Fleshgod Apocalypse // Labyrinth 
Rating: 3.0/5.0 — Trapped in a Labyrinth of Production
Label: Nuclear Blast [ US | EU ]
Websites: fleshgodapocalypse.com | facebook.com/fleshgodapocalypse
Release Dates: EU: 2013.08.16 | UK: 2013.08.19 | US: 08.20.2013

Fleshgod Apocalypse - LabyrinthOne of the mightiest debut records of all time belongs to Italy’s Fleshgod ApocalypseOracles, as the record was entitled, is quite possibly one of the most addictive, interesting, and—dare I say—fun death metal records I own. Made up of members of Hour of Penance and other smaller-time Italian acts1Fleshgod‘s take on technical death metal was fresh. Instead of drawing from the legacy of Death and American jazz-influenced technical death metal, Oracles was intricately written neo-baroque technical death metal. It drew on the Italian culture of orchestral music, but it did it all to heinously replaced (but well-played) drums. I hadn’t known it at the time, but this is what I always wanted from a technical death metal band and Oracles became one of my favorite records of 2009.

After a good follow-up EP entitled Mafia, which introduced clean vocals into the mix for the first time, the Fleshgod struck back with 2011′s Agony, a record I enjoyed at the time, but have mixed feelings about. While the rest of the press in the world seemed to be doing cartwheels because Fleshgod had hopped the orchestral death metal bandwagon, overlooked was that the guitars had taken a backseat to the over-the-top orchestrations. The novelty of the writing had lost its subtlety. What made Oracles brilliant, was missing. Still, musically the vision of the band was very appealing. And it was tough for me to dislike Agony despite the movement away from what I appreciated about the band’s earliest material. I probably gave the record a higher rating than it deserved—as I have seldom returned to it since it was released—but its vision was clear and successfully executed, with sharp songs and a well-differentiated division of labor between the guitars and the orchestra.

Labyrinth is 2013′s incarnation of Fleshgod‘s neo-classical death metal. Once again, Labyrinth is not a clone of the band’s previous work, but instead it seems to be Fleshgod‘s attempt to reach a happy medium between Agony and Oracles, musically. This is accomplished by pushing much of the classical noodling—the thing that got them called ‘technical’ from the beginning, a thing they probably should not have been called on Agony—back to the guitars. This is obvious from the opening notes of “Elegy,” for example, where the orchestra carries the melody, but instead of chugging along as they did on Agony, the guitars pick up the harmonies and even carry the arpeggiation on guitar 1 and then guitar 2. The first 45 seconds of the immense “Warpledge,” also show the guitars retaking their position in the “technical” part of the tech death mantra that the band is frequently accused of. This welcome return to the riffing of Oracles definitely excites the senses, and gives the band back a bit of something that was missing—the intro to “The Fall of Asterion” exemplifies this perfectly, while “Under Black Sails” features some of the band’s most interesting guitar work to-date.

Fleshgod Apocalypse 2013

Unlike Oracles, however, Labyrinth is essentially an opera in scope. Building on the direction from AgonyLabyrinth feels like a concept record—none of the songs quite stand out exactly on their own. Instead, the flow of the music ends up outweighing the importance of individual tracks; this gives off a feeling that Labyrinth is possibly also fairly uniform in its writing, as well. Despite being such a vibrant and creative endeavor, things sound about as gray as the album cover looks at times. The one song that really stands out on its own is “Epilogue,” which slows it down and uses the female operatic vocals of Veronic Bordacchini to immense success. Here, the mid-paced feel is used to dramatic effect, before the album launches back into the final three songs—which maintain the ’90s-style brutality blast assault.   

