The last time Fleshgod Apocalypse took on a concept album, they hopped a red-eye to the land of Greek mythology and set their bombastic brand of symphonic death metal to the classic tale of Theseus and the Labyrinth—epic source material by anyone's standards, but also comfortably grounded in the realm of fiction. Now, three years later, the Italians have returned with King, a furious and ornate LP that presents a more relatable horror story: the fear-based corruption of human beings and its subsequent effects on global society. We caught up with vocalist/guitarist Tommaso Riccardi to talk about the album's philosophy and the sheer logistics of creating music that's as intricate as it is powerful.
Conceptually, King is about a wise, honorable king who must watch as the world around him slowly comes to an end. You’ve said that metaphorically, the story describes “our indignation about the unrestrainable downfall of our own society in an era that looks more like the Middle Ages rather than the 21st Century.” Can you elaborate on that?
Well, it's pretty obvious that we live in difficult times. Reading about history, it’s easy to understand that events are cyclical. I guess this happens in every aspect of nature itself, like in chemistry and biology: every equilibrium is dynamic, not static, and every natural event goes through a repeating pattern. Obviously human nature is no different, so every event in history repeats itself in a way.
In this period, we are clearly going through an economical and cultural crisis that’s connected to the necessity of a physiological rearrangement in a world that’s rapidly changing and in which many different cultures need to find a way to integrate with each other. In this situation, the ability to make responsible and difficult decisions to help these changes go in the right direction is absolutely necessary, and only wisdom, rationality, and courage can lead to this result.
Unfortunately, what usually happens in this situation is people become afraid, and fear is our worst enemy. When fear makes its way through governors and populations, we start forgetting about the most important things in life. On one hand, that happens because the system tries to defend itself by acting directly on people’s perception of reality, using bad information and trying to keep people less aware of things, or instilling more and more fear to try to squeeze resources until the last drop. On the other hand, we subconsciously close our own ears to avoid facing reality, and I think this is the biggest problem: if you face problems one by one, there’s always a way to solve things, but when you let go and postpone, sooner or later, the chickens come home to roost. In my opinion, that’s why this is a period of decline—not just economically, but also in terms of art, culture and values.
How do these philosophical views tie in to King’s lyrical themes?
The King in this album represents the brave part of ourselves: the one we should cultivate to become strong and rise again from this Dark Age. He’s the only positive figure of this story—a man who has integrity and love for the values and truth that we all should hope for ourselves. All the other characters in the court represent the fears that can lead us to make everything worse. They try to affect the King’s decisions for their own advantage and hope for a loss of power, regardless of the suffering they’re going to create for their own world and people. As we already said when we presented King to our fans, we should all hail the King who lives inside every one of us.
Fleshgod Apocalypse’s music is inspired by legendary composers like Paganini and Vivaldi as well as modern composers like John Williams and Hans Zimmer. What characteristics of these composers appealed to you the most when you were composing King?
In general, we’ve always been fascinated by the analogies that exist between these two genres. Many of the harmonic and melodic progressions contained in classical music from the baroque to late-romantic period are strongly present in metal music. The impact is also very similar: classical music can be as dramatic, dark and compelling as metal, even if it’s in a different and more complex way. In my opinion, that’s why the result of this mix sounds “epic.”
On King in particular, I think we found a great balance between the two faces of our music: extremely cutting and groovy riffs combined with a lot of elements of both classicism and romanticism that provided the main themes with an even more dynamic and emotionally strong impact. We also did some experimenting in terms of the classical elements we used, like in the song “Paramour (Die Leidenschaft Bringt Leiden),” where we [incorporated] a particular genre of music called “Lied” that that was mainly explored by composers like Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann.
What was the most challenging part of King's creation process?
Well, talking about the hardest part of Fleshgod Apocalypse’s music is almost impossible because everything is the hardest part! Jokes aside, we’ve always been extremely meticulous about every detail of our job, so naturally, everything is intense when it comes to writing and recording. If you consider that composing King took almost nine full months and we spent more than two months in the studio, you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about.
Also, the challenge of working with some new people in the team (such as Marco Mastrobuono and Jens Bogren) put a lot of pressure on us in terms of being super curious yet naturally worried about the results. I guess that’s something that happens to everyone whenever there are big changes. On the other hand, the satisfaction of the final result totally paid off and made us stronger than ever. In the end, how could it be different with such skilled and professional people working on our side?