Fleshgod Apocalypse: Interview

Fleshgod Apocalypse are often labelled as death metal, or ‘technical death metal’, but the truth is that their ambition and scope go far past the constraint of any particular label. I may be inclined to describe Fleshgod Apocalypse’s music as classical, or ‘symphonic’ music played through extreme metal means, but their music and vibrant live performance speaks for itself. A couple of hours before the show started, I got together with guitarists Cristiano Trionfera and Tommaso Riccardi on one of the nicest, most amenable tour buses one could imagine. We discussed everything from metal to jazz, classical, progressive rock and food. As well, Cristiano and Tommaso give great insight into the working process of their band, the theory behind what they do, and what it’s like to be an extreme metal band in a country without much of a supporting scene.

Playing Vancouver with the more conventional tech death sound of Origin, melodically-inclined Kataklysm, and breakdown-infused openers Rose Funeral, Fleshgod were certainly the standout performers of the night. Getting on stage, there was a great deal of theatrical power in their performance. Taking most of their live material from the latest record “Agony”, Fleshgod Apocalypse manage to bring the symphonic element of their sound in full force to a live setting, sparing no expense. Their epic finale “The Forsaking” accounted for the highlight of the evening.

Conor: How is the tour going so far? Being on a bus like this must be pretty nice!

Cristiano: Yeah, the bus is really nice! It’s great to tour on a tourbus, must greater than driving yourself… Because, in this country man, it’s huge! Same with the United States. The first time we toured North America, we had a van, we drove in a minivan. In Europe, it’s much different because things are obviously quite smaller. This time, being on a tour bus is really quite nice.

Conor: Is there much of a difference between touring in Europe and North America? Of course, the logistics would be much tougher here, but what about the crowds; the ambiance?

Tommaso: For some things it’s similar obviously- this kind of music and this kind of tour will attract a similar audience, but the organization, transportation is very different. For example, the transportation is easier in Europe because we have a double decker bus, where five bands will be on the same bus, but we can’t use them here.

Conor: Because of the low bridges?

Tommaso: Yeah! For some things its definitely better, but other times you wake up with twenty three other people on the same bus. *Laughs*

Cristiano: Usually the conditions for a European band is that you first tour Europe, and once you get to this side of the water, you do pretty much everything yourself. While in Europe, you have more crew usually, catering, accomodations and showers… All the little things not regarding the show itself.

Tommaso: For the average show we do here, it’s a little bit more tough.

Cristiano: Once you know it, it’s fine. The first time, it’s pretty tough. Food is a big issue to. You know, us, being Italians, we’re very picky about our food! *Laughs*

Tommaso: Fast food is hard for us, but obviously we do buy out, we usually need to get something cheap.

Cristiano: That’s also something that you learn while touring here, the first time we just had McDonalds and Wendys.

Conor: I guess you felt like shit most of the time!

Cristiano: Yeah! But we found better things, you learn how to escape it. But yeah, the shows are different as well. In terms of audiences…

Tommaso: Yeah, when we first toured Germany, the audience would mostly stand and just listen carefully, watching the show. I mean, that’s okay because it’s obvious that they’re listening to what we’re playing, but it’s cool to have more activity as well, get a mosh pit going or something.

Cristiano: What it feels like here (in North America) is that people here just wanna have fun, they come to the show, they drink and enjoy. In Europe, it’s a little bit harder because you have an audience that wants to hear what you’re doing. They’re enjoying it as well, but they might be a little bit harder. I think this audience will be fine, but I guess you can never be sure.

Tommaso: Here in Canada, the mentality’s more open to new stuff. You can listen to something for the first time and enjoy it.

Cristiano: What’s bad here is that you can end up being part of a trend. One year they might love year, and one or two years down the road they won’t care about you. It’s our goal to be on a long term, not just one show you know?

Tommaso: That’s also for the music we do, I think. We’re trying to do something a little different, something ‘ours’.

Conor: You definitely accomplished that, I think.

Tommaso: Europe is slower to warm up to something new, they’re not just there for enjoyment. And yeah, distances are much, much longer.

Cristiano: If you see a European band touring here, you will likely see them at maximum 80% of what they can really do. The reason for this is because it’s harder, they’re more tired.

