Released: 2013, Nuclear Blast Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Italy's Fleshgod Apocalypse put the emphasis on the “symphonic” in the symphonic black/death metal of their wildly ambitious and ultimately triumphant third full-length. The band's 2011 opus Agony was symphonic and ambitious enough, with its opulent keyboards, twisty-turny arrangements and over-the-top presentation. With Labyrinth, however, Fleshgod take everything to a whole other level of extreme.
Labyrinth is HUGE in every way. The wall of sound these guys have created here is astonishing, from the crushing cascade of guitars and Francesco Ferrini’s grandiose keyboards and orchestration to Francesco Paoli's machine gun-burst drumming and the layer upon layer of vocals, including ample operatic female warbling that can, at times, sound a bit ridiculous. To top it all off, the arrangements are more complex and involved than ever and the album is built around a concept based on the Labyrinth of Knososs – the maze from Greek mythology that held the Minotaur.
That's an awful lot to chew on – and an awful lot that can go horribly wrong. Yet where others have tried this approach with mixed results – for example Dimmu Borgir's Death Cult Armageddon, Cradle of Filth's Damnation and A Day or Emperor's Prometheus – Fleshgod pretty much nail it here, delivering something that manages to be ostentatious and outrageous without seeming too overblown while, more importantly, tearing you a new one at every turn.
Indeed perhaps Labyrinth’s biggest strength is its utter relentlessness. Fleshgod don’t muck about, for the most part, with needless classical interludes, fits of classical fancy or unnecessary narrative. They basically just pile everything on top of their tornadic black/death metal cacophony and bring it all along for what, ultimately, is an exhilarating, epic ride.
Paoli’s inhuman drumming steers the band through the album’s many corners and straightaways like a Formula 1 driver, always keeping things moving forward instead of turning into dark alleys or dead ends. And the furious riffing of Tommaso Riccardi and Cristiano Trionfera never loses its bite, cutting through the orchestral drapery and blinding tempos to ensure Labyrinth’s heaviness endures.
Strip away some of the intrusive operatics, and Labyrinth would be an utter masterpiece of symphonic metal. As it is, it’s still pretty friggin’ fantastico, especially for a band that, this being but their third album, may just be hitting their stride.