Labyrinth‘s desire to balance the orchestra with the guitars (ostensibly the right decision, in my opinion)—and all of this at Nuclear Blast Approved™ levels of compression—is partially what makes the sound profile here feel monotonous. The music itself vibrates with interesting ideas and fascinating melodies. However, with the drums heavily replaced—a shotgun blast for every hit—and high in the mix, the amount of room that’s left for the orchestral arrangements and the suddenly-important-again guitars, doesn’t leave mixer/masterer Saul Morabito much room to work. This pushes everything into a single range, which makes what is ostensibly hugely dynamic and fascinating music sound flat and oddly lacking in intensity. I’ve listened to this record a dozen times, and I always come away finding bits and pieces that I really love, but feeling like the whole is somehow deficient. I can’t place this at anyone’s feet but Morabito’s. Listened to through good speakers, the nuances become more apparent—but so to does the overmastering and intense flatness of the sound, and worst-of-all: the peaking. Pianos cause things to peak. Guitars cause things to peak. And instead of being powerful, the explosion at the beginning of “Minotaur (The Wrath of Poseidon)” actually just causes everything to fuzz out—because it’s simply impossible to fit anything louder onto the track.

Labyrinth is everything I should have wanted, but it is trammelled by a vision that isn’t being handled properly in the studio. That said, it has continued to grow on me (starting out at a solid 2.0/5.0 when I first heard it), but it has only been with deep, detailed listens that appreciate precisely the changes that have occurred and how the music is written that I have been able to appreciate the album for what it is. The vocal performances are all excellent. The musical performances are superb; drop the orchestras a bit back or the guitars a bit back, and everything sounds great. The songwriting is intense, and in the band’s obviously very capable hands, Labyrinth has all the makings of an excellent record—the back half is especially well-written. It’s a shame that I’ve had to work so hard to figure that all out…

Show 1 footnote

  1. Thus gaining them the title “That Hour of Penance band” when I talked with Trevor from The Black Dahlia Murder about them back in 2009.

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  • Jeremy Brookley

    Man, you nailed it right on the head. I don’t think there’s anything I could add to that analysis. Thanks a lot for the awesome reviews!

  • HohenheimOL

    This is destined to join what is becoming a sizeable number of albums which I’m not even going to bother listening to until I can get them uncompressed. Which, by the way, you totally can.

    • http://www.angrymetalguy.com Angry Metal Guy

      As in: we can get them for public consumption? Or you mean: let’s hope there’s going to be a major remastering of all the metal produced in the ’00s?

      • Dave

        Unless you’re talking about vinyl, this thing can’t be salvaged. Labyrinth is DR3, which in my book qualifies as unlistenable. With the exception of Oracles, the others are all just as bad btw. – Dave@Metal-Fi

      • HohenheimOL

        Not sure, actually. SWIM keeps acquiring 24/96 audio files online through unnamed resources which claim to be entirely uncompressed. Can’t say I’m certain either way, but they sound almost totally uncompressed to me.

        • McBasstard

          This is interesting. SWIM is a release group? Legal?

          • HohenheimOL

            Someone
            Who
            Isn’t
            Me

            ~

  • Arjan Zwamborn

    I first met Fleshgod when they’ve released Agony, so maybe that’s why this album clicks even better with me; for me this is definitely a solid 4 out of 5. Very nice review though; it indeed does grow with time, and it misses standout tracks (such as Agony had the Forsaking), just as described in this review. Bottom line is that if this albums keeps growing on me like it has been the last few days, I’ll prefer it over Agony, which was one of my absolute favorites of 2011.

  • Sui

    The review is spot on. Two major appeals of this album: the overall flow and the growing power. A firm step-up from Agony. Like the reviewer I like Oracles the most. But I suspect they will eventually top that album while continuing this path. Labyrinth is halfway there, imo.

  • Excentric_1307

    I really, really want to love this album. I can’t, in fact, love any of Fleshgod Apocalypse’s albums. I like them a lot, but each one has some flaw or another that prevents it from being the most astounding album ever. Oracles is still my favorite despite the drums, but this may be second, despite the mastering. Agony is a distant third, due to the clean vocals and monotonous guitar work.

