Fleshgod Apocalypse Frontman Discusses New Album ‘Labyrinth’

Interview by J.C. Green

Italian extreme metal band Fleshgod Apocalypse began in 2007, but in a short amount of time they’ve gained a sizable following for themselves, through two impressive studio albums ‘Oracle’ and Agony’, and active touring around the world. The band caught the attention of one and all in the extreme metal genre, specially when they toured the United States on their previous touring cycle. Now, they are ready to build on that momentum and put out their third album ‘Labyrinth’ via Nuclear Blast Records on August 16th in Europe and August 20th in North America. A few days ago, our writer J.C. Green spoke to vocalist/guitarist Tommasso Riccardi to discuss in detail the various aspects surrounding the album. Read the conversation below.

Hello Tommaso, Fleshgod Apocalypse is back with a new album titled “Labyrinth”. The album is the follow up to the highly succesful “Agony” and it will be released on August 16th. After listening to the album plenty of times, I feel this is the stronger Fleshgod Apocalypse effort to date. How would you describe the band’s approach for “Labyrinth”?

Hello! Our approach to music in general, and in particular to the composing process and practicing has always been extremely meticulous and serious. We do this with the consciousness that we need to let our imagination and spirit go with the flow regarding the inspiration, but on the other hand we are perfectly aware of what happens in the music business, what is needed to create a single or an entire album, especially on the technical side. So every time we take a step forward, this comes from a deeper knowledge and consciousness and we try to learn from mistakes, keep the good things, and also continue our growth as people and musicians. This is the kind of approach we had for “Labyrinth”; starting from the idea that we had, and this time we knew how to do it better.

If you were to compare the work done for “Labyrinth” to your previous album, what was done different and what was done the same way?

Well, from a certain point of view, nothing is ever the same on everything we do. This is just because we ALWAYS learn something and modify every little aspect to make it better. On the other hand, everything is based on the previous experience, so it is never a sort of cut and paste, but always an extention of the past things and methods.

For how long did you kept writing and recording the album? Does the amount of time employed compare to the one you put on your previous efforts?

Unfortunately for many reasons, we had a very short time for “Agony”, and this is also why as soon as we finished with that album, even after being obviously satisfied with the great results and success, we already knew that many things could be done even better if we had enough time for those elements. With “Labyrinth”, we took our time, and believe me, it’s been a rush, but that would have happen in any case, because sometimes we would keep perfectioning things forever. Anyway, we took about 6 months for the composition, plus 2 and half months for recording, and we finished, even though the last two months have been crazy!

On “Labyrinth” the guitars take a predominant sound again as in “Agony” they were second to the symphonic elements, but not this time. Did you consciously wanted the album to sound this way or this was just the result of a natural process?

Well, every experience brings change and evolution. In “Agony”, being the first time composing with a whole orchestra throughout the music, we tried to treat the guitars as a section of strings, to make it work with all the other instruments. We were satisfied with that, but in the meantime, during these two years, listening back to our work and to a lot of other music, we found out there were many ways to make the guitars sound more as metal guitars from a rythmic point of view, but still work perfectly (even better in my opinion) with the orchestra. I think it was also a matter of getting more experience and understanding even deeper our music. Also, we took enough time to work on every single detail.

Another thing on “Labyrinth” that caught my attention was the additional use of soprano styled female vocals on several songs, just as you did on “Agony” when you used Veronica Bordacchini as guest female vocalist. I feel that in “Labyrinth” the soprano singed parts have a deeper impact than on “Agony”. What specific purpose did you aim when you decided to include that kind of vocals style? And were they handled by Veronica just once again?

Well, I think that many of the things that happen during a musical and artistic evolution come from the need of the music itself. Obviously there is always an idea, a higher view of the composer that knows what he wants since the beginning, but sometimes there are also things that you get to work in a certain way during the process. We’ve always moved between different vocal styles in our songs, and this time we felt that this kind of distribution with a bigger presence of this kind of vocals was perfect for the balance of this album. We always have to remember that music is like engineering: the building needs a certain structure, shape, balance and certain materials in the right place to be stable and harmonic. And yes, Veronica performed all those parts.

For “Agony” you chose “The Violation” as the first single and video from the album. Now for “Labyrinth”, “Elegy” was chosen as the first single. Do you plan to shot a video for it as well, this in case, you haven’t already done it?

Yes, we actually released just a few days ago “Elegy” as the first single. Regarding a video, I still can’t say anything; what is for sure is that we’re gonna certainly work on the first videoclip as soon as possible, probably right after the first tour.

