does it compress the audio, it destroys the subtleties of the envelope created by the instruments and microphones.

        • Science says you can’t, bro.

          • mtlman1990

            Science says you can. We did a abx test in college.

          • Actually no, science says you can’t the overwhelming majority of times. This has been proven time and time again which is why MP3 is such a miracle of modern science.

            ABX is not enough. You need DBT. But even so, I challenge you to use foobar2k’s ABX tester and see how you do. Try it 20 times.

            If you look at the history of MP3 you’ll note that the engineering working group that developed the spec had artists, musicians, composers, as well as scientists and engineers all subject to DBTs over a period of months in order to perfect the pscyhoacoustic model. It turned that statistically speaking, at the end of development, it was nearly impossible to tell the difference between high-quality MP3 and CD. I say nearly because MP3 is not perfect and there are corner cases where the model clearly shows differences – but you have to be TRAINED to notice it. It has nothing to do with golden ears.

            The truth of the matter is, at these compression levels, I find it VERY hard to believe that would be able to tell the difference at the end of the day.

            I agree with Here’s Johnny that this record is a big step up in production quality from previous FG records – but it is still suffering badly from Loudness War style mastering.

          • mtlman1990

            256 kbps is not high quality. Also, I have been trained to notice. Usually it is the noise that I pick up on.

          • 256kbps is not high quality, true. But a lot of times it’s good enough for smashed masters.

            What noise are you referring too exactly out of curiosity?

          • mtlman1990

            You also have to take into account the fact that not everyone has the same hearing response .

      • Vice-President of Hell

        \\And the ear can’t actually hear any noticeable differences between a 256 kb/s mp3 and a FLAC. That’s been reproduced a lot of times in studies.\

        when the main guy of a site write words like this – i know that the site is alright

    • Pedro Morini Mietto

      My god, this topic about DR, mastering, MP3 vs FLAC is totally out of my league, and the more I read it, the more I feel like I don’t know how to listen to music. Is this true?

      I mean, should I delve into all this technical stuff to REALLY enjoy everything a top-notch record has to offer?

      BTW, I’m an electrical engineer, so I’m not really bothered with technical stuff, I’m just annoyed by this feeling that I’m missing something.

  • brutal_sushi

    Got my hands on it today. Sounds fucking massive! Loving this release a lot.

  • ben

    So pleased with this release. They finally got the sound they were going for right. I enjoyed labyrinth and Agony, but the production quality was horrible, the song structures also lacked dynamics, and the albums just came across as reaching for a level of quality that they weren’t able to achieve. This on the other hand, is perfection. They nailed it.

  • Jae_Aytch

    I bought this album last Friday from Amazon as an MP3 download. Has anyone else noticed that the transition between “Marche Royale” and “In Aeternum” is strange? It seems like there should be a gapless transition but there is a momentary lurch between the tracks that bugs me.

    • Danny Gately

      Because they and the album were/was meant to be listened to on CD or vinyl. They seamlessly flow together but I know what you’re talking about as I also bought the iTunes digital download.

      • Jae_Aytch

        I had them send a cd and the cut was bad there too. Probably an error in the master is my guess.

  • Bats

    The album is amaxing but Paramour is just a joy to hear

  • tomasjacobi

    I’m not doubting whether you can put 57 minutes on an LP and make it listenable, I just think it’ll make this very sprawling, orchestral record sound less than great, which is a shame. So I definitely won’t buy it.
    About Bogren (or at least his Fascination Street Studio) mastering vinyl. Off the top of my head I can think of:
    Enslaved “Riitiir”
    Enslaved “In Times”. (I don’t like this record and I regret pre-ordering it, but the vinyl DOES sound better than the digital version.)
    Leprous “The Congregation”
    Symphony X “Underworld”
    Moonspell “Extinct”
    Borknager “Winter Thrice”
    Amorphis “Under the Red Cloud”
    Avatarium “The Girl with the Raven Mask”

    • Jaba

      Maybe you are right. Sadly there is only one way to find out.
      Thanks for the list, I also have that Leprous album (although I hear no significant difference between the vinyl and the digital master), and want to buy ‘Winter Thrice’ and ‘Under The Red Cloud’.

  • CyberJesus

    This is a massive step up from Labyrinth especially in terms of the production! I think Labyrinth deserves a remaster.

  • Fuzzybunny

    Finally got around to buying this, gotta say this is turning out to be a lovely year for metal! (at least my taste!)

  • Christian

    and know what? Vinyl sound is far beyond excellent. So brutal and dry, but still beautiful. Everytime I forget why thsi was my Album of the year, I close my eyes for an hour to listen to the Vinyl. Pure Happiness :D