Fleshgod Apocalypse is a band that is taking the Death Metal world by storm. The group formed back in 2007, and with the release of their debut full-length offering, Oracles, they changed many of the concepts behind the Technical Death Metal field with their heavily symphonic approach, all building to a rather impressive and unique sound. While Oracles definitely felt a little raw and more like an experimental album for the group then anything, it was well received by fans and critics. Following that and a small EP titled Mafia, the group went back into the studio to record their follow-up full-length release, Agony. Will this effort best their previous releases and show a much stronger Fleshgod Apocalypse?
The audio quality to Agony is actually not what you would expect for a Symphonic Metal act of any kind. The audio actually feels a little muffled and thick, which does feel like it hurts the album a bit by not allowing the instruments to really sound distinct to one another, and instead leaves much of what’s being played to just sound like converging sounds in a sort of muddy puddle (if that summary makes any sense to anyone) compared to how the instruments would stand out from one another with a cleaner, more stylish approach that would best suit the music being played. The Symphonic elements played by just don’t quite seem to really pop out as much, though still end up being a nice offering to the music that makes Agony much richer and far more chaotic. The drumming is great, and for the most part feels more like something you’d hear from a modern blast beat driven Black Metal offering at times, leaving “The Imposition” as the perfect example of this. The guitars are strong and chaotic with some more technical guitar riffs that suit the machinegun-like bass kicks of the drum kit, and the bass also stands pretty strong, being very noticable throughout each song and really helping to create a crushing atmosphere in additional to the Symphonic elements being performed. The kit itself has some pretty distinctive bass kicks that fall between a thud and click, but loud enough you can make them out easily. The snares work well and pound away during faster, chaotic sections, and the cymbols are often just as inhuman, but listening to the kit during these chaotic moments calls into questions how much of the kit is human verses triggers considering the pace the cymbols and snares are hit, and how close they ultimately sound to one another. Either way they sound good, but really come out of the album sounding inhuman and even impossible. The production also manages to make one song bleed into the next one nicely, often through the Symphonic keyboards, but sometimes the music itself other then the keyboards continues on into the next track without really faltering or having any sort of hiccup or glitch between tracks.
As far as glitches go, the first thing that need to be highlighted is around the four minute mark during the end of the guitar solo. There’s a little blip noise that doesn’t quite fit in, nor does it sound like any of the other instruments or fluid to the solo being performed. It sounds like a glitch in the song, but since this is a digital promotional copy supplied by the label, it could just be a screw up in the file. This is why I much prefer original pressed CDs, as I know whether or not it’s on the CD, so just take this note as something to watch out for you pick it up. It’s actually very hard to pick up on at first, but if you’re paying attention and it’s on the final pressing, you’ll notice how out of place it sounds. Other then that, there’s no other glitching moments to the release. The track itself out that issue is strong, and has a decent, if not a bit too drawn out introduction with “Temptation”. “The Hypocrisy” does highlight some of the band’s better points, like the heavier bass presence really adding another layer to the music, though still following the guitars, but the guitars do end up feeling a bit further in the background in comparison. The more operatic-styled clean singing with higher pitched vocals and some slight echo effects works well and adds to the already present chaotic, even apocalyptic atmosphere of the release.
While this track establishes the general idea of chaos and madness, there’s no denying that Agony does have a lot more intense material in store that takes on a far more chaotic infestation. “The Imposition”, which is transitioned so well from “The Hypocrisy” that you won’t even know it switched songs at first, really has a high speed and a much strong amount of aggression behind it as well. This is the song that calls triggers into question, but even then the music just sounds epic and brutal at the same time where you really won’t even care that much. The song doesn’t call in the higher pitched singing like “The Hypocrisy” and the following track “THe Deceit” does, instead relying solely on the guttural vocals to really keep the listener’s attention to the lyrics of the song and the general concept at play of having these tracks all linked together, which is a bit disheartening but a welcome move, showing the band is not ready to abuse this concept of their sound. “The Egoism” also makes for a strong offering from the band, mostly in part to it’s slower pace allowing the music to kind of stand out a little more and not feel like a chaotic mess like some songs such as “The Hypocrisy” and “The Violation” can seem like thanks to the muddier audio quality. The track also just feels more commanding and has a slightly hopeful atmosphere thanks to the Symphonic elements while the other instruments still give a bit of a crushing atmosphere, making you feel like you’re reaching for the light while being curbed stomped at the same time. Of course, that’s in a positive manner and not a negative shot to the song.
The slower tracks like “Egoism” really do shine nicely on the album and act sort of as breaks from the chaotic madness of Agony. “The Forsaking” is another fantastic slower paced track, except this time the song is not as Symphonic as the rest of the material, which is great and a welcome change of direction. The keyboards instead act as keyboards with a rich performance and don’t just sit there with a few small chords here and there to have them on the track, and it really gives the song a cold atmosphere with matching freezing vocals that would best suit a more “kvlt” Black Metal recording. The harsher rhaspier approach that is heavily distorted and pushed into the background really feels melancholic and makes that colder atmosphere feel as chilling as ice, and equally as grim. It’s a fantastic song that just about puts every song on the album to shame. The keyboard instrumental titled “Agony” is also rather beautiful and really brings in a more Classical approach to the song, and even wraps up the album nicely in the end, leaving the listener feeling content with the madness that he or she just experienced.
Agony makes for a very unique and exciting album. Having a more technical approach with Symphonic elements and moments of Operatic and even Classical musical compositions is sheer genius to this release, and having it play out more conceptually then just random tracks really makes this a rich experience. The only real gripe comes from the muddier sound which does hurts the album when the music is on a ore epic or grand over-the-top scale, leaving some of those tracks to just feel like one big mess instead of having the instruments stand out distinctively in the chaos the band is performing. But, even with that issue, if you’re a fan of Death Metal, then Agony is a must hear release, and it’s one you’ll come back to time after time. It’s not one that you can throw in and just start headbanging to, thanks to it’s more refined and “cultured” sound leaving it to be an album to appreciate like a fine aged wine, but what it all boils down to is a colossal Death Metal album, the likes of which you rarely see today.