In the Labyrinth of Fleshgod Apocalypse

Fleshgod Apocalypse don’t do things by halves, and their latest album, Labyrinth, is proof of that. The band wants to strike hard every time. Some might call it pretentiousness; others will see it as ambition. Whatever the right word is, the band has plenty of it. In the following interview, Tommaso Riccardi, the combo’s frontman, mentions the circumstances surrounding their signing with Nuclear Blast. This anecdote is enough to comprehend the band’s personality: straightforward and uncompromising.

Fleshgod Apocalypse does, however, remain a complex group. If their actions are as direct as their music, they can still show intelligence and subtlety. The talkative guitarist/vocalist went with us through his band’s conceptualization, their lyrics and themes and everything that drives them and their search for themselves. This anecdotes-filled interview brings the truth about the Fleshgod phenomenon to light.

« I’m the one who sings, I’m not the kind of person who acts, I say what I really think, and I’m screaming out what I really feel. »

Radio Metal: You’ve signed a deal with Nuclear Blast in 2011 for the 2nd album. That is pretty early for a band. Can you tell us how you got in touch with such a prestigious label and how you got a deal with them?

Tommaso Riccardi (vocals, guitar): Actually, this is a very fun story: yesterday I was talking to another guy in another interview who knows personally Jaap Waagemaker, the general manager of Nuclear Blast Europe, and he asked Jaap how we got in touch with him, and he said: “These guys are pretty crazy because they came here at Nuclear Blast by car, from their home” and that’s actually how it went the first time. Since the beginning, one of our focus was to get in touch with Nulcear Blast. We thought it could be the right label to promote and spread the words for Fleshgod Apocalypse, because of their characteristics and the kind of bands they’ve been distributing for a long time now. So the very first time we’ve got in touch with them, we were coming back from a show in Germany and we physically stopped at Nuclear Blast after the show. We just showed up without any appointment, so we just got in and said: « Okay, who’s the general manager? Can we talk to him?” We just went upstairs and talked a little bit with Jaap. At that time we were promoting Oracles, so we left the album. We just went there to say: « Hey you know, we’re Fleshgod Apocalypse, we exist! And we think you should produce us because this album is pretty cool » (laugh) This is pretty much how it went. After a few weeks, I remember, he wrote back and he said: “Okay guys, this is pretty cool and everything but you’ll have to wait a little bit. Nuclear Blast is big, so it needs a little time to get into a label like this, because obviously you have to make a little bit of a fan base.” It is pretty normal because obviously they manage a lot of bands and they usually wait to have a little story behind a band to take it into the label. But after that, when we recorded Mafia, the EP, we went to promote the album with a US tour with Suffocation – they were supporting us a lot, we did a tour in Europe before and they invited us on the US tour. In the mean time, right before the tour, we went back to Nuclear Blast, but at that time we just came from Italy, so we decided to take the car and just drive there. We went back and said: « Hey remember us? Now we did this EP we’d like you to listen to it and talk a little bit with Jaap again ». But actually, the concrete chance to get in the label came when we did this tour in the US. I remember, we were playing a show in Hollywood, and Geraldo Martinez, the manager of Nuclear Blast USA, came at the show because he was friend with Suffocation. He liked it and said there was a good energy. So after that we started to talk a little bit more seriously and, finally, we signed. Now we keep working with them and we’re trying to do our best with this new album, and who knows what’s going to happen in the next years?

The new album is called The Labyrinth; can you tell us more about this theme?

We decided to do this because, if you read some of the lyrics on the previous album, we’ve always liked to concentrate ourselves on the human matter from many points of view. So we like to talk about humanity and how humans act, do things and the reasons for this. In this case we tried to take a little step forwards in that direction and do something that was more focused on the individual. And maybe we tried to use this theme to make a sort of metaphor of what we think is important to our existence. Every one of us knew the story from the high school, we’ve been studying Greek and everything, but when I started reading back the story of Theseus, I was very interested because I thought there were a lot of meanings in this myth that can be translated even in the present time. In particular, we use this story to create a metaphor with what we think is one of the most important things in life, which is the search for ourselves. Many people have been studying this myth in the past, and one of the main interpretations of the myth is actually this one: the search for oneself. I tried to put something personal in this story. I mean, we are not just telling the story with every single passage, but the lyrics are very metaphorical, because Theseus, in my opinion, represents someone who is able to recognize his roots and start a real search for himself.

