Review Summary: "You get someone that likes it and then someone that doesn't"
Give one listen to Agony
, and you will realize that this isn't the same Fleshgod Apocalypse that brought long-haired metalheads their Oracles
album and Mafia
EP in 2009 and 2010, respectively. No, these Italians aren't the same at all. A symphony of albeit artificial strings and sweeping, storming piano chords picks listeners up on the instrumental, beckoning opener of “Temptation” and then leads them into what could only be described as a fully enthralling, cinematic extreme metal experience of pure Agony
. According to vocalist and guitarist Cristiano Trionfera in a video interview with The Gauntlet
just a couple of weeks ago in July, “This is the first time we are realizing the real idea of what we are,” when speaking of Agony
; and then stating later when he was looking over the band's work leading up to its new album: “I like Oracle
; I like Mafia
. . . . But this time we realized our dream, to do, like, an orchestral, symphonic album, not just putting some keyboards on the songs.”
The interviewer for The Gauntlet
, Jason Fisher, almost sounded as if he were smiling when he asked from behind the camera, “Did you guys ever get any backlash from, like, death metal purists?” Trionfera, who was with drummer Francesco Paoli, looked at his companion and mumbled a few words, and then looked back to Fisher, hesitantly: “Yeah, of course. Every time you change . . . you get someone that likes it and then someone that doesn't.”
Trionfera's last sentence will prove to be the summary line for many-a-review for Fleshgod Apocalypse's Agony
– just watch: this is divisive stuff. As fast, pummeling, and, err, sweeping
, as the music these Italians have brought to the table can be, many will be offset for the dive into Dimmu Borgir
-like territory that the band has taken itself. First proper track “The Hypocrisy” offers listeners everything from forlorn, wailing male and female vocalists in the background to a full-on symphonic death metal assault, coming custom-fit with snarls, growls, distortion, and an impressive drumming performance from Paoli. And Agony
hardly lets up from there either, too.
Look deeper into the strings and beneath the extra vocalist inclusions of Agony
, however, and you will see an impressive improvement on Fleshgod Apocalypse's part since we last heard from them, though. When Trionfera alluded to the band actually writing the songs for Agony
on the basis of the symphonics and the drums in the interview with Fisher – not being as just a hindsight inclusion – he wasn't joking. The frequent chord changes and the very flow of the songs themselves are impressive: Fleshgod Apocalypse's overall improvement in the area of their songwriting can't be denied.
For instance, Fleshgod Apocalypse love to slow the music down to bare keyboard symphonics so as to lure the listener into a restful state - and then, all the sudden they launch in for a death metal assault again, just as hell-raising as the last. This happens frequently on Agony
: on the opener, “Temptation”, to the aforementioned storm of “The Hypocrisy”; from the “The Imposition” to “The Deceit”; from the riveting highlight “The Betrayal” to the mid-tempo, and welcomed respite, “The Forsaking”; and finally, from the prior to the final onslaught of symphonic death hurricane, the aptly-titled “The Oppression”. Of course, this slow-to-fast gimmick for the music is predictable on the fourth go around when it occurs on just
one listen to Agony
. However, it's the Italians' ability to do it as seamlessly as they do that deserves recognition.
If you thought this year's literal death metal symphony, The Great Mass
, from Greece's Septic Flesh
was impressive, Agony
will have you clasping with all your might to your computer chairs – or wherever you may be in its attention – just in order to hang on. But the difference between The Great Mass
, however, is that the prior actually uses a real
choir and orchestra: Agony
is, admittedly, a fake. But it does make up for it by not having a nasally frontman, like a certain Sotiris Vayenas, and at the end of the day, Fleshgod Apocalypse are the real ones that truly keep the death metal constituent of their sound as the main driving factor in the sound mix, whereas Septic Flesh
get a little too lost in their show.
The negatives of Septic Flesh
's work still apply to Fleshgod Apocalypse's bombastic cacophony on Agony
, however: As pulse-pounding as these songs are, the symphonic elements make a mockery of the death metal atmosphere of the music at the end of the day, no matter which of the two is the more prevalent to be heard on the mix of the album. For years, this was a problem that single-manned Hollenthon
and the very veterans of the style from Greece, Septic Flesh
, were running into with their work to traditionalists' chagrin, and while the latter band's and this year's Agony
by Fleshgod Apocalypse are showing signs that a balance can be reached between symphonics and death metal in the future – at least to a place where the end product sounds at least decent to traditionalists – a firm, pervasive air of cheesiness still runs through the sound of the album. And this is something that Agony
just can't escape, despite its onslaught of distortion.
This is where Trionfera's quote and unofficial summary of the article comes into play: “You get someone that likes it and then someone that doesn't.” As well-played as Agony
is, and as much as Fleshgod Apocalapse have improved as songwriters, the album itself cannot escape the fact that it is just
another hybrid-mutant symphonic death metal circus. So while, yes, your typical cave-lurking Incantation
-til-death metalhead will, as predicted, hate Agony
, those that can stomach it will find a lot to love here. Instrumentally, the guitars and especially the drumming of Paoli are all top-notch, and while the symphonics are a wank-fest for Dimmu fans everywhere, the songwriting behind them and their fit into the music's flow is impressive. You won't do better, as far as symphonic death metal goes, then Agony
, or The Great Mass
too for that matter, but for its strengths, Agony
easily gives the latter a run for its money. The Italians deserve a hand here - a job well done.