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FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE: Where death metal and orchestra unite

Interview with vocalist/guitarist Tommaso Riccardi by Vera in January 2016

Last years Fleshgod Apocalypse happened to be one of the rare Italian bands that really experience grand success abroad and even all over the world. They started in a humble way with ‘Oracles’ and the EP ‘Mafia’, putting down an eclectic blend of death metal with wealthy orchestration. Then they were signed by Nuclear Blast and it gave them a real boost. ‘Agony’ paved their path to international fame; with ‘Labyrinth’ their next step on the ladder of world-wide recognition was achieved by working hard. Early February their next orchestral extreme metal masterpiece ‘King’ came out and we had the opportunity to have a nice and extensive conversation with the debonair front man/singer/guitarist Tommaso Riccardi, a waterfall of words, about his latest creation.

Let us pick up the thread around the release of the previous album ‘Labyrinth’. Could you tour enough to support that album and where did you go?
‘Labyrinth’ has been a kind of turning point in some way. It was the second album on Nuclear Blast of course and ‘Agony’ was the big change, but it was somehow a start. We had the chance to tour for ‘Agony’ a lot, but still that time was needed to collect more experience on stage and everything. With ‘Labyrinth’ we finally started to have our own confidence on stage and it has been great, because it has been continuously growing since ‘Agony’ and then ’Labyrinth’. There was a lot of hype compared to the previous one, so we finally got the chance to tour almost all over the world, because we have been to Australia, China, Japan, India, Tunesia, South Africa, South America and Costa Rica and Mexico… It has been a very tough job, because we have been out for 120 gigs a year, something like that. Very challenging, but it has been a great time, because I think the tour cycle of ‘Labyrinth’ is what really gave us the chance – for the first time also - to play at very big festivals like Wacken Open Air. All these tours and festivals have been so important to us, to get experience and be more and more confident. This new album looks really good and there is a big hype and great reaction until now with the press and also our closest friends and the label who are listening to our album the last weeks, so we are more than happy to start all over again with the tours. We are ready.

So in other words, your lives have really changed in the last couple of years, from underground band to making a living of it, I guess?
Yes, it has finally been happening in the last two years. It is beautiful. It is what you like to do and also I am able to survive from it now. It gives you more serenity and the chance to concentrate 100% on this work. It is always more difficult when there is the question mark on everything, you don’t know if you are going to make it or not. At this point it is great to know and to feel that you are doing your job and getting paid for it.

And world-wide, that’s also important…
Absolutely, because the metal market is expanding a lot. For example the Eastern countries, like India, Indonesia, China… it is the first time ever that bands start touring in China. You can totally see that it is still a small situation sometimes, but it is so obvious that it will become bigger and bigger. That’s great, because it gives us the chance to travel, even more than before and have appreciation from more fans, also see different realities. It is great to know there is always a new place where you can go.

We are lucky that many metal fans still want to have a physical copy, even vinyl now…
On this change of the industry, I have never seen a trap. It is normal that things change, for example I think streaming is a great thing that is happening. It is true that bands earn less money than before from selling records, but in the meantime the possibilities of spreading the word are incredibly big, because there are so many platforms where people can listen to music. The good thing is that I guess that music fans always will support the music they like, while there will always be others who do not support music. I think the Internet gives you the chance to be known by more people. The people who are interested in supporting the band will do it anyway. I use streaming and that’s fine. I do not download, but pay an amount of money and I can listen to whatever I want. You are still supporting the music business, but you have the chance to get to know so much music. It is a good thing that metal fans are really diehard fans. When someone really likes a band, he will support them and buy merchandising. That is a great side about metal, people who listen to metal are people who really care about the music. It gives us the chance to survive. So I am very grateful to all our fans who are supporting us. We could not be here without them.

You serve them with a lot of things. In your merchandising I see mugs, there is now ‘The Fool’, the new wine; there was something with Italian cooking… Can you tell something about those initiatives?
We have been putting out a lot of different articles, because we are also interested in getting the people to know about the culture behind us. Of course we had some people criticizing this, but I don’t care. It is interesting because you can gather a lot of stuff from the band. In the meantime we are also pushing our own culture into food, because it seems to be something strange in many parts of the world. For us this scène is actually a form of art. The food is in our blood. The fans have for instance the possibility to buy the wine that is from our areas, Umbria. It is made in the region where we live and high quality stuff. It is different way to propose something different to the fans and in the meantime get people to know what is in the culture of our country.