Every character in this story represents a different side of this search. Theseus was the stepson of the king of Greece but he didn’t know it until he was eighteen. The first thing that I really liked is that this was a sort of turning point for him, because in some ways, he recognized his roots, and I think this is really the first step that one has to take to start the search for oneself. After that, he made a journey to reach his father in Athens, and when he found his father, he discovered that there was a sort of curse on his father. His father had to pay his war pledge, because he lost the war with Crete, and he had to send fourteen sons of Athens every year to be eaten alive by the Minotaur. And that’s a very important point of the story, because in some ways he knew he had to take the responsibility to change something that his father wasn’t able to change. In my opinion, it really represents the fact that one has to recognize himself and at a certain point, have to decide which way to go and which one is his path, and that one doesn’t have to feel judged by anybody, not even the people he comes from, for his choices. In this case, the Minotaur represents the main fear, the fear itself, the fear of being yourself, the fear of following your path and go on your way, without thinking anymore, without doubts. The labyrinth, obviously is the central figure in all the story, it represents ourselves and the fact that when you have to take this journey into yourself, it is full of dead ends, and it is very easy to get lost, because there’s a lot of things going on: you’re talking to yourself and, automatically, that mean it’s very difficult to understand yourself because you have a continuous self-judgment. So it’s very hard to know yourself for real.

A lot of people really think they know themselves, but sometimes, it’s completely the opposite: they don’t know themselves; they just want to say that they are in some way but they could be the opposite and they will never understand that. In my opinion, it is the most important thing and that’s why the Labyrinth is the perfect image to represent this. And another thing I’d like to say is that one of the most important characters in the story is Ariadne, because she represents the need for the others. As you know, she gave a golden thread to Theseus that was meant to be used to comeback from the labyrinth once he had killed the Minotaur. And to me, that’s the most exciting part of the story: Theseus didn’t want to trust her because he thought he could not be a true hero if he needs the help of the others. But on the other hand, the reason for why he was able to win and come back from the labyrinth is the fact that Ariadne existed. I think that sometimes, during this journey, we really start thinking that we can do it on our own and we don’t need the help of anybody, but I think it’s wrong because to be strong, we have to admit that we need the others. As you know, the Greek mythology is always very dramatic in the end. And even in this case: we also wanted to represent that we cyclically do the same mistakes. At the end of the story, Theseus didn’t recognize the importance of Ariadne, he abandoned her on the island of Naxos and he paid for this, because he forgot to take out the black sail from the ship, and when he came back to Athens, his father had committed suicide because he saw the black sail and thought his son was dead. If you don’t recognize the right steps in this journey, you will probably fall.

« The fact of realizing that we could play orchestral music, in the true meaning of the word, was just a matter of time actually. »

You declared that the maze is associated with the endless search of what we really are. Are you guys still searching for that?

Yeah. I think it’s the same answer for everybody. I think that nobody can actually know himself for 100%. It’s endless, and it’s endless for everybody. Of course, you can reach a certain point where you can say that you know yourself enough to have a certain amount of serenity. But this search never ends; there is always new ways to perfection, as in everything in your life.

Do you think that you will always be writing concept albums, and that the lyrical content of your music will always be as important as your music?

Concerning the first question, I could never say “Yes”. What I know is that, in some ways, our career is a concept. We want to follow the story. And I always like to say “never say never” because everything could happen. I just think that the most and the only important thing is to keep following what our heart says. So for that, I don’t know. Concerning the lyrics, yes, they are very important because as you can see, the concept is something that you can find in every aspect of our art, not only in the music. Even on the visual side, we have a concept. We bring a concept on stage when we do a show or in the videos. So, to us, the fact of telling a story is very important, and telling a story can be done in many different ways. We really like to reunite the visual parts of the art together with the sound. For which regards me, I’m the one who sings, I’m not the kind of person who acts, I say what I really think, and I’m screaming out what I really feel. So when I get on stage, I can only feel good if I really tell the truth to myself. I could never lie. That’s what is bringing the energy out of me and to the people. I really need to get into the concept and work on it, so that I can see something that I really believe in.

Can we say that the title of the album is also a way to describe the complexity of your music?

Well, in some ways, yes. If you listen to our new album, you can notice that, even if it’s more direct, and we wanted it to be direct, in some other ways, it’s more complex than before. So yeah, it could be one of the interpretations. We didn’t think about that when we decided to call it “The Labyrinth”, but once we decided to use this theme, we also liked to put some complex themes in some parts, to give the feeling of the labyrinth into the music, and not only in the concept. Obviously, there is a sort of maze in our music. So yeah, it could be a way to describe it.

You’ve recently done a tour with Septic Flesh, a band who’s playing a very rich and well orchestrated music. Are they an inspiration to you?

Of course, man. The cool thing is to see that there are many different ways in which inspiration comes, and many times, in our case, the inspiration comes from something very different from metal. But in this case, I’d say yes, there are many interesting aspects in their music, especially considering the kind of atmospheres they can create. These kinds of atmospheres are pretty different from ours, but in the mean time, it’s a high level. There’s only something good to learn when the music is well done, even from the technical and composing point of view. We really have a lot of respect for their work, especially for the last things they have been doing. We’ve also been listening to The Great Mass a lot while recording, because we also took some inspiration for the production. It is very important to make comparisons with the bands that you like the most, even for which regards the sound, and trying to understand what they are doing and what you are doing, to use it as a comparison and try to reach the level you want to reach in terms of quality. And I have to say that another cool thing was the first time we did a tour with them – we had met them before just once very quickly in a festival – and it was a very cool tour because the guys are very nice. We are friends now. We keep in touch. I’ve really found in them some of the most interesting people that I met on the road.

