Agony is the second full-length album from Italian death metal act Fleshgod Apocalypse, which was released in 2011. Stylistically the band is known as a brutal technical death metal band, which their first album Oracles (2009) is testimony to. On Agony however Fleshgod Apocalypse has reinvented their approach to the death metal genre. They’re now firmly rooted in the not so common symphonic death metal. Their music previously had the odd touches of a classical influence for flavour, but on Agony the Italian band has gone all out for this sort of sound. The result is something that reminds greatly of the music of Greek act Septicflesh, but with many layers of additional brutality.
Even with the very dominant symphonic backing this is still some very heavy and intense death metal. The brutal aspect of the band from Oracles is still somewhat intact, but it’s very clear early on that it’s the symphony that’s ruling the show here. The band has also included a lot of clean vocals from bassist Paolo Rossi in the tracks along with the brutal death growls, which crop up quite often.
With symphonic death metal being something of a rarity (though it does seem to have started being noticed this year), then for those who enjoy the sound, like myself for instance, then Agony is the sort of an album that needs to be jumped on since we get very few artists in the style. As a symphonic death metal album this is pretty solid material, however I have to consider the album from multiple viewpoints, and one of those is how Agony is going to be perceived in the wider scheme of things, especially when putting it next to Oracles, which in my opinion is a really excellent technical death metal album.
This is where Agony hits a major snag, the music is extremely repetitive. The clean vocals sound okay at first but after a few songs with them and you’ve realised what a commodity they are on Agony then it becomes quickly apparent how dull they really are. For one or two songs on the album they would have gone down well to add some variation to the release, but now they only hinder it. Not only can they be difficult to interpret but they sound pretty much the same in every song on the album they’re used in, not to mentioned rather strained in their delivery. Not that the growls are very decipherable either, but I never expected growls to be (at least opposed to clean vocals).
The repetitive nature doesn’t end with the vocals though, since there are some tracks without any contributions from Rossi. With the introduction and closing instrumentals aside, there is little clarity to be found on the album. If you ignore the symphonic layers and clean vocals then you’re almost entirely left with a band trying to be as hard, fast and brutal as possible. This causes much of the album to sound the same, leaving the songs with little identity from each other, with the exception of The Forsaking. The symphonic backing only hinders this approach at the end of the day, since without it an album such as Agony might have found a market in the brutal death metal scene, but the symphonic backing could well prove a deal-breaker there. This certainly has a market with the symphonic death crowd; however in the current state of metal, just how much of a symphonic death crowd there actually is remains to be seen. One positive thing that can be said for Fleshgod Apocalypse’s sound on the album is that the guitar leads can really bring life to otherwise symphonic dominated compositions.
Of course the symphonic element is done exceptional well, masterfully even, and the intensity of the death metal only adds to how strong it is since classical and metal actually go hand in hand really well, but I can’t shake the feeling that Agony won’t sit entirely well with fans of their prior work since despite some really great and innovative stuff it’s mostly coming from the classical side (the piano work of Francesco Ferrini is incredible) of Fleshgod Apocalypse, rather than the metal.
Despite this Agony is a solid album from Fleshgod Apocalypse, but I can’t help feeling that it is slightly inferior to Oracles on the death metal front, which despite the brutal aspect had a lot of interesting riffs and lead guitar flourishes, which still show up during Agony and are particularly noteworthy during The Violation for their neoclassical sound, but have taken more of a backseat in general. The riffs in comparison are completely bland, possibly intentionally so as not distract from the symphony. As a fan of symphonic death metal I enjoy this album a lot more than this review may have indicated up until this point, but from a professional point of view I have to consider other viewpoints.
At the end of the day however I have to chiefly base my rating of Agony on what it is, rather than what it isn’t, and it’s unashamedly a symphonic death metal album, and also the most death metal dominated that I’ve yet encountered within the fledgling genre compared to the progressive tendencies of MaYaN or the eerie atmospheric sound of Septic Flesh. To be honest I don’t actually enjoy Agony near as much as the recent efforts from either of those groups (Quarterpast and The Great Mass respectively), since it has its faults as outlined above. It’s a shame really because if they could have kept up the elements of Oracles that made it great, and still including the elements of Agony that make it great, then we could have been discussing a masterpiece here.
(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven, scored at 8.3/10)