It is an amazing place where you are living. You are from Asisi I guess, the surroundings are magnificent to visit. Italy is a very refined culture…
Our area is really amazing, because there are medieval cities and there is also Roman stuff, especially in Perugia there are also a lot of buildings and walls from the Etruscan era, so we are talking about 3,000 years old stuff, that is really amazing. And in the meantime you can drive just 15 minutes and you are on the lake. That lake Trasimeno is actually very famous, especially abroad. There are many people from Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands discovering it.

Indeed, lake Trasimeno is amazing, we have been there several times…
It is getting popular. Now it seems that George Lucas has bought a big house on top of one of the hills. Even people from the US are falling in love with that place. It is good for the place and the tourism, but it is still not overwhelmed with tourism, because it is not very famous. Not like Garda or Como lake. We are living here all our lives, but always we go there if it is a sunny day. It is so nice. We feel very happy to live in a place like this, that is why we try to expand this idea and atmosphere all over the world.

I found out that it took nine months to write the new album ‘King’ and that it was pretty stressful. Can you go deeper into that?
It has always been that way, because we are very meticulous. We really take care of the details, because details in arrangements and the structures of the songs is what really make a good song. So it is really important from the first inspiration and ideas to real working on the details for a long time. It is not something that you can choose, you really have to listen to the music and take the time to develop it step by step. Of course this is a very stressful process and it is crazy to say, but the touring is for us almost like a vacation, compared to the writing of a new album. It is obviously physically heavy and you are often far from home, but in the meantime for some reasons there are moments you can relax a bit. But writing demands maximum concentration and especially this time I think that the result is amazing. So we are very satisfied and happy about the album. It could not have been better and people say that they are positively surprised by the album.

It is death metal with loads of orchestration, but also quite fresh and progressive. I cannot sum up bands that sound like you…
I agree that our music is quite unique. Of course we got a lot of inspiration from bands from the past. It is important to know the music and listen to it. There have been so many bands that inspired us. The first thing that always comes to my mind is Dimmu Borgir. They are really pioneers, one of the first bands that used orchestrations in that way, so massive into the music, but in the meantime it is true that the mix we are putting out and the style we are slowly defining is becoming more and more personal. You can hear that there’s actually a lot of things that we like, that we are actually putting into our music. Bands of that ilk are Septicflesh and Carach Angren, but still it is a very different approach. Every one has a different style, especially between these three bands. I think there is a lot of Italian style in what we do, because there is a lot of Italian romantic music, there is a lot of Rossini or Paganini and also big influences from modern composers from soundtracks. In ‘King’ for example there is a lot of inspiration from Hanz Zimmer who has been working with Christopher Nolan for a lot of movies lately. From a classical point of view maybe we are now the band that has eventually more classical influences and that is totally audible in the music.

And on top of that the albums are always linked in some way, like ‘King’ is built upon the album ‘Labyrinth’. Can you explain that? In what respect do you consider that?
‘King’ is actually a synthesis of all the things we have been doing before. At the same time there are a lot of innovative elements, we put out many aspects of our musicianship that we never explored in my opinion, especially on rhythmic side. Our drummer did some innovative things. I think it is also the album most in your face of our collection. There is always that complexity that allows you to listen to the songs and every time you discover something new, but at the same time we wanted something that was very strong from the first time listening, very powerful. I really like that. You can hear there is a strong connection with whatever we have done in the past and with ‘labyrinth’ of course, but on the other hand it is a very different album, a very various album, there is a lot of hidden slow tempi and very dark riffings, but at the same time there is also that typical fast, rough stuff of Fleshgod Apocalypse. We have put it in a different way, especially for the guitar riffs. We felt also the need to go back to re-computering the role of guitars and try also to put them in a different way. The guitars are always together with the orchestra, yet I think the riffing is much more a metal riffing than before. Both elements we have combined; now I think we have a very good balance between both things. You can totally hear the presence of the metal part in the music, but in the meantime there is also that complexity and orchestral side of our music. This is actually the focus we had on this album. We really wanted to work on a proper balance to make everything fit, I think we succeeded in doing that. And of course, last but not least, the production has been very important, because it is so important to have a good sounding album.

