FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE’s Francesco Paoli – Spitting Venom on New Album Veleno in his Rightful Place as Frontman
Formed in 2007 in Perugia, Italy by multi-instrumentalist Francesco Paoli, bassist Paolo Rossi, and guitarist Cristiano Trionfera, Fleshgod Apocalypse quickly made waves with their first demo Promo ‘07, which attracted the attention of Dutch indie Neurotic Records. (Paoli has some notoriety already as frontman for Hour of Penance, a technical death metal band from Rome, Italy formed in 1999.) Fleshgod Apocalypse’s first full-length album Oracles was released on Candlelight Records in Europe and Willowtip Records in North America in 2009. With tracks like In Honour of Reason, Oracles solidified Fleshgod Apocalypse as major contenders in Europe’s metal scene. The band really found their footing with the follow-up Agony released in 2011; on that record they began going in an orchestral death metal direction using woodwinds, brass, strings, and percussion. Fleshgod Apocalypse ‘s fan base grew with albums like Labyrinth in 2013 and King in 2016 as they perfected their Beethoven-inspired classical elements with brutal death metal.
Released on May 2019 by Nuclear Blast Records, Fleshgod Apocalypse’s 5th album Veleno, which is Italian for “venom,” has efficiently blended their unique musical combination of classical music and death metal. The album consists of 11 songs that show a band that is clearly in its prime. Songs like Worship and Forget, Fury, and Carnivorous Lamb will satisfy the bands fans, while critics are noticing the group’s score-like qualities on songs like The Day We’ll Be Gone and Monnalisa. According to Paoli, the process of recording Veleno took about three months. The “metal part” was recorded in Rome, Italy with Marco Mastrobuono, while the “orchestra part” were tracked at Musica Teclas Studio in Perugia, Italy. The orchestra part featured real orchestral ensembles including a full string quartet, a classical percussionist, and a baroque choir. Paoli describes, “We had a performers that the played single instruments, like very specific instruments, Maurizio Cardullo and Daniele Marinelli playing Uilleann Pipes and mandolin. So yeah, we had a lot of guests that contributed to the album and it was, it was crazy. And yeah, it takes a lot of time to arrange all this stuff. You have to have everything ready before you go into the studio and then you have to be very conscious about what’s going to happen when you go to the studio so it’s a long process, especially if you use acoustic instruments that you cannot fix on the computer. You you have to have it played properly and have all the takes well done. It’s more complex but it’s even more interesting and the result is better because the sound is definitely more organic.” Fleshgod Apocalypse then took the effort over to Grammy-nominated Jacob Hansen at Hansen Studios in Denmark for mixing and mastering.
Paoli explains that Veleno is more Straightforward lyrically as well as musically than previous albums: “Sometimes our lyrics are harder to understand because we always include like heavy subjects into more narrative concepts. Like King was a story for example, or labyrinth. So we use metaphors, for example, or characters, to talk about behaviors of people, to talk about the inner fragilities and inner issues, stuff like that. Veleno is a more straightforward album. It’s more in your face. So the way we treat even the lyrics here, we treat these subjects totally differently because the feeling, the spirit of the band and the music is different now. So we did it more, it’s more open, it’s more, it’s less metaphorical. You can talk about something and be, like a classic poet, like trying to find the right words, and make it even more complex, but we wanted to find an easier way to expose all this stuff with subjects which are very heavy but very personal without being completely metaphorical and abstract.”
Fleshgod Apocalypse has been touring in support of Veleno pretty extensively. Recently they toured America with death metal legends Hypocrisy. Paoli discusses their latest touring cycle: “We are taking some time off after touring almost like all America from the north with the Canada in March and then we flew to South America and Central America.. We played all of South America. We played Brazil, Argentina, Columbia and we flew to Central America. we played El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico. So we almost covered all of the American continent. We released the album in between and then we started playing some festivals where we are testing the new production. Every time we try to add new stuff, renovate some other stuff, and create a different atmosphere and try to have a bigger production, which means a bigger props, more interaction with the audience. But sometimes it depends. One thing that our music allows us to do is try to actually tour with very different genre bands. It’s hard to find bands that have all these different elements that we have. In our music we try to keep all these elements which are technically just are inspirations. We are fans of power metal, we are fans of death metal and fantasy or the symphonic music, so it’s good to have all these elements. So sometimes we tour with bands that match one element of our sound like more aggressive, more death metal or some other times it’s more melodic band, or symphonic metal bands; we have even played with power metal bands, so it’s all very different, so when we go out with very extreme bands, we try to have a very heavy and extreme production. Some other times we just want to have something more theatrical, more classy because we are touring with more with slower and more atmospheric bands. And that’s cool because, we always try to give a different feel. If you are playing a more mixed crowd, we try to integrate the music aspect with what you can see and we try to have different production for these kind of tours.”
