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
What does 19th centuryÂ Romanticism have to do with technical deathÂ metal? Handcrafted pasta with a full-lengthÂ studio album? The latter; that’s up for interpretation,Â as frontman Tommaso RiccardiÂ has pointed out in previous interviews [“IfÂ pasta doesn’t have anything to do with music,Â what does a T-shirt have to do with music?”].Â But when it comes to integrating two extremeÂ opposites of the musical spectrum, few do itÂ as seamlessly as Italian symphonic tech deathÂ metal horde Fleshgod Apocalypse””who areÂ as much about reinventing Baroque, RomanticÂ and Classical styles through virtual orchestration,Â as they are about blasting outÂ death growls and piling on the corpse paint.
Not long after Italy’s biggest tech death exportÂ made their India debut in January 2015Â at two-day metal festival BIG69, the band hitÂ the studio for almost nine months to recordÂ their fourth full-track release King, which releasesÂ on February 6th via Nuclear Blast Records.
The 12-track release ”“ which also involvesÂ Swedish producer Jens Bogren [who hasÂ worked with everyone from prog metallersÂ Opeth to melo-death band Soilwork] andÂ longtime live collaborator and soprano operaÂ singer Veronica Bordacchini ”“ marries theÂ grandeur of Western classical music of theÂ Romantic and Classical eras with the monstrosityÂ of technical death metal, as it exploresÂ the idea of a morally sound king whoseÂ court is tarnished by traitors, villains, pervertsÂ and prostitutes. Like their previousÂ concept-driven releases, Fleshgod’s medievalÂ themes on King build as a metaphor for present-Â day social and moral decay.
In an interview with ROLLING STONEÂ India, frontman Tommaso Riccardi talksÂ about how King finds the band at their mostÂ musically balanced, releasing an exclusivelyÂ orchestral version of the album, and more.
Could you run us through the concept behind King, and how it ties in with modernÂ society?Â
We usually speak a lot about the inner worldÂ of people and human beings in general butÂ in this case, we really liked the idea of talkingÂ about what is actually happening in ourÂ world in general. This King is someone whoÂ represents the values, the things that are real,Â the things we should care about the most. OnÂ the other hand, all the other characters in theÂ court represent all the other elements thatÂ could be human behavior, or things happeningÂ in the world now that are trying to tearÂ this king down and trying to deconstruct hisÂ values. Indeed it is something””in my opinion””Â that happens cyclically in history andÂ it’s pretty impossible to deny that in this particularÂ moment we’re living very difficult momentsÂ especially in Western society, but alsoÂ the whole world. It’s never a political thingÂ for us because we don’t like to talk about politicsÂ in the true meaning of the world. We likeÂ to look at things in a more philosophical wayÂ and try to give a message and in this case theÂ message is ”˜Okay, everyone has this King insideÂ that knows what is right, what is the rightÂ thing to do, so it’s just a matter of what youÂ are choosing.’
Most of Fleshgod’s releases have been fulllengthÂ concept albums. Which conceptÂ albums you draw inspiration from?Â
When I think of concept albums, I immediatelyÂ think about The Wall by Pink Floyd. AlthoughÂ being in a totally different genre andÂ being such an old album; it’s still the idea thatÂ I have about a concept album. I think it wasÂ really avant-garde in many ways, not only onÂ the musical side but also because the storyÂ was so complex and developing throughoutÂ the songs. It was something that ”” in my opinion ”” really invented the new era of conceptÂ albums. From that of course there have beenÂ so many; Nightfall [in Middle-Earth] fromÂ [German power metal band] Blind Guardian””Â one of my favorite bands””so that wasÂ really impressive. I think about The Wall alsoÂ because it was something that really connectedÂ the music to the visual aspects more thanÂ before, and it’s something that we really careÂ about, because in our shows and videos””every video we do is like a short movie””andÂ also the shows are really, really, really basedÂ on a visual concept. So that’s a very importantÂ side of this kind of art that we really like.
Francesco [Paoli, drummer/songwriter]Â and Francesco [Ferrini, pianist] have previouslyÂ mentioned in the in-the-studioÂ trailers that the process of putting King together has been very detailed and meticulous.Â Having said that, what came togetherÂ the easiest when putting the albumÂ together?Â
[laughs] This is a question that actually hasÂ no answer! Because in Fleshgod Apocalypse,Â there is nothing easy, not a single thing. EverythingÂ is difficult! Not in a bad way, but IÂ mean that every single thing that could seemÂ easier in a way, is always a very long process.Â We never leave anything to case. For exampleÂ talking about the songs, it happens sometimesÂ that the main and most important ideasÂ that will become the structure/main riffs ofÂ the song sometimes they come out with inspirationÂ so they come out really fast. But then,Â due to the complexity of the music, and alsoÂ due to the fact that we are also super meticulous,Â from those ideas to the final arrangementÂ of the song, it takes a lot of weeks ofÂ very hard work. That’s something the musicÂ requires. It’s not something you decide, it’sÂ just what happens. You have to be there andÂ spend a lot of hours and different experimentsÂ to understand which one is the bestÂ way to put the arrangement of the song, theÂ drum rolls, the guitar riffs, every little thingÂ that makes the song because in the end theÂ arrangement is a very important part of theÂ music.