You went abroad for the first time with famous Jens Bogren for mix and mastering. Why was that?
Not only in the mix and mastering, but also in the recordings we made some changes. We felt the need to experience something different from before and move forward on the production level, because it was the proper time for us to do it. Of course it has been very stressful, because we were full of questions. We did not know what to expect, because it was the first time that we were working with different people, but it has been great to find out that there are great professionals out there and in the end it really went smooth. Of course we had to discuss many details with Jens Bogren. We recorded with Marco Mastrobuono (Hour Of Penance – VM) at his studio in Rome. We have been friends with him now for a long time, but we never worked with him in the studio. Actually it has been a very good surprise, because recordings went really well. So we already had great sounds since the beginning and that is very important for the final result of an album. We also did a pre-production before with Stefano Morabito at 16th Cellar Studios. We started with a good base. And then of course… working with someone that experienced and skilled as Jens Bogren… that is the most important thing in the end, because Jens is not only a very talented sound engineer, but also an actual producer. He is someone who really knows how to treat the music and knows how the music behaves and that is very important when you have to interpret what the musicians want. We discussed thousands of things. But that’s when someone is really professional: when he is able to listen, but at the same time he puts his own experience into the job. The final result is great and I am so happy with it. Every time I listen to the songs now, I have always the feeling that it sounds very close to what we imagined since the beginning. There is a good balance between power and dynamics, there is nothing disturbing, everything is there at the right moment.

Let us focus on the concept. ’King’ should be interpret as a positive character when the old world comes to an end. Can you go deeper into the lyrical contents of the album?
Of course. We have always been interested in talking about humanity and how our behaviours influence ourselves, the others and also the world that surrounds us. In this case we were really strongly inspired by the modern times, because I believe that we are living in an economical crisis. Not only an economical crisis, but I think also a cultural collapse crisis. And I think that particularly always happened in history; it is something - in my opinion -connected to the fact that when many new things are happening and there is the need to integrate many different cultures and things, obviously people react with fear. It is pretty normal that this happens and also it is also very normal that when fear kicks in, it is very easy to forget about what are important things, actually very simple things, very concrete things in every day life. Also technology, evolution is very important in this process, because there’s so many things now that are so useful, like Skype or Whatsapp… it can be used in a positive way, but it is also very easy for the mind of people that sometimes is very weak, turning into addiction. There is a lot of addiction to many stupid things in the end. We are really forgetting to interact with each other in the reality. In my opinion it is very important to think about this and try to be responsible in the meaning that: we are a drop in the ocean. We can make a difference. So, this ‘King’ actually represents this old world where people were more pure, more sincere. That is somehow falling now. All the other characters are representing the behaviours of other people, of powerful people and also people in general and all the things that are happening trying to bring this world down. These characters are trying to manipulate the king and trying to bring his power down. They are jealous people, greedy people, while the King is someone – well, he is not a perfect guy, he also has to take responsibilities and sometimes that means hurt others – who is very able to choose the best thing. Not the perfect thing, just the best thing that you can do. That is an ability that everyone has. It is just a matter of choosing. Every time we are in front of a choice, we can choose if we want to be the good king or if we want to be someone else. We have a positive message with the lyrics on this album too. Okay, we all have this king inside, let us take the possibility of hailing that king inside ourselves and find the courage to stand for what we believe in.

Nice words, this world needs a bit of thinking these days…
Yeah we are all getting lost into stupid things sometimes. If we could just look to each other and just be able to tell the truth sometimes, it would be much easier and much less painful. Now it is like everything is really superficial, also the media are really pushing us into more and more fake things, but it is something that is destined to fail in the end. People are sometimes – I wouldn’t say stupid but – weak (I consider myself one of them), but in the end the true things will always come out. I am sure. The only bad thing is that if that happens, sometimes the situation becomes violent. Really unpredictable. That is also something that is typical for nature I believe. There is always a moment of crisis and then a moment when everything goes back in balance and then it falls again. This album is also an observation of how the history is actually repeating itself and how things happen. In some way – no matter how hard you try - there are always things you cannot prevent from happening.