Before recording Veleno, Fleshgod Apocalypse went through some interesting lineup changes. Long time members Trionfera and Tommaso Riccardi (vocals/guitar) left the group in 2017 for personal reasons, though Paoli says they remain friends and their leaving was the needed push for Paoli to take his rightful place as the frontman. Paoli explains: “In 2017, Riccardi decided to leave the band because he wanted to focus more on his family and we were touring a lot. He didn’t have this push that you need to do this kind of life any more and to be away for so long and, we were a little bit lost. And I said, why don’t I go back to lead vocals and do the guitar, which is my primary role, especially when we are songwriting. A lineup change is always something negative for a band, but for us it was extremely positive on both sides. In the band because you have like a lineup composed by members that really want to play like hundred percent. They are focused and dedicated 100%; and also the press, media and all of the industry were very interested. So, now we are in super shape and we are super happy that this happened even if we miss those guys. ”
The reason people were so intrigued by this change is because it was not the typical split between members due to in-fighting, but instead it was the original intention of the band coming to fruition. Paoli explains: “I recorded the first album and played the first shows as a singer and a guitar player, but I decided in 2009 to switch and play drums. You cannot try to become big in Italy and then go out. There is not much interest in general and there’s no investment, so you have to grow the band abroad. So we’re really needed to find the right people to do this. And since we didn’t find a drummer, but we wanted to do it so badly, we found Riccardi that could like sing live and play guitar . It was a compromise, and I made a deal with the other guys that I will lead the band in the back. I will write the music, I will take care of the artistic view and the creative process in general. And then I will play drums live. Because for me Fleshgod was a means to express myself as an artist. I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to write the songs and to lead the band. I mean, it sounds crazy, but it wasn’t that crazy. I mean, it was more something that we had to do to make it work. We didn’t want to lose it at the very beginning because we didn’t find a drummer, which is crucial in metal. And we needed it for a solid lineup. At the beginning, it was temporary, but it was not, it wasn’t that temporary. It was eight years in the end.”
As far as why it was so difficult to find a drummer, Paoli had this to say: “It’s an instrument that is very tough to play. And so you must be very focused and you have to know very well what you want to do with your life because it’s something that’s very demanding. You have to spend a lot of time practicing, a lot of time, fixing details which are more noticeable, especially when you play live, than other instruments. And you know, this is subjective. So it’s very hard to find these people that have this kind of dedication. I always say that playing any instrument is a pleasure, but playing drums, it is a mission.” Paoli actually got quite a bit of recognition as Fleshgod’s drummer. Paoli elaborates: “I really thank all the fans and everybody that supported me because that gave me the opportunity to become some kind of cult drummer in death metal, which is great, but, and unexpected, because I really didn’t mean to be recognized as a drummer, I just wanted to write music. I was perceived by the people as like a crazy drummer where I got covers on and Sick Drummers and whatever. So it was like, ‘okay, then.’ My technical abilities or whatever, or the skills, gave me an additional value artistically, I guess.”
However, Paoli feels more at home now as the band’s frontman: “I’m very thankful for all the support and all the people that love my drumming and that consider me a good drummer and helped us to promote the band even more because of this drums thing. But still, it was a compromise for me artistically. Now I can write my lyrics and sing my lyrics live, and it’s a totally different story as a songwriter and as an artist. So, I do prefer to be in the front. I do prefer to do what I’ve done in the back onstage, so I don’t have anybody that speaks for me anymore. So it’s great. And at the same time, I recorded the drums on Veleno. Even though I really hope that we can find like a solid lineup with new members who record their own instruments. But yeah, I prefer to be in the front. That’s what I do and now we will have for sure have other drummers interested in it, something that we didn’t have 10 years before. We got a lot of people that want to come on board, but we decided to have a very good friend of mine, David Folchitto, who turned out to be the right drummer. Then Trionfera was replaced by Fabio Bartoletti who is another good friend. David and Fabio are great musicians and persons and they’re doing a killer job live. It’s a first step, we just need more time before adding someone new to our formation. It’s like getting married again and you want to be sure everything’s working fine. Let me be clear: they are not fill-in musicians, they are definitely part of the family. We are just taking it easy before announcing a new lineup officially.”
