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Album Review: FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE Labyrinth

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Picture this scene. You’ve just landed on the isle of Crete. You leave your ship and walk up the beach. The surf is crashing behind you. Insects drone in the olive trees beyond the sand. You come to a cyclopean stone gate. With effort, you heave the doors heave to with a crash, revealing a yawning darkness within. The salt spray of the ocean has given way to an older scent, a mixture of earth, dampness, and dread. The underworld smell seeps into your lungs. You leave the sea and sun behind, and plunge into the Labyrinth, the new death metal opera from Fleshgod Apocalypse.From the opening track “Kingborn” (the first forty seconds of which I described above), to the melancholy piano outro, Labyrinth attacks head-on the mixture of storytelling, opera, and technical death metal that Fleshgod Apocalypse have till now only tentatively explored.

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Like its predecessor Agony, Labyrinth is thematically whole. But unlike Agony—whose unifying themes are abstract concepts like temptation and sin—Labyrinth retells an ancient story: the myth of Asterion, the minotaur of Knossos. Therein lies the album’s strength. By grounding their music in this familiar—and concrete—story, Fleshgod Apocalypse have found the freedom to explore a new and novel way to tell a story that has been told countless times since antiquity.

Of course, storytelling is only one part of the whole. First and foremost, Labyrinth is a death metal album. The five Italian gentlemen who comprise Fleshgod Apocalypse create absolutely brutal music that reflects the minotaur’s savagery. Double guitars, blast beats, shredded vocals, pounding breakdowns, and solid leads—you know what to expect from these guys, and they don’t fail to deliver the brutality. Nor do they seem to be repeating themselves, a common problem in the tech-death genre. Instead they’ve ratcheted up the classical compositions and operatic singing that underlay much of Agony, bringing it to the surface, and the result is a mixture of monstrosity and hair-raising beauty. Listening to tracks such as “Warpledge” and “The Fall of Asterion,” I can imagine costumed actors and singers performing the minotaur’s tale on a stage lit only by guttering lime lights, whilst down in the musicians’ pit the band in their shredded tuxedos play with an orchestral accompaniment.

In the four years since Oracles was released, Fleshgod Apocalypse have gone from being just another tech-death metal band with a mildly gruesome name in an already overcrowded genre, to becoming masters of their art with a name that commands respect. Labyrinth will be one of the best metal albums of the year, if not the best. You couldn’t ask for a finer death metal opera. I look forward to the band’s next masterpiece.

Stream all of Labyrinth here.

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Labyrinth is available through Nuclear Blast August 16 in Europe and August 20 in North America. Catch Fleshgod Apocalypse on tour in the US and Canada now with Wintersun, Arsis, and Starkill.

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