The artwork is ‘royal’ and very beautiful. It is created by Eliran Kantor. Did you work very close with him or how did it come into being?
I agree it is very royal (laughs). Even in this case we are really satisfied with his job. It was another experiment, working with him. We were big fans of his previous works, we thought he had all these skills and qualities to be able to make a masterpiece and he did it indeed. Yes, we were pretty close. We were exchanging ideas constantly, I really admire that in an image like that – which is actually very simple on a conceptual side – he put a lot of details that really make the cover become more interesting and deeper. We have been telling him about the story and about all the characters and how they are, and of course this helped him to do his job and find his own interpretation of this story. It is really great. We wanted an image of the king on his throne and blablabla and he put so many details into it. For instance, if you look carefully, you can see that the crown on one side is chained to the ground and he is attached with all these wires that are like the wires attached to a puppet. All this to symbolize the fact that this king is obviously a proud king – you can see it from his expression – but in the meantime he is continuously manipulated.

There are forces behind him pulling the strings…
Indeed. Everything is symbolizing this continuous attempt to bring down the power of the king. For example – many people did not notice it, it is a small detail but very important – between his legs there is a piece of a very big black snake. I really like that, because it is another way to describe all these people who are trying to betray this king, to change his ideas.
It has been a complex work, representing all these characters, also in the booklet, but I am 100% satisfied. It is one of the best covers I have seen last years.

With Christmas you were in Mexico. Was it with the band or on holidays?
I was on vacation, together with Francesco Ferrini (keyboards – VM). We have been playing five shows in October. It was the second time that we went to Mexico and this time we were with our friends from Carach Angren. Mexico is a great place. We have a lot of fans and they are like crazy. There is a huge hospitality. We have a lot of similarities between Italy and Mexico. It is obvious that we both come from the South: hot blooded character, big hospitality… We did not take any vacation for one year and a half, so we were working crazy during the Summer as well, so we never got the chance to go on vacation, but after the album was finished, we decided that we absolutely had to take a few days off. We decided to go and we also stayed there with friends of ours. We kept in contact with the people who helped us on the tour, so we hang out with them and we also went to see the Maya ruins. That is amazing. There’s so many interesting things in Mexico. Even the food, it is something else that I really want to experience when I go out. I am the kind of person, when I go to a new place I really like the locals to bring me where the locals go out. I don’t like to go to any place where tourists go. I really want to experience the real thing. It has been a great time over there, refreshing for our minds, and we really needed it, because we also have a very busy year in front of us. The day when we came back we instantly had to rehearse and preparing a video and working on the promotion. We are now prepared, let us say.

You deserve holidays, because in February, you start touring again…
We are starting with this crazy experience of this 70,000 Tons of Metal Cruise. We are already there and connect it with a headline tour in North America and Canada. Looking at it now, it looks already great. There is a big response from the people and it seems that the tour is going really well. We did a co-headlining tour with Septicflesh over there one and a half year ago, but this is actually our very first real headline tour. We are pretty confident that the package will work really well, because we have Abigail Williams from the US with us and Carach Angren. I can’t wait to be back on the road. We are starting to miss that after working on the album for so long.

What about touring in Europe?
We are just confirmed as direct support of Ensiferum in April. We are finally coming back to Europe as well. Actually we got something in the middle, when we come back from the US we got like one week off and then we have seven or eight headlining shows in the UK. Then after that we will be starting this tour in April with Ensiferum. Around twenty gigs. Ensiferum is a very good band and a well known band, so it is really great to open directly for them and we will be in Belgium on the third of April in Antwerp (Trix), it is pretty much in the beginning of the tour.

Excellent, till then!
See you and let’s have a Belgian beer then!

Geplaatst door Vera op maandag 15 februari 2016 - 20:11:25
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