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Fleshgod Apocalypse: Thy Kingdom Come

Tommaso Riccardi, frontman of the Italian symphonic tech death metal band, talks about their recently-released album ‘King,’ and finding a balance between classical music and metal

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Nabeela Shaikh Feb 15, 2016
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FleshgodApocalypse2015alternate courtesy of Nuclear Blast

Fleshgod Apocalypse. Photo: Courtesy of Nuclear Blast.

What does 19th century Romanticism have to do with technical death metal? Handcrafted pasta with a full-length studio album? The latter; that’s up for interpretation, as frontman Tommaso Riccardi has pointed out in previous interviews [“If pasta doesn’t have anything to do with music, what does a T-shirt have to do with music?”]. But when it comes to integrating two extreme opposites of the musical spectrum, few do it as seamlessly as Italian symphonic tech death metal horde Fleshgod Apocalypse””who are as much about reinventing Baroque, Romantic and Classical styles through virtual orchestration, as they are about blasting out death growls and piling on the corpse paint.

Not long after Italy’s biggest tech death export made their India debut in January 2015 at two-day metal festival BIG69, the band hit the studio for almost nine months to record their fourth full-track release King, which releases on February 6th via Nuclear Blast Records.

The 12-track release ”“ which also involves Swedish producer Jens Bogren [who has worked with everyone from prog metallers Opeth to melo-death band Soilwork] and longtime live collaborator and soprano opera singer Veronica Bordacchini ”“ marries the grandeur of Western classical music of the Romantic and Classical eras with the monstrosity of technical death metal, as it explores the idea of a morally sound king whose court is tarnished by traitors, villains, perverts and prostitutes. Like their previous concept-driven releases, Fleshgod’s medieval themes on King build as a metaphor for present- day social and moral decay.

In an interview with ROLLING STONE India, frontman Tommaso Riccardi talks about how King finds the band at their most musically balanced, releasing an exclusively orchestral version of the album, and more.

 

Could you run us through the concept behind King, and how it ties in with modern society? 

We usually speak a lot about the inner world of people and human beings in general but in this case, we really liked the idea of talking about what is actually happening in our world in general. This King is someone who represents the values, the things that are real, the things we should care about the most. On the other hand, all the other characters in the court represent all the other elements that could be human behavior, or things happening in the world now that are trying to tear this king down and trying to deconstruct his values. Indeed it is something””in my opinion”” that happens cyclically in history and it’s pretty impossible to deny that in this particular moment we’re living very difficult moments especially in Western society, but also the whole world. It’s never a political thing for us because we don’t like to talk about politics in the true meaning of the world. We like to look at things in a more philosophical way and try to give a message and in this case the message is ”˜Okay, everyone has this King inside that knows what is right, what is the right thing to do, so it’s just a matter of what you are choosing.’

 

Most of Fleshgod’s releases have been fulllength concept albums. Which concept albums you draw inspiration from? 

When I think of concept albums, I immediately think about The Wall by Pink Floyd. Although being in a totally different genre and being such an old album; it’s still the idea that I have about a concept album. I think it was really avant-garde in many ways, not only on the musical side but also because the story was so complex and developing throughout the songs. It was something that ”” in my opinion ”” really invented the new era of concept albums. From that of course there have been so many; Nightfall [in Middle-Earth] from [German power metal band] Blind Guardian”” one of my favorite bands””so that was really impressive. I think about The Wall also because it was something that really connected the music to the visual aspects more than before, and it’s something that we really care about, because in our shows and videos””every video we do is like a short movie””and also the shows are really, really, really based on a visual concept. So that’s a very important side of this kind of art that we really like.

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Fleshgod Apocalypse performed at BIG69 Festival in Mumbai last year. Photo: Prashin Jagger.

Francesco [Paoli, drummer/songwriter] and Francesco [Ferrini, pianist] have previously mentioned in the in-the-studio trailers that the process of putting King together has been very detailed and meticulous. Having said that, what came together the easiest when putting the album together? 

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[laughs] This is a question that actually has no answer! Because in Fleshgod Apocalypse, there is nothing easy, not a single thing. Everything is difficult! Not in a bad way, but I mean that every single thing that could seem easier in a way, is always a very long process. We never leave anything to case. For example talking about the songs, it happens sometimes that the main and most important ideas that will become the structure/main riffs of the song sometimes they come out with inspiration so they come out really fast. But then, due to the complexity of the music, and also due to the fact that we are also super meticulous, from those ideas to the final arrangement of the song, it takes a lot of weeks of very hard work. That’s something the music requires. It’s not something you decide, it’s just what happens. You have to be there and spend a lot of hours and different experiments to understand which one is the best way to put the arrangement of the song, the drum rolls, the guitar riffs, every little thing that makes the song because in the end the arrangement is a very important part of the music.