Although all the songs on “Labyrinth” are equally strong, personally I think that “Kingborn”, “Elegy”, “Pathfinder” and “Under Black Sails” are the jewels of the crown. What is your opinion about those songs and is there anything special about these or any other tracks that you consider that stand out of the rest?

Well, of course every song has different meanings and values for us. Regarding the ones you mentioned, I would say “Kingborn” and “Elegy” are in some way closer to some Fleshgod classics, while, for example “Pathfinder” is something that in some way could be considered as a brand new style. It’s obviously a Fleshgod song, and you can hear it, and for sure we put it in a way that was functional to the whole balance of the album, but on the other hand it is something that brings out, in my opinion, new and almost unexplored aspects of our music. I really like that song. “Under black Sails” is great, and represents our hability to put a very crazy and epic song as a last song before the piano conclusion. Another song I would name as a particular song compare to the previous works is “Towards The Sun”, which contains some of the best lyrics we ever put down in my opinion.

On “Agony” you explored the concept of some strong emotions and the negative part of the human behavior. By looking at the song titles and trying to figure out the lyrics for the songs on “Labyrinth” I cannot relate them to a specific matter or concept. So, does “Labyrinth” really follow a concept? Can you give us details about the lyrical themes used this time?

“Labyrinth” is about one of the most important issues in life: The search for us.
All of us, at a certain point of our life, can make a choice. We can choose to ignore many feelings that we have, many desires, fears, the sense of emptiness, and just close our mind and do what we think we are supposed to do. Most of the time this means getting sick inside, dying before we actually die. On the other hand, we can choose not to ignore this inner voice calling us, who guides our deep desires and the will to understand and to win over our fears. If we can take this endeavour, then we start discovering who we really are, and we have the chance to see that the freedom we look for is here, in ourselves. “Labyrinth” is a metaphoric story inspired by the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Theseus is a hero who, recognizing his roots, takes the responsability of doing a crazy journey to kill the Minotaur, half man half bull, symbolizing our deepest fears. The Minotaur is trapped into the Labyrinth of Knossos that perfectly represents the complexity of us, of our inner world.

You have dealt with topics like the Sicilian Mafia in the past, and negative human emotions or sins, what keep inspiring you when it comes to the topics on your writing?

Life. We often talk about other artists and music we listen to; of course these are important sources, but in my opinion, the biggest inspiration for an artist is existence itself, and all its issues. 

Having in mind your vicinity to the Catholic Church Headquartes with all the atrocities that happen inside those walls, how would you describe the impact of the Church on us as individuals and society? Would you consider writing about this topic for a future album?

Well, we talked about institutions, both political and religious, and the way they use fear to threaten people with “Oracles”. Regarding the Catholic Church itself, what I think is that, of course, it’s one of those insitutions that certainly are responsible for many many atrocities in history, but it’s just one of them. What I mean is that we talked about these issues, and even directly about the Vatican (“Infection Of the White Throne”), and we actually keep talking about this in different ways still today. All the horrible deeds come from a deep frustration of people who search for their freedom in power, money, control… but they are miserable, and they actually don’t see the light they talk so much about. But this can be extended to everyone and every institution. I don’t like saying “all catholics are bastards” as well as I wouldn’t say that all Muslims are, or whatever. I like to say: “hey, a lot of people are sick. They can’t find a way to live, love, dream, in a way that is sane, so look what happens. They create myths and institutions and they follow their inner devil rising up with their expensive clothes and their altisonant names…”, but, on the other hand, I believe that all of us have different ways to find faith in ourselves and in life. It’none of my business to judge the fact that someone believe in this or that god, or if they don’t. If the intention is good and characterized by positivism, I got nothing to complain about.

Fleshgod Apocalypse began as a technical and brutal death metal band. “Oracles” can be considered among the stapples of the style. On “Mafia”, you began to incorporate symphonic elements, but it wasn’t until “Agony” that you went for a full symphonic approach. Can you elaborate on that musical evolution? Even the bands logo was stylized so it was a very bold change indeed.

Well, I understand that “Oracles” in some way is considered to be part of something that some call technical death metal, but I disagree on the fact that there was a sort of drastic change. Maybe, this is because we never said to ourselves: “let’s do a technical death metal album”. We’ve been inspired by a lot of death metal bands from the classic ones of the 80’s and 90’s, to the newest ones, since we also listen to death metal, but if you pay attention to “Oracles” you can notice that the classical core of Fleshgod was already there since the beginning. I would say more: some things never changed. You recognize our riffing in “Oracles” as well as in “Labyrinth” and in “Agony”, and even in “Mafia”, no doubt about this. We were born as a band that blends two genres. The fact that we “added” the orchestra (already present in certain parts of the previous albums) was a matter of evolution. We just understood (as every other band) our style, and defined it, while walking our path. “Oracles” represents the roots, and the roots are still completely there. Some people just don’t wanna see it: maybe because they can’t take the fact that they loved an album of a symphonic metal band (laughs).