You’ve declared this year that the introduction of orchestral elements during a whole song has changed your approach on composing and recording. Do you think you the symphonic aspect will be systematic on your next albums? Is it now a definitive part of your music?

Yeah, I would say so. If you listen to Oracles – even Mafia, even if it has some different characteristics, it was an EP, so it was a parenthesis in some way – you can really recognize a lot of the elements that already were in our music. Even if the orchestra was used in a different way because there were some intros, outros, interludes and even piano parts – there was already a song with the name of the album called “Oracles” and it was a piano song. But the roots of this music were already throughout the whole songs, because we’ve always been playing something that reminds the classical progression in terms of melody and harmony. The fact of realizing that we could play orchestral music, in the true meaning of the word, was just a matter of time actually. It took time for everyone to get into the style of the band because these were the first albums. Many bands take a lot of time to get into their music. I think it was pretty fast in our case, even if, obviously, we always want to improve and introduce new elements. It’s a natural progression. Something has to happen because if it doesn’t, it means that there is something wrong, that you’re stuck somewhere. And it isn’t a good thing. But the more we go on, and the more our style starts to define itself and to take shape. So we can say our music will probably always have this orchestral face.

« I’m the kind of person who, very often, thinks too much, and every time I’m learning how not to do that anymore, because I’ve learned that it is very, very wrong! »

Your drummer Francesco Paoli declared about this album “It’s definitely the most Fleshgod thing we’ve ever thought with the most Fleshgod riffs, lyrics, melodies, drum parts, solos, etc. We went deep inside the core of this music, we broke it, and we finally unleashed these eleven songs. I want to be honest, it needed so much work and time to come up with this but now I’m like: ‘OK, next time will be tough to reach this point!’ » Have you been thinking about what would be the next step and how you will surpass that?

I think the right way to do that, in my opinion, is not thinking too much! If you start thinking too much, it’s always a problem. I’m the kind of person who, very often, thinks too much, and every time I’m learning how not to do that anymore, because I’ve learned that it is very, very wrong! Of course it’s a very rational consideration, the one Francesco did, and it is a way to say that we are humans. And if we start doing something else, we always have to be in touch with reality and understand that there will be a comparison that will be done with the past. We know that we did something that, in our opinions, is really well done for our style, and we’re starting to understand deeply the mechanism of our music. But on the other hand, everything has its natural course and it’s stupid to be worried about that, because if you are worried about that, probably things will go worse much sooner than they should. We just try to follow the flow of our inspiration, of our interest for music. We just feel natural about this, we don’t want to say “Yeah we’re going to do better” or “we’re going to do worse”. If you approach music as a very serious thing – and it is a very serious thing -, what is the most important is to have a mentality that pushes you to always try to do something better. It could come at a time during which you are not only doing something better but also something a little different, just because you’re following what you feel at this moment. Maybe in the future, we could do something that is pretty different from this one, and maybe the comparison will not even make sense because it could be something that represents a different part of our life and existence. So we try not to think about it too much, do our best, be concentrated on what we do and not be afraid of what we did in the past. If something is good, it’s only because it’s something that makes us happy, and absolutely not something that is going to scare us in the future.

You guys studied classical music and a lot of metalheads like to say that classical music and metal have a lot in common. Do you agree with that?

In some ways, I would say yes. The music from which metal came is obviously rock music. It was a kind of evolution of it. And some kinds of rock music, like the American rock or the British rock music came from the blues. So it’s three different faces of music compared to the classical music. It was an alternative at the time to the classical music; it came from the African music, very different from the European classical music. But during the last decade, metal – which is the heaviest form of rock music – probably rescued a little bit of these classical elements and brought them back. There are some examples of rock music that have integrated some classical elements and progressions. For example, Muse: there are a lot of classical progressions in their music, even if it’s done in a very different way – the sound is different, the instruments are different – but there are many elements that really remind of the classical progression. But this is something that appeared only lately, because the first form of rock that started to introduce some classical elements is the metal music. So, maybe, mixing it in a more balanced way, like in our case, is more natural than people could think. Because when you talk to people who don’t listen to metal music, they imagine it like a kind of noise, a mass with no meaning. They ask: “How could it be possible for you to play metal mixed with classical music?” but here it is, it’s not that far. And also, the speed of death metal, in this case, is even better to be mixed with classical music, because we’ve actually found that classical themes very often have the same BPMs as the ones we use in our songs. The fact that you are breaking down the rhythm in a very fast way, because you’re playing a blast beat, doesn’t mean that you can’t mix it with this music! The main themes sound exactly as they should sound at that BPM. Death metal BPMs are very good to be used for classical themes.

Interview conducted by phone on July, 2nd 2013 by Metal’O Phil
Transcription: Greg
Introduction: Alastor

Fleshgod Apocalypse on Facebook.

Album Labyrinth, out since August, 16th 2013 via Nuclear Blast.

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