Tommaso: This is why tourbuses become so important. If a musician is well-rested, then they’re likely to play alot better. At this point we’re very used to playing at night and then driving. We’re better at organizing tours now. Now that we’re at the venue, we can finally relax; we’ve found that the quality of our average show has gone up now. When we were driving ourselves, we would find that the quality of the shows was a little bit lower, we would be tired!

Cristiano: Do you realize we’ve gone back to the first question? *Laughs*

Conor: I was wondering- Fleshgod Apocalypse, it’s a pretty interesting name. It’s a little ‘different’ and more evocative than the typical death metal fare, like “Cumgushing Fist” or something! I was wondering how this name came together, it really seems to fit the sound you have.

Cristiano: There are a couple of aspects involved. The first is that when we first decided to build up the band, we had an idea of doing a certain concept, and we wanted it to be representative of the concept- the moniker. What we actually did is that the name came up from Paolo our bass player, he’s the one that’s usually good with words, he’s best with lyrics and stuff. And he came up with this name that is weird, you know? You first hear it, and you’re thinking, ‘what’, it means nothing, you know? But even if the word ‘Fleshgod’- which isn’t a word, it doesn’t exist- it shouldn’t say anything, but it says what it is. We wanted it to be a vision of the destruction of humanity, made by itself. It’s pretty much- the Fleshgod, the god-made-of-flesh, the human being. Apocalypse, the destruction, the finality.

Tommaso: The difference between saying “Humanity” and saying “Fleshgod”- which we consider synonymous with humanity, it’s the fact that we put the attention on the fact that humanity is the god of themselves, because you could give many names to the idea of God, so something that controls what happens… But in the end, it’s the people that control, it’s the people that lead our societies and nations to do things, to get into wars, in some way to destroy themselves. That’s the concept of apocalypse. It’s a cycle. In some way, in history, it always happens. Humanity creates some situation, and the escape from that situation is violence, for some reason. Because we are not able to do it some other way.

Cristiano: That’s largely what we talk about in the albums as well. In different ways of course, but it’s all the same general concept. Just to add to that, the second part aspect of it is that we decided to keep the name because it’s weird. It’s strange, it’s different… so you can recognize it! Not something that you can recognize as a genre or certain kind of music, it’s something unique, from our point of view!

Conor: I’d like to know if you guys would agree with this, but when I’m describing your band’s music to someone, I’d try not to call you guys ‘symphonic metal’ because that usually reminds me of some pretty girl in a dress going “WAAAHHHH!” *Laughs* Whereas you’re not quite that, but I’d say you’re classical music played via death metal means.

Cristiano: I guess the laziest way we could describe our music- it’s never easy, but we need to- is ‘extreme metal’, you know? It’s the only way we can describe all the things that come into the sound. But what you say is pretty good! We can’t really say we play death metal anymore, because a death metalhead will listen to Fleshgod Apocalypse, they’re not going to find what they were expecting, so we can’t say we’re pure death metal. An orchestra… clean vocals, we know what we do. But yeah, we do extreme metal.

Tommaso: I thought your description was great, but yeah, labels are just labels! If something describes something, you’ll never get a perfect description.

Cristiano: We never say that we play ‘classical’ music, playing or composing classical music is a little bit different. We talk about ‘symphonic’ music because that’s a way of thinking. The orchestra can be classical music, but it’s not what we do. We don’t want to describe ourselves as classicists.

Tommaso: Obviously there’s some feeling to that, because the orchestral elements can be used in many different ways. Of course, there is a feeling that it sounds classical, but to transpose something like that into a more ‘popular’ music like metal, you need to break many of the rules of classical music.

Cristiano: Metal is popular?

Tommaso: I would say so. In my opinion, the word ‘popular’ means ‘pop’. Even if metal is some underground thing, but on the other hand, we’re talking about songs, not one-hour compositions! *Laughs*

Cristiano: I wonder if there are more metal fans than symphonic fans?