King has a lot more classical elements asÂ compared to the previous albums, suchÂ as incorporating the Lied [a particularÂ kind of composition during the RomanticÂ era for piano and vocals] in “ParamourÂ (Die Liedenschaft Bringt Lieden).” Tell usÂ about that.Â
I think we really found a good balance inÂ this case. I feel like this is the most balancedÂ album we have because we were able to bringÂ all the different elements to the maximumÂ level possible, and also find a way not to makeÂ those elements fight with each other. So it isÂ true that there’s a lot of classical music in thisÂ album; especially a lot of stuff from the RomanticÂ period and Classicism. There are stillÂ elements from the Baroque, for example, inÂ “The Fool.” So there are many things that areÂ blending together and are obviously hearable.Â If you think about “Paramour,” a song forÂ piano and vocals, that’s a kind of song that isÂ taken from the Lied that inspired that song.
On the other hand, this is the most riffbasedÂ album that we have, so there’s a lot ofÂ guitars going on. It’s cool because I have theÂ perception that most of the people who haveÂ already listened to the album really felt thisÂ big presence of classical music; but on theÂ other hand they also felt this big presenceÂ of metal music. That means that every elementÂ has been brought to a higher level, andÂ that was also thanks to the work done on theÂ production.
There’s also an orchestral version of King as part of the digital download.Â
It’s important to push the people and createÂ curiosity for the digital download butÂ first of all there’s an artistic meaning in thatÂ [an orchestral album version], since we alwaysÂ dreamt of doing that but never had theÂ chance. We thought it would be really cool toÂ finally give the people the chance to listen””besides the music in its entirety”” and to alsoÂ understand what’s happening in the orchestraÂ during the songs. Because that’s a very bigÂ part of our music and of course it’s blendingÂ with all the other instruments. We also reallyÂ like the idea of working on an orchestral versionÂ in which””since there is a lack of otherÂ instruments playing””there are other partsÂ that are added into the song, so it’s more dynamic.Â I really think the result was great””I’veÂ been listening to it and I really liked it, and IÂ think most of the fans of Fleshgod ApocalypseÂ 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.”
Do you choose to write in English so thatÂ it’s more accessible to people outside ofÂ Italy, and have you considered writing inÂ Italian?Â
Until now we never thought aboutÂ [writing in] Italian. It’s crazy, because besidesÂ the Greek and Latin we already use inÂ spoken parts, the first thing we do differentlyÂ is [use] German, but that was something actuallyÂ required by the music and lyrics. WeÂ think about it sometimes, who knows what isÂ going to happen? One thing remains is thatÂ English remains the tool of communication,Â for a matter of remaining international. It’sÂ very important to use the language that isÂ more widespread in the world and would beÂ easier for most of the people to understand.
In previous interviews you’ve mentionedÂ that it’s very hard for metal bands to getÂ shows in Italy itself; they have to go outsideÂ the country. Would you say that thingsÂ have improved, and there’s been an upsurgeÂ in Italian death metal?Â
Yes, that’s true. I don’t feel like the situationÂ has changed that much. I see that there areÂ many different realities that are happening;Â I see that there are more Italian death metalÂ bands that are coming out and that are alsoÂ getting the chance to play outside. I reallyÂ feel like in a little way we are helping out theÂ scene in matters of inspiration to do it, becauseÂ everybody can, it’s just a matter ofÂ getting it done and putting a lot of effortÂ into it. It’s a huge sacrifice but everythingÂ you do is like that. It’s not easy because thisÂ is a critical period for everyone, economicallyÂ and socially. So maybe it’s not still theÂ proper time, but I do feel that somethingÂ is moving.
Considering your style of music is soÂ technical and demanding, apart fromÂ the fact that you tour a lot; does that takeÂ a toll on you physically?Â
In general, our music style is extremelyÂ demanding, so that means you have to beÂ prepared. On the other hand, getting olderÂ is something that helps because you gain aÂ lot of experience and you learn how to doÂ the same things but stressing your bodyÂ less than before, because you have moreÂ experience and technique, so that’s really important.Â It’s very important that we’ve beenÂ practicing so much in the years like crazy,Â so this is now turning into something reallyÂ positive. But on the other hand, there’s alsoÂ the fact that compared to a few years ago weÂ are now starting to have better conditionsÂ because the band is growing, even economically.Â And that’s really good because whenÂ we started for a few years we did super crazyÂ things like doing U.S. tours by car””not evenÂ in a van! I’m talking about driving for 17,000Â miles in 30 days, and playing every night. SoÂ that was extreme.
Now it’s still hard, but we have a tour bus, weÂ have flights so it’s obviously helpful. We’reÂ really happy that this is happening becauseÂ this is also something that really affects theÂ show. The more we grow and the more we’reÂ doing headlining shows, we also have a biggerÂ responsibility towards the fans, and it’s reallyÂ important for us to make the fans happy.Â So we really try to do the best we can to makeÂ every show the best show possible and ofÂ course this is also happening thanks to ourÂ great crew that is growing and is working reallyÂ well. So we’re very happy also because allÂ the members in the crew are very good friendsÂ so it’s like being in a family and this is reallyÂ also helping us psychologically to grow and beÂ able to face all this more challenging showsÂ and situations.
Your North American and European tourÂ are slotted out in the coming months, isÂ there a chance that Fleshgod will be returningÂ to India anytime soon?Â
We really care about making everyone happy.Â Of course we will work on that. I cannot sayÂ anything in particular because it’s still notÂ in the schedule, but for sure we will comeÂ back, because we really enjoyed our first experienceÂ in India, it was crazy! It was a reallyÂ great show, we really enjoyed the reactionÂ of the people so it’s definitely one of the placesÂ we want to come back to.