The album cover of Fleshgod Apolcayse - Veleno, art by Travis SmithFleshgod Apocalypse—known affectionately at the AMG offices as “Death Metal Rhapsody of Fire”—had a meteoric rise from its humble beginnings on 2009’s innovative Oracles. Though these Italian death metallers started on a Candlelight/Willtowtip, Nuclear Blast wasted no time elevating them to underground metal’s biggest stage. That pickup resulted in a larger budget, bigger productions and an evolution beyond the band’s death metal quartet status. Rather than being a neoclassical tech/brutal death band, Fleshgod Apocalypse stepped away from its straight death metal roots to fairly mixed results. But following a couple misfires—in large part due to poor production—they got hooked up with Jens Bogren and finally hit the nail on the head on King. Twenty-sixteen’s King was the album that finally made me go “Uuaaaauu,”1 featuring the band’s best production and most fully realized composition to-date. But following up uuauu-y records is hard and it didn’t seem like a good omen that both of the band’s guitarists were jettisoned after its release. Those are the stakes for Fleshgod Apocalypse in 2019: can Veleno, the band’s 5th album, live up to the high bar the band set for itself in 2016?

Veleno continues the trajectory of King, as Fleshgod further explores the path that brought them success. New guitarists Paoli and Bartoletti carry the weight of the music’s harmonies and melodies rather than rhythms (“Worship and Forget,” “Sugar”).2 Resting the work on the shoulders of their guitarists places the best feature of the band’s earliest material—the neo-classical riffing and noodling—right up front. But Fleshgod Apocalypse has continued to develop a balance between guitar gymnastics, chunky brutality and bombastic orchestral arrangements (“Absinthe,” “Embrace the Oblivion”). Such developments make the music intellectually stimulating and technically impressive, while still featuring the broader sonic palette for which the band strives. And the use of real orchestral instruments makes for full, lush tones. The use of acoustic orchestration helps to demonstrate that Fleshgod Apocalypse are compositionally mature, and Veleno‘s most interesting and stimulating ideas are carried in the interplay between the different instrument groupings and the song arrangements (“Carnivorous Lamb”). On all these fronts, Veleno is triumphant; featuring memorable, hooky songs and fantastic performances from the band, the chamber musicians and guests such as Bordacchini’s soprano on “The Day We’ll Be Gone.”

Fleshgod Apocalypse's promotional photo

As the second album to build on the same formula as King, however, Veleno also rehashes King‘s most important innovations. As the band said in their press release, Veleno was a more organic album that did not come with the kind of scheduling and planning as its predecessor.3 It’s possible that this resulted, then, in the band falling into the established habits of a band that’s been playing the same material on the road for two years. While some bands can hit the same formula time and again with excellent results, the paucity of melody in death metal makes the repetition of ideas stand out. Another place where Veleno pales compared to King is that the production is a step backward. While Veleno is leagues better than the aggressively bad production from which Oracles, Agony, and Labyrinth suffered, the record sounds muddier. Furthermore, the Industry Standard Crushing™ of the production/master does the full range of real symphonic elements a deep disservice.4

Veleno is, therefore, a record that has been devilishly difficult for me to pin down. I wish I had another month to dissect it, because it is fun and interesting to listen to. Yet, the nagging issues surrounding the feel of recycled ideas and a not-so-stellar production job are enough to dampen my enjoyment of what is an undeniably fun and stimulating 52 minutes. The record has undeniably grown on me since I started listening to it and every listen reveals amazing ideas and moments like the opening of “Carnivorous Lamb” or “Monnalisa,” that make for addictive listening. So while I heartily endorse Veleno and congratulate the band on its hard work, I am not quite ready to troll everyone’s End of Year Lists demanding why no Veleno Fleshgod Apocalypse. But that time may still come…


Rating: Enjoyable, but not quite uuaauu
DR: 75 | Medium Reviewed: 192 kb/s mp3s
Websites: fleshgodapocalypse.com | facebook.com/fleshgodapolcaypse
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Released Worldwide: May 24th, 2019

 

Show 5 footnotes

  1. Apparently “Uaau” is Portuguese for “Wow.”
  2. Paoli is a founding member of the band who used to play guitar, then moved to drums and has now moved back to guitar and vocals. It’s confusing, but such is life.
  3. And I think this is a super interesting quote. I don’t want to read too much into it, but it does really kind of sound to me like the kind of things bands say when they haven’t had the time to really prepare but feel they need to keep music on the market.
  4. The mp3s peak. This doesn’t mean the record will, these kinds of distortions are the result of super-crushed mastering jobs being converted to mp3.
  5. This is most likely a DR6, not a DR7. However, 192 kb/s mp3s tend to push the DR score up by one (i.e., from 6 to 7)