Tommaso: Sometimes, it makes me laugh that some people complain about the word ‘classical’ in the way our music is described, but it’s like transposing a book into a movie. There’s gonna be differences- alot of them- because its a different form. There’s a bit of classical, definitely an influence. You can see it, the outfit, the performance, because we try to push that dramatic element. We like to give importance to that side. It’s different though, not just ‘classical’ music.

Conor: I was actually thinking… I was listening to “Agony” not too long ago- one of my favourite albums from last year, by the way!- it doesn’t seem like it fits the popular format, it seems to be more progressive, more of an ‘epic’ structure, like a symphony!

Tommaso: We keep of course the shape of the song, because obviously you need to do that for this sorta music. But on the other hand, we always keep that sort of epic structure in mind, the classical style is very good to do this kind of thing, and it works very well. There are moments of tension and release. I think it’s always like that, I think the structure of music is like architecture, and it’s important that it’s not just with ‘one’ song. If you took one of your favourite albums and put the songs in different order, it doesn’t work!

Conor: Some of my favourite albums only have one song!

Tommaso: *Laughs* Well most of the time, that’s how it works! We’ll try to distribute things throughout a whole album and not just song-by-song, we want people to listen to the whole thing.

Cristiano: I’d say what we try to do is somewhere between a symphony- in the extreme metal way- and an opera, because on a symphony, you don’t have anything but the music. If you look at an opera. you have the music, actors, and a story that’s going on. What we try to do is something in between that, you don’t necessarily have characters on the album, but you have a story, a concept.

Conor: And classical, or symphonic music doesn’t tend to have that theatrical flow, it’s usually very vast whereas in opera, the music as well as the vocals tend to shape around whatever drama happens within the story, whether its big and deep or simply lighthearted.

Tommaso: There are ‘songs’ in classical music, but it generally sticks to that longer format. For us, the opera element comes out most through our live performance. A large part of the show is theatre.

Cristiano: We try to do a theatrical representation live of what we are doing.

Tommaso: It’s something we want to do in our career. It’s one of those things that you need to take step-by-step. To make a performance bigger, it takes time. But you can see from the video and from the way we are on stage, it’s really important to us- this visual aspect of our music. When I see a very good video play, with a good story behind it, I will get into it. I think all of us in the band are like that.

Cristiano: The symbolism of an idea, when you see it described in a visual way, putting that and the audio together, it can be very beautiful when it’s done correctly. For example, take Rammstein, they are masters of this kind of approach, and this what we like. This is why we try to make the step-by-step approach to a full visual experience.

Conor: What can we expect from a Fleshgod Apocalypse live show? You’re talking alot about dramatic, visual approaches to the performance, but there’s also the music itself to take into consideration. It’s obviously a very technical, elaborate sort of music you’re bringing forth, and it must be difficult to properly convey it in the live arena.

Tommaso: I would not know how to describe it, really! To us, it’s a little bit of theatre, it’s about energy, it’s about the personality of everyone coming out into one thing, I couldn’t describe the theatrical aspect. Obviously, there are elements we are introducing that are concrete- we don’t do this here (in North America) but all the shows we do in Europe we have a piano, an actual piano on stage. The way we are, the way we dress up, the things we have, it all factors in. We try to do the opera thing- we try to get that across on stage, in the show. There’s no moments in the show where things are stopped- everyone’s drinking water, “How you guys doing?” sort of thing, it’s a full story, you know?

Cristiano: We try to make it so that you are watching something, not just a metal concert. You said about the ‘technical’ element of the music… We don’t really care too much for that side of it, we know of course that we go fast, that we’re heavy, and that there’s alot of things going on. But when it’s like that, what we don’t want is for people to see it as just that and find it boring. I would be bored if I saw a band like us with so many things going on and I don’t know where to look, I wouldn’t have focus! So, I’d get bored after a certain amount of minutes. So, we try to do it in an interesting way. Some way that has meaning for us.

Tommaso: We could never think about our show in the typical ‘tech music show’- you see people shredding, that’s not for us. That’s why we never considered ourselves as something you might call ‘technical’. For us, technical means technique, that’s just a way to reach something. There are parts of our music that could be called technical, but just because we have fast drumming and some of the guitar parts are pretty tough, we don’t give overt attention to that. It’s certainly stressful to play! *Laughs* That’s because it IS fast, but we care about the musical impact, and that’s why we spend alot of time working on the show, because we need to constantly improve the way we play the song, but in the meantime we never feel compromised between the musical aspect of the show and the visual. If we had to do certain things while playing to make it better, we don’t care! Even if it’s hard, you have to work on it, reach that focus. That’s the way we work.

