02. The Hypocrisy
03. The Imposition
04. The Deceit
05. The Violation
06. The Egoism
07. The Betrayal
08. The Forsaking
09. The Oppression
2011 Nuclear Blast Records
by Brian Krasman
I had my headphones on a couple days ago, and someone asked me what I was listening to. I said Fleshgod Apocalypse. The person asked me what they sound like and I responded, "symphonic metal." The response was something like, "Ugh, I hate Nightwish." Oops! I clarified to say it was more like death metal, sounded nothing at all like Nightwish, and was actually more brutal than one might think from how I initially described the band. My guess is that person didn't run out and buy any of the band's records. His loss, really.
After a powerful full length and EP with Willowtip, the Italian juggernauts moved onto Nuclear Blast for album two, the pulverizing, yet quite different, Agony. For those who were into both Oracles and Mafia, it's pretty much a lot of the same thing, metal-wise, yet a whole new world when it comes to their classical flourishes. This time, it's their brand of extreme metal, beefed up by symphonic synth backings and, at times, operatic clean vocals (courtesy of bassist Paolo Rossi) that sound more sinister than artistically moving. In fact, these elements are so thick and full-bodied on Agony, probably as a result of composer/pianist Francesco Ferrini joining the band as a full-time member instead of acting as a mere collaborator. It's a noticeable step in a new, more ambitious direction, and it's bound to rub some the wrong way. As for the rest, well, it's a bloodbath in here, with bone-dusting drumming that's more blast than anything, unmercifully aggressive guitar chugging, and abrasive growls by way of Tommaso Riccardi that are as deadly as any in the death genre.
Without the strings and bombast on here, I'm not so certain Fleshgod Apocalypse would sound like all that special of a band. There are plenty of bands that do the flesh-mangling, technically precise death metal, and this group's brand isn't terribly different from, say, what Decapitated did on their latest album. Take a song such as "Deceit," for example. It's a totally jackhammering song that anyone who dines on vicious death would devour, but when it gets classical treatment, it comes off as a hundred times more epic and enthralling. It's an example of this band at its finest. However, "The Violation" is a contrasting example where the symphonics take a back seat and their skullduggery gets top billing, especially with the tasty, fluid lead guitar playing and spectacular soloing. So they can do it both ways, but they're far more interesting when Ferrini gets to go off.
The record kicks off with "Temptation," an orchestral intro piece that, probably not so interestingly, is one of only two track names that doesn't begin with "the." The other is the disc-closing title cut, which is an all-classical-piano outro. After the intro, the band heads full bore into "The Hypocrisy," a song that grabs you by the throat and refuses to let go. "The Egoism" has a female vocalist pushing the operatic scale with her vocal touches, and it adds even more baroque color to an already surging song. "The Betrayal" is built on wavering synth lines and burpy guitar riffs, but it's a pretty punishing bit. "The Forsaking" has an emotional, almost sad pall to it musically, as it's quite different and more spacious than the rest of the collection. It's kind of scary sounding. "The Oppression" caps off the madness nicely, as the thrashing is matched note for note by the synth arrangement.
People's opinions of Agony likely are going to come down to how they feel about the increased symphonic presence. No doubt it's thick, rich and impossible to ignore. As noted, I like it and I think it adds a new element to Fleshgod Apocalypse that helps them stand out a little more. Honestly, I could deal with less operatic work by Rossi because it often feels like he sings the same part over and over again. Far less of that would go far. This certainly could be a polarizing effort for longtime fans of the band, but for those new to Fleshgod Apocalypse, my guess is this will feel like a surging, violent piece of melodic death metal that'll have you lighting a candle and filling a glass with a nice red wine. People still do that, right?
Bottom Line: The added symphonic elements are a make or break for listeners. If you like it, you'll love this skull-bashing record. If not, you'll probably reject Agony outright and wind up calling me an asshole in the comments section. Actually, you'll probably do that one way or another.