Sound — 6
We have a lot to be grateful to Italy for. It gave us the language of music, the medium of opera, Verdi, Vivaldi and Morricone. Although technical death metal is sometimes revered as the modern incarnation of classical excellence by Cheeto-dusted guitar nerds ("dude, Shostakovich would have loved Necrophagist!"), very few musicians from this elite nation seem to have taken up the mantle. Fleshgod Apocalypse are one such band, and they're keen to work their heritage into the chaos. String sections follow their scale runs, operatic wails pierce their blastbeats and, very occasionally, the orchestral palette is so broad you get the impression you're not even listening to a death metal record at all. Italians with command over a choir must be too graceful for that kind of thing.
After sophomore effort "Agony," which sacrificed a degree of technicality to fully blood the classical elements, third album "Labyrinth" is the band's most ambitious to date. It offers the complete picture of symphonic pomposity and a restored arsenal of hyperspeed riffs. Violins work at blistering pace to keep up with the high tempo and demanding guitar parts, while the tougher end of the mix is filled with your usual kick pedal, tremolo picking and guttural belch. It's incredibly difficult to keep up with at times ("Elegy" and "Warpledge" find themselves more interrupted by the orchestra than enhanced) but if the idea is to challenge the listener than Fleshgod have succeeded. The pace is uncompromising and at times tiring.
Unlike most death metal the melodies are largely diatonic, conforming to traditional rules of harmony in compromise for breaking all the rules of genre. They're too fast to sing, however, and a lack of chromatic bite leaves the likes of "Epilogue" and "The Fall of Asterion" without many distinguishing features. The band seem aware that complexity of playing is no substitute for depth of texture, but there is no producer in the world who can make each of these instruments loud enough to hear without losing the power of the work.
Lyrics — 8
Unlike "Agony" and "Oracles" before it, "Labyrinth" is a concept album about you guessed it the Minotaur's labyrinth. It's a fairly complex story, and without a copy of the lyrics the exceptionally busy guitar racket will leave you stranded. The range of voices, which includes low gurgles, shrill falsettos and full four-part chorus, don't help matters, but with the booklet in front of you this can be quite the adventure. Fans of a geeky persuasion will be thrilled to yell "GODS! KILL THE KING!" as they rock out in their bedrooms. The album strikes just the right balance of mythological substance and aggressive metal style.
Overall Impression — 6
A great virtue shared by some of the Italian maestros was their eye for beauty from unlikely sources. Even they would have struggled to make much of death metal. Sophisticated as Fleshgod Apocalypse's understanding and application of the aesthetics may be, the simple fact is that the fundamental elements of death metal will always reduce classical music to an accessory, even a novelty. It simply shouts too loudly. "Labyrinth" may be a more complete realisation of this hybrid than anything that has come before it, but it is not a miraculous proof of its worth as high art. This is an album to show people as an example of intelligence and diligence, but not the essence of great music or great heavy metal.