Conor: As far as Italy and metal goes, it’s my impression your country’s known moreso for the melodic types, particularly power metal. What extreme metal I have heard from Italy has always been good- I’m a big fan of the band Illogicist- I was wondering what the extreme, or death metal scene is like within Italy? Are there any bands you could recommend?

Tommaso: We actually have some friends that are doing some great things in the extreme scene, you probably know Hour of Penance for example, and Eyeconoclast.

Cristiano: Eyeconoclast’s a pretty new band, they just signed with Prosthetic Records. You have alot of bands, good things coming out there. In Italy, it’s not easy to build up the scene, there obviously is one, but it’s difficult to take your music to the next level there. It’s not easy to make a proper show, it’s harder than in other countries. Most bands there are tired of fighting for it. What you need to do is go outside of the country and tour before you come back, these are just the conditions you get there. If you go to Germany, it’s another world!

Tommaso: That’s also why on an international level, you didn’t know about so many extreme metal bands from Italy as opposed to Germany or some other country. Not because the music or quality is not there, what he’s saying is that the problem is with the way the scene is structured. In Germany, there’s actual importance not only in death metal but metal in general. Festivals, investments, shows, everything is organized. There is a base from which you can build up. In Italy, unless you’re doing what we tried to do- breaking out of the country- it’s not going to be easy or possible to build up your band based on Italy. The way the show is organized, the promoters, it’s not easy.

Cristiano: It’s better now, but still, whenever you say you’re Italian, they’ll look at you like you’re something weird!

Tommaso: You need to create the conditions first.

Conor: Although the extreme metal scene hasn’t done too well in the past, one Italian scene that has really been successful and one I really love is the progressive rock scene. I’m wondering if you’re influenced by any of the bands there? Premiata Forneria Marconi…

Tommaso: Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso!

Cristiano: Our history in that scene is huge and there are so many good things, but I wouldn’t say we are influenced by them, not musicwise but whenever you see a band from your country break out of it, you feel: “I gotta learn something from them!”

Tommaso: It’s always an inspiration, even in other times there’s been important music here. As far as our inspiration and influence goes, we’ve never had a problem because we have such a rich history of classical composers in Italy, even in the past and where our music is based. There’s just so many creative things going on. The problems we’re voicing is largely confined to the metal scene, but every scene has their troubles, and it’s always great to see someone else succeed. If others can do it, we can!

Conor: Have you heard Il Tempio delle Clessidre? They’re more recent, but their debut is my favourite RPI album. I think they’re from Genova…

Tommaso: I’m not sure, prog?

Conor: Yeah! You should check them out! What do you know about the Vancouver scene?

Cristiano: Archspire! *Laughs* We toured with them in Europe.

Conor: They’re fast! *Laughs*

Tommaso: They’re really good, that’s what you call Vancouver death metal I guess, really technical, pushed to the limit. Great guys. Other than them, I don’t know…

Cristiano: Probably we know someone else, but we don’t know they’re from Vancouver!

Conor: What have you been listening to lately?

Cristiano: Let me think…

Tommaso: *Laughs* Lately, I’ve been listening to this English dubstep DJ called Russo.

Cristiano: What?!

Tommaso: It’s fucking great!

Conor: Womp womp.

Tommaso: It’s unbelievable! From a rhythm point of view, it’s cool stuff. There’s some very cool stuff coming from that style of music, mainly in London. That’s one of the recent things I’ve been listening to.

Cristiano: I listen to the last Enslaved album alot lately.

Conor: Axioma? It’s really good, really really good.

Cristiano: Really good!

Conor: New one in October!

Cristiano: Yes, I’m so excited! We played with the guys and they totally own it, nice guys too. When we’re together we always listen to Rammstein, Michael Jackson… *Laughs*

Tommaso: I think we’re always waiting for the next Rammstein. Anytime they come out with something new, we consume the CD. When we’re touring Europe, it’s playing 24 hours a day.