    • http://www.angrymetalguy.com Angry Metal Guy

      I love Oracles despite the shitty production. That’s the one that I think is the biggest problem. Agony I liked at the time, but I don’t think it’s that great. Good; it suffices. Enjoyable. Not great. This new one is my second favorite as well, but it’s got its problems.

  • PFC

    Saw these guys live last week. It’s a shame when 6 people are on the stage and you can only hear one of them. The mix was so bad that for the first 30 seconds to a minute, you could not even hear the vocals. The female operatic vocals were finally, though faintly, heard around halfway through the second song.

    The second song was also the first one to feature a guitar solo, albeit an inaudible one! It was only by looking at hand movements of the guitarist that I figured out he is playing a solo. Come to think of it, there may have been a solo in the first song but I just wasn’t paying that much attention to the guitarist to figure out he’s playing one.
    The piano was only heard, again quite faintly and briefly, 3-4 times in their six song set.

    For a band that features 2 guitarists, 2 vocalists, a piano player, a bass player and a drummer, a band that combines death metal and classical music, a band that clearly features a very diverse approach to metal, they really sound very one-dimensional, that is to say they blast beat your ears off for no good reason. Why bother having all these different instruments and a dual vocal approach if nothing is heard over the relentless drumming that completely drowns everything else.

    This was my first time listening to this band and I was left kind of annoyed. It seems like they may be doing something interesting but I just cannot hear it!

    I tried listening to this album but the impression of having seen them live a few days before hasn’t left me and I just cannot make myself listen to it.

    • Excentric_1307

      Yeah, the show was cancelled here. Maybe I didn’t miss much?

    • McBasstard

      Awwww. I was seriously considering going to see them in CA in a couple weeks. How about wintersun? Did they sound good?

      • Jeremy Brookley

        I’m going to catch them in Hollywood next week. I caught them at the Whisky with Decrepit Birth and Decapitated and it’s pretty similar to how PFC described it (a lot going on and the sound guy didn’t seem to know how to mix it, I’m guessing). All the same, it was a good show and I’m looking forward to catching them next week.

        Am I the only person who thought that everyone makes sense on the bill EXCEPT for Wintersun?

        • PFC

          “Am I the only person who thought that everyone makes sense on the bill EXCEPT for Wintersun?”

          That is EXACTLY what I thought when the tour was announced. Granted, I missed Starkill’s set and that’s not a band I’m familiar with but it is kind of strange when the headliner is the odd band on the bill! In any case, I came to see them and I had a good time.

      • PFC

        Wintersun was great. Definitely worth going just to see them.

  • darren

    I do think the mix/mastering was shit. When I first played it in my car, on my iPod, I actually thought my iPod / cable was broken, then I worried my speakers were fucked. After a quick skip to INCURSO, I was relieved, and simultaneously saddened to find out that the drums were so over-powered…..There are times while listening that I just want to cry because I CAN’T FUCKING HEAR WHAT’S GOING ON CLEARLY.

  • Jay Alan Goodwin

    You really nailed it on the production. I’m dead-tired of Loudness War-masterings to the point that I”m hardly ever buying new music anymore unless I know it’s a better master on the vinyl edition.

  • Kalsten

    I am enjoying the album, BUT I think that, with the correct production, this could become one of my long-term favourite albums.

    I think that the best production I ever heard in an album of this approach (combining Orchestra with extreme metal) was Dimmu Borgir’s Puritanical Euphoric Mysantrophya. Man, that production is great. Everything is clear as glass.

  • SilentSeraph

    I must say, i think that the mix on Labyrinth is much better then on Agony. I found Agony almost unlistenable because it seemed that everything was trying to dominate the same space in the soundscape, resulting in something very… messy, sounding. Labyrinth seems to have a much cleaner distinction between the instruments.

  • D3Seeker

    Production is definitely at fault, but I unlike others can’t allow production to get in the way of me listening to something I love. May the day come they give this album a proper re-mixing and production

  • Gustaf Lundström

    Despite the slightly shitty mixing of this album I can’t stop listening to it. Does anyone have anything equally epic to recommend?