*prognotes – Fleshgod Apocalypse’s King

*prognotes breaks down and analyses your favourite metal and progressive concept albums lyrically and musically. Read other entries in this series here.

Welcome to another edition of *prognotes! We hinted this was coming when we looked at a few Fleshgod Apocalypse album covers, and today we’re going to be diving deep into their stellar 2016 release King. Before delving into the individual tracks, we should take a look at the overall concept of the album. Each track is from the point of view of a different member of the royal court, and to see why that’s the case here are a couple of interview excerpts with pianist/orchestrator Francesco Ferrini and lead vocalist/guitarist Tommaso Riccardi respectively:

“[We] wanted a strong characterization for each character involved in the story, so we started from the idea of writing specific songs for each one… Each [character] represents, metaphorically, a different aspect of human nature… In a world that runs so fast, the King is an ideal carrier for strong values that humanity around him lost track of. Some of these values might appear old-fashioned, even outdated somehow, but nowadays, there’s too much left behind in the name of ‘progress.’ ” (F.F., New Noise Magazine)

“All the other characters in the court represent the fears that can lead us to make everything worse.” (T.R. Decibel Magazine)
The record opens with “March Royale,” a short, imperious and solely orchestral track which serves as a prelude to the first real song, “In Aeturnum”. This song has a regal air to it and thus it is unsurprisingly from the King’s perspective, with the music’s underlying aggression suggesting that we are dealing with a strong, war-like monarch. The lyrics establish his dominant stance from the outset:

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Bow your head before your king, as I’m the bringer of light
The chosen one amongst all men, the lord and master of light
“But who decided it all?”
Shut up you servant, respect divine right”

The King finds himself surrounded by enemies, unable to trust even his own son:

“No one to trust and no one to save
As this court is a den of snakes

No one is virtuous, no one is grown
No one deserves to be heir to the throne

Throughout the record, the delineation between clean and harsh vocals is an important one. The more prominent harsh vocals generally represent the outward appearance of a character, the harsh, cold and aggressive face that they show the world. Conversely the clean vocals are generally more introspective and lyrically convey a softer, more delicate side to a person. This is made most clear in this track’s chorus, where the clean vocals are a prayer to God, whilst the harsh vocals represent a threat to all who would oppose the crown:

(Cleans) God bless my soul, guide my fury through this cold war
(Harsh) Hunting Judas down
(Cleans) Now free my hands from the spires of the serpent
(Harsh) Death to the traitors of the crown

It is noteworthy that, whilst the verses depict a vast array of traitors and enemies to contend with, the chorus refers to the singular Judas. This highlights how the rest of the court can be seen as the different components that make up the united evil inherent in people’s personality, different faces of a single coin.

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Next up we have “Healing Through War”, a dark, foreboding and downright oppressive track from the perspective of the Minister for War. The track consists entirely of harsh vocals, underscoring the violently aggressive, heartless point of view that this member of the court brings.

I breed the hunger and spread the thirst
I burn the wheat that I sow

Burn this world to the ground
Tear down whatever you encounter, exterminate all

Furthermore, the lyrics hark back to the album cover, as he reveals himself as one who may be pulling the King’s strings:

The tricky strings that I pull
With infantry blood and mothers’ tears
I wash the hands of this court

It’s not hard to figure out which perspective track four is from. Like its predecessors, “The Fool” does an excellent job of musically encapsulating the spirit of the character it is representing, with the jovial harpsichord a perfect fit for the role. Still, the song finds itself getting quite aggressive during the verses, whilst lyrically it holds dark material which highlights the danger of losing sight of who you are. The song brings back memories of the late Robin Williams, and how even jesters aren’t necessarily happy on the inside:

Die…of laughter in delight before a living dead
Victim into this masquerade, forgot who I am
This story is driving me mad
My life is hanging by a thread that is about to break
Suicidal tendencies burn inside the mind of this miserable man

Here we have exclusively harsh vocals during the verses, whilst the chorus brings pleading, desperately depressed clean vocals to the fore:

Bleed behind this painful mask I wear
I’m falling from a misleading grace
The life I dreamed is killing me

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The following track, “Cold As Perfection”, is a duet between the King, who uses both spoken word and harsh vocals, and the female vocals of his Queen. The song deals with how the Queen struggles to come to terms with her fading beauty, the overarching message being that perfection is not possible, and that certain facts of life simply cannot be changed. The chorus shows how the King has been betrayed by his wife, a fact which is brought to life in the music video as well:

Cold through the winter of life
Pulled down below into an ocean of lies
My withering rose

Even then, the spoken word encapsulates the King’s soft side as he offers words of wisdom to the Queen:

My lady listen to your beloved King
I can see your eyes are now scared
And veiled by the mist of despair
Do not be conquered by your own fears
Don’t let the illusion of perfection seduce you
Or you will be lost forever

Yet sadly, even these could not stop her from ending her own life, a fact which perhaps serves as an allegorical moral against cheating:

Desperate while my youth fades away
Sorrow is dragging my soul down
There’s no word you can say to save me
My love

Moving on we have “Mitra,” which is from the perspective of the court’s Bishop. The instrumentation is incredibly dark, sinister and unsettling, a grimy fusion of death and black metal with particularly guttural harsh vocals, making this the heaviest track since we heard form the Minister for War. At first these seem to contradict the opening lines of relatively positive lyrics; however, it doesn’t take long for the true nature of the track to become clear. A vehemently anti-religious track, the song is riddled with references to sexual abuse, a sickening subject matter which warrants the accompanying instrumentation.