 

King has a lot more classical elements as compared to the previous albums, such as incorporating the Lied [a particular kind of composition during the Romantic era for piano and vocals] in “Paramour (Die Liedenschaft Bringt Lieden).” Tell us about that. 

I think we really found a good balance in this case. I feel like this is the most balanced album we have because we were able to bring all the different elements to the maximum level possible, and also find a way not to make those elements fight with each other. So it is true that there’s a lot of classical music in this album; especially a lot of stuff from the Romantic period and Classicism. There are still elements from the Baroque, for example, in “The Fool.” So there are many things that are blending together and are obviously hearable. If you think about “Paramour,” a song for piano and vocals, that’s a kind of song that is taken from the Lied that inspired that song.

On the other hand, this is the most riffbased album that we have, so there’s a lot of guitars going on. It’s cool because I have the perception that most of the people who have already listened to the album really felt this big presence of classical music; but on the other hand they also felt this big presence of metal music. That means that every element has been brought to a higher level, and that was also thanks to the work done on the production.

 

There’s also an orchestral version of King as part of the digital download. 

It’s important to push the people and create curiosity for the digital download but first of all there’s an artistic meaning in that [an orchestral album version], since we always dreamt of doing that but never had the chance. We thought it would be really cool to finally give the people the chance to listen””besides the music in its entirety”” and to also understand what’s happening in the orchestra during the songs. Because that’s a very big part of our music and of course it’s blending with all the other instruments. We also really like the idea of working on an orchestral version in which””since there is a lack of other instruments playing””there are other parts that are added into the song, so it’s more dynamic. I really think the result was great””I’ve been listening to it and I really liked it, and I think most of the fans of Fleshgod Apocalypse will really love it.

 


“I see that there are more Italian death metal bands that are coming out and getting a chance to play outside.”


 

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Do you choose to write in English so that it’s more accessible to people outside of Italy, and have you considered writing in Italian? 

Until now we never thought about [writing in] Italian. It’s crazy, because besides the Greek and Latin we already use in spoken parts, the first thing we do differently is [use] German, but that was something actually required by the music and lyrics. We think about it sometimes, who knows what is going to happen? One thing remains is that English remains the tool of communication, for a matter of remaining international. It’s very important to use the language that is more widespread in the world and would be easier for most of the people to understand.

 

In previous interviews you’ve mentioned that it’s very hard for metal bands to get shows in Italy itself; they have to go outside the country. Would you say that things have improved, and there’s been an upsurge in Italian death metal? 

Yes, that’s true. I don’t feel like the situation has changed that much. I see that there are many different realities that are happening; I see that there are more Italian death metal bands that are coming out and that are also getting the chance to play outside. I really feel like in a little way we are helping out the scene in matters of inspiration to do it, because everybody can, it’s just a matter of getting it done and putting a lot of effort into it. It’s a huge sacrifice but everything you do is like that. It’s not easy because this is a critical period for everyone, economically and socially. So maybe it’s not still the proper time, but I do feel that something is moving.

 

Considering your style of music is so technical and demanding, apart from the fact that you tour a lot; does that take a toll on you physically? 

In general, our music style is extremely demanding, so that means you have to be prepared. On the other hand, getting older is something that helps because you gain a lot of experience and you learn how to do the same things but stressing your body less than before, because you have more experience and technique, so that’s really important. It’s very important that we’ve been practicing so much in the years like crazy, so this is now turning into something really positive. But on the other hand, there’s also the fact that compared to a few years ago we are now starting to have better conditions because the band is growing, even economically. And that’s really good because when we started for a few years we did super crazy things like doing U.S. tours by car””not even in a van! I’m talking about driving for 17,000 miles in 30 days, and playing every night. So that was extreme.

Now it’s still hard, but we have a tour bus, we have flights so it’s obviously helpful. We’re really happy that this is happening because this is also something that really affects the show. The more we grow and the more we’re doing headlining shows, we also have a bigger responsibility towards the fans, and it’s really important for us to make the fans happy. So we really try to do the best we can to make every show the best show possible and of course this is also happening thanks to our great crew that is growing and is working really well. So we’re very happy also because all the members in the crew are very good friends so it’s like being in a family and this is really also helping us psychologically to grow and be able to face all this more challenging shows and situations.

king fleshgod

‘King’ album cover.

Your North American and European tour are slotted out in the coming months, is there a chance that Fleshgod will be returning to India anytime soon? 

We really care about making everyone happy. Of course we will work on that. I cannot say anything in particular because it’s still not in the schedule, but for sure we will come back, because we really enjoyed our first experience in India, it was crazy! It was a really great show, we really enjoyed the reaction of the people so it’s definitely one of the places we want to come back to.

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