Fleshgod Apocalypse played in Auckland the other week. I went along, because I’ve been listening to these guys since Oracles came out and pretty much never thought I’d get to see them in my country. If you didn’t go, then – and I mean this in the nicest possible way – you are a Fool.
(See what I did there?)
Fleshgod Apocalypse’s breed of cacophonous death / black metal mixed with Wagner-esque opera have won them a dedicated fanbase over the years, especially following the release of their previous album, Labyrinth. Critics of the band’s studio releases point mainly to mediocre production on their records not allowing the music (and particularly, the orchestral elements) to shine. Despite this, I’ve never ever heard a bad word spoken about their live shows. Now I know why.
The lights go down. Smoke fills the stage. An ominious note strikes. A woman floats to the centre, wearing a long opera dress, a feathered mask, and carrying a tall staff upon which rests some kind of totem. She thumps the staff on the stage in time with the music, and soon, we’re all thrusting our fists in the air – a tribe called up into a frenzy. She takes the microphone, her voice filling the room.
It’s Veronica Bordacchini, and her voice rises into a crescendo – those melodious, classical notes tearing through the crowd, drawing us in.
The bass drums pound to life, pummelling through the concerto like machine gun fire. All hell breaks loose.
Tommaso Riccardi looms over the crowd, peering through tendrils of light-laced smoke as he growls and rasps and spits the lyrics. His passion and energy are evident in every movement, every harsh but perfect note.
They rip through the highlights of 2016’s King, including “The Fool”, “In Aeternum”, and “Cold As Perfection”. Between these newer tracks were a perfectly-chosen selection of favourites – “Labyrinth”, “Pathfinder”, “The Forsaking”, and “Violation” – which was my favourite from the evening.
During a rare moment when the band is quiet, instruments poised for the next movement, Riccardi muses, “Lately I’ve been thinking that t’s so important to live in the present, and I’m so happy to be here in NZ for the first time!” He leans back and lifts a half-empty pinot noir bottle to his painted lips and takes a deep sip.
All of it – the music, the visuals, the band, the crowd – came together into one beautiful, Romantic death metal performance. These guys know exactly what they’re trying to do with their music, and they bring it to life on stage in a way few other extreme acts are able to articulate. This is the other side of opera, the side that isn’t “high-brow” entertainment meant for only the rich and boeurgois. This is the opera of dark alleys and demonic possessions, of cruel love affairs and murderous intents.
While the band perform, Bordacchini interacts with them, creating a stylised operatic performance that further adds to the story being played out in the music. There’s both literal and figurative movement in their show, with the songs bleeding their majesty over the crowd.
You can tell most people in the room are drummers, here to see Francesco Paoli pound out those intense and intricate tracks. I’m not quite up with the drumming lingo, but let’s just say he didn’t disappoint.
Also, can I just make an aside to mention that Italian men with beautiful long hair should really wear frock coats when they play metal more often? #onbehalfofmetalwomeneverywhere #praisethegods
I also marvelled at how a large metal drunkit, three guitarists, a multi-instrumentallist, and an opera singer managed to all fit on the stage at the Kings Arms without knocking anything over or falling off the edge. No one did, so that was good.
During the encore, we played a game I’ve played at countless other extreme metal shows – the old “divide the room in half and make a wall of death” game. You know the one! Well, that happened, and it was rather fun. Then they played “In Honour of Reason”, and that was even more fun.
Basically, I consider this show to be one of the best extreme metal shows I’ve ever seen, ever. After seeing a show like this, I feel as though I’ve been part of something bigger than the sum of its parts, something that seems to encapsulate not just a band or a song, but an entire movement. I think many others who witnessed it would agree. Certainly, this guy does. At the end, when the band stood at the front to touch hands with the audience, the looks of delight on their faces certainly seemed to suggest it was as special to them as it was to us.
Please come back, beautiful Italian metal men. Mi manchi! Era bello!
When I’m not lusting after beautiful Italian men and head banging to Wagneresque death metal, I write dark urban fantasy and paranormal romance novels. My latest book, Writing the Wolf, second in the Wolves of Crookshollow series, is out now. Grab your copy from your favourite retailer, or join my mailing list to stay up-to-date with the series.