Fleshgod Apocalypse – “Veleno” (Nuclear Blast Records)
The maestros of orchestral death metal have returned! After the bombastic supremacy of “King” comes “Veleno”, meaning ‘venom’ which this 5th album certainly doesn’t lack in whatsoever. If anything, one has to wonder just how these Italians manage to skirt so close to the edge time and again, blending hyper speed death metal with wild, harpsichord pianos, furious string arrangements and massive orchestral effects to achieve their jaw dropping songs reeking of simultaneous savagery and sophistication! Genius or madness, call it what you will, but not even the departure of guitarist/vocalist Cristiano Trionfera and vocalist/guitarist Tommaso Riccardi has dented the silverware of this illustrious band. Up has stepped founder multi instrumentalist Francesco Paoli from drums to now take over the vocals and guitar, joined by drummer David Folchitto (Stormlord) and guitarist Fabio Bartoletti (Deceptionist) – along with a full string quartet, a classical percussionist, a baroque choir and guest musicians in the shape of Maurizio Cardullo (Folkstone) and Daniele Marinelli playing Uilleann Pipes and mandolin respectfully. Together they produce not just a successor to “King” but a masterpiece encompassing the band’s sonic and aesthetic greatness to date! From the opening cannonade of ‘Fury’ with its dense instrumental mix, the nuclear precision propelled drums overdrive the song of multiple vocal styles – including that massively powerful choir – graced by neo classical guitar melodies and of course, the classical instruments themselves adding even more weight to the thunderous sound, or more subtly in their own brilliance. Slowing things down but adding a huge, dark atmosphere on ‘Monnalisa’, quiet in places through evil rasps or unleashing the full symphonic splendour of the choir in all its blissful highs, not to mention some incredibly passionate guitar and a female soprano contrasting with the beastly vocals, few songs could hold my soul transfixed as this did. But the ultimate destroyer for me was ‘Absinthe’, so rocking and raging but equally tender and ever so majestic thanks to its flowing orchestral melodies, the throat raw vocals contrasting superbly with the choir’s baritones, and naturally, those incredible, unrelenting drums. Along with some high speed technical fretboard runs almost bordering on cacophony, yet through a skilfull mix of tempos, the song is fashioned into nothing short of an spectacular concerto. So what more can I say, except bravo and encore!