I find it very appealing that while you went for a symphonic approach, most of your songs went to an even faster pace. Fleshgod Apocalypse in 2013 is a more extreme band than what it was back in 2009. How important is for you to keep trying and incorporating new elements into your sound while remaining constant with the extremity factor?

It’s very important. But still, even in this case, this is just a matter of our instinct and inspiration. We do what we feel and when we feel it. The extremity factor, as you said, is important, but it can be expressed in many ways. And this comes out in “Labyrinth” for example, where you can hear many different approaches to this throughout the album. Often, bands keep doing something when they feel they would like to evolve in something else, and they write bad music beacuse they’re not allowing them to flow. Then, when people complain, they do something “back to the roots, extreme like it was at the beginning”…and they fail again, because it’s fake. We’ll try to avoid this. We always dare, and a lot of people complain. But we don’t care, they would complain anyway. If we will feel that we have to write the slowest album ever, we’ll do it. And it will sound Fleshgod, I’ll guarantee it. It’s a matter of identity, the only thing that always wins.

In the 90’s and early 2000’s, Italy was mostly known for being a country exporting power and progressive metal bands, some of them became pretty succesful. It can’t be said that Italy was an extreme metal exporter even though extreme metal in Italy goes back to the 80’s with bands like Bulldozer and Necrodeath. But in the last 5 to 7 years or so, many extreme metal bands have came out of Italy and made a big impact worldwide. What do you think are the reasons for this change? Or do you think that nothing has really changed and it is just that with the success of a band like yours, fans are beginning to take a closer look at the Italian extreme metal scene?

I think that there have been some people who met, who had the mentality to look forward and don’t think “ah…we’re Italians, we can’t do this” (as most of the people think) and to start doing this as a real job. We are maybe the latest example. Hour Of Penance did it, Eyeconoclast (and now they start being recognized finally), The Modern Age Slavery, Slowmotion Apocalypse (even if the genre is different, but still metal). The problem in Italy was, and still is, mentality. There are promoters asking for big money to kids playing in their first band, to open one or two shows to big bands creation the illusion to them that this will make them famous. Concerts and musical events are always organized without serious investments but always to save money save money, save money…on everything. The result is bands getting sick of playing shitty shows, with shitty treatment, shitty catering, shitty everything. And the fault comes from the people who want to use these shows just to make as much money as possible don’t giving a FUCK about the result. And they’re stupid. Because the result is that they loose money because nobody believes anymore. And bands don’t wanna play. And peple don’t wanna come. Unfortunately the few exceptions to this are slowly dying due to the general tendencies.

How is the planning for the tour in support of “Labyrinth”? I have seen that you have been adding dates here and there.

Yeah. We are working on many things to cover as much places as possible. We want to do a massive promotion for “Labyrinth”, and also go to some places we’ve never been before. For now, the only official things that I can say is that we’re playing two open air shows in Germany on July 26 and 27 (and I guess there will already be some surprise there) and then a direct support tour with Wintersun in North America. Can’t wait for that!

Now with 3 albums and an EP up your sleeve, how will your live setlist be changed? Do you plan to play more stuff from your last 2 albums or make a balance along your earlier material as well?

Obviously it will depend on the setlist length. On supporting gigs, with less time to play, we’ll obviously try to play as much as possible from the last two albums. On headlining shows, we’ll try to put on even some songs from the previous works, as we already did many times!

For “Agony” you did plenty of live dates in the USA and as far as I have seen, this will happen with “Labyrinth” as well. How different is playing in the USA in contrast to Europe for example?

Well, it’s two different markets, and scenes. Europeans pay more attention on the history, so it takes a little longer to conque Europe, but in the end it pays off with a very stable fan base. Of course the good thing about US is that there’s a higher hype for new acts coming up. Americans really like what is new, besides the history of the band. Also, I think American crowds are more mixed: much easier to find kids who like metalcore and death metal at the same time than in Europe. European crowds are more concentrated on one genre usually!

Tommaso thanks a lot for your time. Do you have any finals words that you would like to share?

Of course. Whatever genre of music you like, support good music. Thank you!