Cristiano: We also listen to funny stuff, Italian funny stuff. Like, Elio E Le Storie Tese, there’s a band you should check out! It’s a prog rock band starting in the 80s, maybe now they’re at their top though, so good. It’s like an Italian Frank Zappa thing, it’s very comic. The music is unbelievable.

Tommaso: They’re some of the best musicians we have in prog rock in Italy nowadays. They recorded a bunch of albums, eight or ten I think. I’m the only one who listens to jazz music, everyone hates it!

Cristiano: I don’t hate it!

Tommaso: Well, not passionate about it at least!

Conor: I love jazz. What sort of it?

Tommaso: Lately, well, obviously the first thing that anyone talking about jazz will say, but I listen to Duke Ellington all the time, everything he did was unbelievable. Listening to alot of Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus. You can never stop discovering new things from him, because he’s produced an incredible amount of music. You can never listen to everything, there’s too much! Also like Oliver Nelson. Sonny Rollins. I don’t have the skills to understand all of it, there’s a whole world behind it but I have some friends who play that sort of music and they showed me some of it and I really love it.

Cristiano: I always found it funny- all the sort of names these people have.

Conor: …And they’re all usually friends with each other! *Laughs*

Tommaso: All of them! *Laughs*

Conor: Beers you can recommend? Usually touring musicians get to try a bunch of ‘em.

Tommaso: There are beers from the Boston area that are really kickass- Harpoon and Samuel Adams.

Cristiano: I think the best ones are in Belgium, some Italian ones in Rome.

Tommaso: There’s a small production in Italy, lots of unknown ones.

Cristiano: There’s not so many beers in Italy.

Tommaso: Obviously, we are much more into wine! *Laughs* I have to say I’m not too big into beer, more into wine. Maybe Paolo our bass player might be a little bit more into it. We tried the Guinness in Dublin, the way they brew it, it’s different. It’s great!

Cristiano: When I was a kid, I went to the Guinness factory, I couldn’t actually be there because I was underage *Laughs* but I did it, I had a beard already! I was blown away, I love Guinness.

Conor: For upcoming bands,what advice might you give to the new musicians, or aspiring artists who are still trying to get their music out there, or even make it to begin with?

Cristiano: You gotta work your asses off.

Tommaso: You have to go all or nothing, really.

Cristiano: And beware of the people who will take advantage of you, especially when you get better. This world isn’t easy and you don’t know who you work for. Once you find your way though, your personal way, then you’re set.

Tommaso: The one thing I would say is that the biggest mistake that bands make is not deciding what they want. If you want to do this, you need to make a choice, and this choice puts you in a very unstable state of mind. If you throw yourself into that thing for real, you can do whatever you want. The problem is that it doesn’t seem so- you party, you play, no. You have to throw your life into something that isn’t for sure, that’s the hard part that stops alot of people from doing the right thing. Everyone of us still struggles with this. It’s a neverending fight.

Cristiano: And put out the thought that you’ll ever get rich! *Laughs* You can make a living off it, but no Ferraris!

Tommaso: Unless you want to jump into pop music, but likely you would be eaten by sharks! *Laughs*

Conor: What’s in the future for Fleshgod?

Cristiano: Conquering the world! We’ve started writing the new album now. After this tour, we want to take a year off, focus on writing and now we’re planning on having it ready for the next spring or summer.

Tommaso: It’s not sure that we’re gonna stop touring all the time, it could happen that something cool will come up, but we will try to take time just because we have to do better than before. We want to concentrate properly on the music.

Cristiano: We have an idea.

Tommaso: But we will not tell you! *Laughs* There will be new things, and things that we kept because we like them. We just follow our curiosity. That’s for sure!

Conor: Last words?

Cristiano: Don’t eat spaghetti with chicken!

Tommaso: It’s a myth! Chicken and pasta never went together in the history of Italy! I hate to say that because I know alot of you guys like it.

Cristiano: We’re kidding, we’re kidding! We told you we’re picky!

Tommaso: Just no chicken with pasta.

Conor: Cheers!

Tommaso: Goodbye!

Cristiano: Goodbye!

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