Fleshgod Apocalypse - King - (9/10)
Published on February 5, 2016
Who’s the king, baby?
Although Fleshgod Apocalypse had a sure thing with Oracles, which has become something of a cult classic in recent years, the band abandoned that comfort zone and opted for a brand of symphonic death metal that across two albums painfully showcased how their leap of faith was as directionless as their grasp of the formula. The first step, Agony, was essentially a wall of speed with one-dimensional songwriting and mixing that unevenly highlighted the orchestral element, but somehow, fans lapped it up anyway, due perhaps to the novelty of such a unique approach. Labyrinth, meanwhile, was a vast improvement but still came across as insufficiently varied to truly reconcile the two elements the band wanted to combine, thus snuffing out the last of any remaining novelty and further diminishing my confidence that this was the right direction for the band.
On King, however, we see Fleshgod Apocalypse taking yet another quantum leap but this time not in formula but in quality. It is an album that shows a band fine-tuning their chosen sound to a course that finally must be satisfying for themselves, as well as their fans. Indeed, anyone familiar with Septic Flesh or Rotting Christ can tell you that this awakened state was definitely worth the wait, for King is truly a stunning piece of symphonic death metal that gets everything right.
And it is very satisfying indeed to listen to this behemoth, as though a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders. One of the things to stand out about King (and there many) is how naturally it flows, despite the variety of emotional qualities each track seems to portray, ranging from impending doom (“Healing Through War”) to frenetic agitation (“The Fool”), and then to a menacing sense of desperation that downplays its slower pace (“Cold as Perfection”). Fast forward a bit and we arrive at a highlight of highlights, “And the Vulture Beholds,” which has a midsection that shows a fully mature band tired of fucking around, playing at a level that will be incredibly hard to beat by anyone’s standards.
We even see the technical side of the band return (perhaps not as prominently as in 2009, though), with neoclassical soloing, operatic singing, and Baroque sensibilities that add extra depth and delicacy to the predominant bulk around it, which is to say nothing even of the frequent tempo changes and different guitar techniques that previous albums simply did not have. Gone is the indomitable wall of speed, which has been replaced by actual song structures that as aforementioned touch on many emotions and therefore provide so much variety that King will leave you breathless when all is said and done.
If there is a better symphonic death metal album I have yet to hear it. King is as simple and true to genre specifics as it can be yet it will blow your mind. It is a highly intelligent album, paced so smartly as to not burden any one section with uneven levels of quality, although towards the end there is a noticeable sense of climax and resolution, perhaps even purity in a sense through “A Million Deaths,” but it feels appropriate within the surrounding fold. It is fitting as well, then, that the album ends similarly, with a sense of closure and ultimately confidence that Fleshgod Apocalypse has now become the rightful flag bearers of the subgenre.