While the phrase 'I only like the early stuff' does get chucked about a bit too often, believe it or not, it is possible for a band to get better with each release. For me, Fleshgod Apocalypse are one of those bands. With each album comes a step up in quality and their 3rd full length, 'Labyrinth', is the most cohesive and complete LP in their catalogue. The Italian five-piece have always produced fantastic music but I feel that they have focused their sound and are making strides forward to carve out an identity for themselves. It's almost like this is what Fleshgod was set to become from the beginning in 2007.
The songwriting should be particularly singled out for praise. Merging together a thunderous death metal bludgeoning with grandiose orchestration and sweeping melodies is no easy task, but when it is pulled off correctly the results are just epic. Opener 'Kingborn' is well executed and really puts you at the stone gates of the Labyrinth of Knossos, the tone soon descends into the madness of rapid riffing, ankle-mangling pedal work and haunting keys. Tommaso Riccardi's throaty bellows are so percussive, it’s like they are trying to roundhouse you through the speakers. The raw violence behind the drum production is staggering, unfortunately, the guitars can get a bit lost when the whole band attack in unison. Which is a shame because there are some gloriously heavy chugging riffs and impressive solos which don't always land with the intended force.
'Warpledge' is another success – the intro is almost apocalyptic and sees the band at their most destructive. As the track progresses, they incorporate the operatic, high vocals and orchestra well with the flurries of blastbeats. The story telling aspect dominates 'The Fall of Asterion' as an elegant string section interplays with the smart lead guitar work. The delicately crafted 'Prologue' soon gives way to the 'Epilogue' which again sits on the fence between masterfully composed Armageddon and downtuned, death metal fury.
The whole album is incredibly dense and packed with extras that you will stumble upon in time. You will definitely reap the rewards from repeat listens which always makes an album worth investing in. 'Under Black Sails' is an adventurous song; not only does it clock in at seven and a half minutes but the sense of grandeur is ramped up to 11. The title track is piano led and gently eases the album into completion after one hell of a journey. If you have any interest in the heavier side of metal, then I urge you to give this a go. Whether you love them or hate them, just don't judge them after one listen.