Review Summary: Although labyrinth is a marginal improvement on Agony in terms of composition and production, it's uncompromising extravagance brings the whole experience down a notch.
After Fleshgod Apocalypse dropped the polarising Agony
in 2011, they’ve been heralded as the world’s premier symphonic death metal band by fans and lambasted as in insult to the genre by purists. There’s no question that symphonic elements are a touchy subject in the death metal community, and Fleshgod really do take it the extreme, taking some scorching tech instrumentation and clashing it with some incredibly bombastic orchestral arrangements. What Agony
suffered from (besides the awful production) was a lack of boundaries, as the band was so intent on making it as relentless and epic as possible that it practically suffocated itself. With their latest release, Fleshgod have addressed some of the compositional issues, but their devotion to all things “epic” still renders Labyrinth
a tiring listen.
Right from the get-go you’ll notice there is an issue that sticks out like a sore thumb, the production. Although the drums have been toned down a touch and the guitars have a bit more bite, the symphonic elements still take precedence over everything else. I guess this comes as no surprise, Fleshgod have already signalled their intent on becoming a full blown symphonic metal act, and thus the symphonic elements take the lead role. The guitar-work on this album is stellar as to be expected, which leaves me baffled as to why the guitarists have chosen to downplay their own performances by virtue of the mixing. The riffs that can be deciphered are air tight and a lot of the leads and solos are not only intricate but very enjoyable. Of course, we have no problem hearing Francesco Paoli’s drumming, as he belts out his usual triggered barrage of umpteen hundred BPM blast beats and precise but uninteresting fills. This is the problem these guys have created for themselves, as giving more priority to their death metal elements goes against their artistic vision of becoming a homogenous fusion of two diametrically opposing musical styles.
The lack of emphasis placed on riffs will greatly frustrate many purists, but credit where credit is due, the symphonic arrangements and compositions are an improvement over those on Agony
. It would sort of defeat the purpose of listening to a symphonic metal act to complain about the symphonies themselves, and once you take in the heavily layered and complex string sections you’ll find this album has a little more substance than you initially suspected. Songs such as “Kingborn”, “Towards the Sun”, “Warpledge” and the “Prologue/Epilogue” two parter contain some properly exhilarating sequences, which are balanced out nicely by some necessarily frequent lead breaks. The female operatic vocals are a nice addition at first, but begin to grate on you as they’re employed recurrently and inappropriately. Unfortunately, the album still suffers (albeit to a lesser degree) from the same problem that Agony
did, which is that the onslaught begins to wear thin over the course of the whole album, creating a body of work that pales in comparison to the sum of its parts.
Ultimately the band would benefit if they reverted back to the style they sported on Oracles
and once again became a tech act with symphonic elements rather than a full on incorporation of the two. Labyrinth
is an improvement on Agony
but that doesn’t mean it’s a step in the right direction. Unlike their Greek contemporaries Septic Flesh, who allow both their death metal and orchestral components to breath, Fleshgod fail to understand that two clashing at full blast for an hour at a time will always have its limitations. While Labyrinth
is a relatively enjoyable listen, the unrelenting dedication to all things extravagant still brings the whole experience down a notch.