The change has certainly helped the success of Veleno. The album has received a very positive reaction from fans and press even before it was released. Paoli describes the reaction: “It’s just, wow. I mean it’s like crazy in many ways. First of all, the reaction of the audience, even before we released the album, they went crazy for the singles. Even when we were touring for two months before the album’s release date, we were already playing the new single and we decided to add another song because the people were craving new music and they went crazy. I saw the biggest mosh pit in the U.S., for example, for a song called Fury, which was not even released when we were playing this song live. I mean it was crazy. So up front there was a lot of hype and a lot of interest in the new music by fans. Then we dropped the album and, and it was unbelievable. The press is super interested in promoting the album. I got like a shit load of interviews, so we, we did like five times more than before. As far as reviews, almost all of them are great. Even in countries where they have a different taste in music and Fleshgod is not a strong band, but this time it looks like everybody understands the artistic potential and even if they don’t like the different taste, they still recognize that we worked a lot on the album and they gave us a better rating than ever. The fan base is going crazy. We sold a lot. We reached positions in the US charts and we entered charts that we never entered like France, Great Britain, and Germany. The numbers on the Internet are also great. Usually, it’s just like you put out the video, you have like 1000 views and then nobody cares. This time still we see there is activity and comments under all these videos, which means that there’s a lot of new fans that were like, ‘okay, I heard this name, Fleshgod Apocalypse, but now let me see what they do, what they have done.”
Speaking of videos, Fleshgod Apocalypse’s latest video for Sugar tackles some very heavy subjects in an innovative way. It is directed by Giovanni Bucci, who has done videos for Korn and CGI work for major motion pictures like Star Trek Beyond. The video is very beautiful but grotesque at the same time as the band is spitting up all this strange colored liquid in slow motion, which is not just clever CGI, but something the band actually had to do. Paoli elaborates, “Almost nothing is CGI. Most of what you see is something that we did, the water thing, all the underwater shooting, all the shit that we had to vomit during the video, all that stuff. It was very tough and very long to record. It’s not easy to do that kind of video. And Giovanni did a great job, especially because it was a very complex video, which gives you an extra challenge. So yeah, everything you see is real. Its an analog video ha ha.”
Apparently, the video is a comment on drug addiction as evidenced by the images of needles. Paoli elaborates, “It’s about heavy drug addiction. Before, I thought that I didn’t want to do that song because the subject is something that I really felt personal about because I had a lot of friends that have this kind of issue, especially back in the day. I’ve never been through this, but I saw heavy drugs consumed people from very close friends. Right now, some of them are gone and this is very heavy and I never talked about this. And I wanted to shed some light on this problem because I started hearing here and there in Italy this heroin thing, you know, it’s something that belongs to the 80’s, and the 90’s, you know, nobody talks about this problem anymore with the proper attention because some people really believed that this belongs to the past, but it doesn’t. There are kids like 15 or 16 years old starting to use and getting addicted by smoking or injecting and ending up dead. It’s because it’s super cheap now. For a few dollars, like two or three dollars, you can get a dose now because they cut it with different shit, so it’s even more dangerous than before. I felt we had the opportunity and the responsibility to just to talk about this and not just be metaphorical and poetic, because the problem is real and is very actual. So we also want it to underline the heaviness of the meaning with the video.” The video does convey the grotesqueness of drug addiction without being preachy and is definitely worth a watch.
As far as new material, “Well, we are going to play more before we write new stuff. It’s going to take time. Right now we are focused on promoting the album, but you know, ideas are always there. So I try to collect as much as possible or the ideas that gums up my mind even while touring, because it’s the best thing to do because, before we were writing all this stuff in a row, but the more I go, the more I realized that it’s way better to find your inspiration spots and try to record and try to fix these ideas and then it works better than when you on just sit down and write music. It’s way more spontaneous and gives like an extra boost, which is good. So, I’m not saying that I’m already writing stuff, but I’m always collecting ideas. So some stuff that comes into my mind is already in the computer, but now the focus is touring and promoting Veleno.”