You will be blessed by my seed as we pray together

You shall accept in your blooming flesh
My spiritual power

Whilst we cannot say much about the lyrical content of the following track “Paramour”, given it’s in German, we can clearly see whose perspective it is from. Indeed, one would suspect that it is the King’s paramour, or lover outside of wedlock, suggesting that his relative lenience towards his wife’s adultery may have been because he himself was guilty of the same. The only track with a solely female perspective, it is fitting that it is purely classical in nature, with operatic female vocals throughout.

Up next we have “And The Vulture Beholds”, another regal-sounding track concerning the Crown Prince’s humiliation at being:

Cast out, ignored
Disdained and scorned
Humiliated by those I’ll rise above

Whilst his harsh vocals are as ferocious as his father’s, the Crown Prince clearly doesn’t have his father’s determination, ruthlessness and strength. The King does as he pleases, takes what he wants using his strength and threatens death to all that oppose him; yet the clean vocals in the chorus here suggest that the Crown Prince is instead pleading to be given a kingdom, rather than taking it for himself:

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Oh father
Let your heart hear
Your firstborn words
I feel it’s time for me
To rule the world

Similarly, his threats are particularly tame when compared with his fathers, as he swears to “Castigat[e] the traitors”, as opposed to the blood-thirsty punishments outlaid in “In Aeturnum”. A beautiful neo-classical guitar solo also offers a reprise from the heaviness of the track, giving it both a more pompous and emotional vibe, suitable for an arrogant Crown Prince wanting the world he’s been promised before he is ready. In the final verse he appears to turn a corner, the language very similar to that of his father’s as he perhaps finally finds the necessary steel to take the throne:

Irate, furious,
Out of control
I will kill all these tamperers one by one
Destroying obstacles
Standing between me and my rise
Annihilating the aims of betrayers

However, the return of the chorus with its pleading clean vocals show that he is still very much a pretender to the throne. Moving along to “Gravity”, we get a relatively straight-forward track concerning a Treasuer/Master of Coin who has become utterly consumed by his own greed. In the verses we’re greeted by eerie music similar in nature to that of “Healing Through War” and “Mitra” which, when considering the subject matter of those songs (perpetual war and sexual abuse), highlights just how great of an evil greed can be in our world. It is also worth noting that the lyrics draw parallels between the speaker’s greed and a drug addiction, directly bringing the latter’s subject matter into this conversation as well:

I, alone on the sly with my drug
Fill my veins with this gold dust

Now bear with us, as we only have two full tracks to go, starting with arguably the heaviest song on the record “A Million Deaths”. This is the only song that isn’t from the perspective of a member of the royal court, instead looking at things from the viewpoint of an everyday soldier. The opening verses see the valiant soldiers come to terms with their fate, loyal to the end as they prepare to offer their lives for their King and country:

We stick our chests out decorated with medals
Before the lead will replace all the pride in our hearts
And there will be no celebration, forgotten names etched in the mud
Me I believe honour lasts forever, therefore I sacrifice
My life is yours

However, the introduction of eerie tremolo picking sees the song then venture completely into black metal territory as the soldiers realise the fallacy of war, millions of men forgotten and abandoned as they fight for nothing at all:

We are becoming insane here, forgotten in fox holes
We fight the primal fear more than the real foe
No we can’t discern them clearly from our companions
We’re going insane here. Why don’t you hear us?
Why don’t you rescue us all?

A spoken word passage from the King looks to inspire his men to keep fighting towards peace, but it is clear they have had no effect:

To defend you my sire I have blown away my soul
Devastating my own life
With no rewards
Choking my existence with lies
Led by the devil to paradise: Down

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Finally we reach “Syphilis”, another duet, this time between the King and either his Queen or his Paramour, with the former’s apparent suicide earlier in the record suggesting it is more likely to be the latter. The operatic female contracts syphilis and lamentably cries out for her beloved to continue loving her, only for the King to make it clear in no uncertain terms that, no matter his love for her:

I will never come again
I forbid this love forever

Can’t soil my blood for nothing
And waste my heritage
Can’t blacken my name
And lose my purity

The music has an epic, climactic feel to it and a beautiful, slow guitar solo to complement the atmosphere of the duet, with the two vocalists trading verses. The track then fades into the self-titled, instrumental album closer. A somewhat morose and sombre track, it encapsulates what can happen to us as human beings, and indeed the world itself, when we allow the negative aspects of our personality to become who we are. If we let our inner Ministers of War, greedy Treasurers or scheming Crown Prince’s take over, then all could be lost. However, the relatively peaceful, somewhat hopeful second half of the song shows that if we can find our inner King, someone who is wise, determined and strong, then we may be able to find our way in this world.

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Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, Karlo is an aspiring author in fantasy/historical fiction with a passion for music, literature and history.






2 thoughts on “*prognotes – Fleshgod Apocalypse’s King

  1. kurt Reply

    Love these articles, thanks!

    • karlo Reply

      you’re welcome, thanks for the comment :)

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