Perhaps Squire would have been a more fitting title?
Italy's Fleshgod Apocalypse is, and always has been, a pretty unique project. There's a very traditional Death feel to their workmanship, and this is complimented extremely well by the orchestral elements that have come to define them for a good many fans. Despite how prevalent the symphonic elements are in their music, they've never completely overshadowed what the rest of the band is creating. That is to say, not until this new album, King. This latest effort actually feels as though, for the most part, the Metal instrumentals are merely accompanying the classical compositions, rather than it being the other way around (which had been the case for the previous three albums). It's not to say that that's what makes the album disappointing, but rather the true problem comes from the fact that many of those compositions are quite predictable and a tad banal in comparison to the band's earlier efforts.
The real shame, of course, is that Fleshgod Apocalypse have consistently been improving their sound with each new release over the years, and King feels like a gigantic step backwards in a lot of ways. Often, the songs tend to meld so well into one another that it becomes exceedingly difficult to distinguish one track from another. Some of them even seem like complete retreads of songs from their last record, leaving a somewhat uninspired aftertaste for listeners. At the end of the final track, it's easy to feel like you just listened to the rejected tracks from 2013's Labrynth. The biggest issue with King is that the mundane passages make up a majority of each song, while the more interesting parts are somewhat buried.
Gravity (Lyric Video)
Despite its numerous problems, however, it's not a bad album overall. It does show some interesting ideas here and there, and the performances are fairly tight throughout. It requires numerous listens to get the full impact due to the fact that there is so much going on at any given time. And to enhance that, the production is the best the band have achieved yet. The uneven sound levels have often been cited as an annoying hindrance on their earlier works, and they've definitely had that cleaned up with the mix on this latest effort.
Agony and Labrynth improved upon a very solid platform, taking Fleshgod Apocalypse's sound to new levels of insanity and majesty. Simply put, King does not. That doesn't make it a bad album on the whole, but it is definitely a misstep when being compared. Like their first album, it could have and should have been so much more.
Images courtesy of Nuclear Blast Records.