Tommaso Riccardi (Fleshgod Apocalypse) interviewed

** Italian symphonic death metallers Fleshgod Apocalypse have taken things to a whole new level on new album, King. Musically, the Italians are more intense, more bombastic, more sophisticated. Song to song, King ravages the tenets of symphonic death metal, establishing a new hierarchy of awesome. Artistically, King has one of the best album covers of the decade. It looks positively old, but Eliran Kantor’s work is undoubtedly modern (and killer). Decibel was summoned to Tommaso Riccardi’s throne room to talk King.

The orchestral parts are a signature aspect to Fleshgod Apocalypse. What comes first: the orchestral aspect or the death metal aspect?
Tommaso Riccardi: Well, I would say that Fleshgod Apocalypse music is orchestral music. This means that drums, bass, guitars and vocals are elements of the orchestra, together with all the other sections (strings, brass…etc.). This means that in the process of composing new songs we always consider all these elements together. Of course, sometimes a guitar riff could be the starting point, while sometimes the song could come to life with the idea of a main orchestral theme or a drum rhythm, but anyways it’s going to be a very organic process in which all these elements are written and arranged together during the evolution of the songwriting.

Who are some of your favorite composers? How do they inspire you?
Tommaso Riccardi: I think that in terms of orchestral arrangements, but also melodic and harmonic progressions, we have elements that remind composers of the classicism, such as Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludvig Van Beethoven (to cite the most popular ones) as well as composers of the romantic period Paganini and Liszt (already late-romantic), two of the main characters of the virtuosoism. Then, of course, we have to remember Fryderyk Chopin, Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Franz Schubert and Gioachino Rossini, great Italian romantic opera composer. Beside those, the great Russian nationalists such as Nikolaij Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexandr Borodin. Also, our composition takes a lot of inspiration from contemporary soundtracks composers such as John Williams, Hanz Zimmer, Howard Shore, Alan Silvestri, and Danny Elfman.

Where do you think symphonic death metal will go from here? More bombast, more subtle?
Tommaso Riccardi: You know, this is a very hard question to answer. It is never easy to predict something like that. What I can say is that on our side, we are trying to push ourselves more and more into something that is grandiose, but in the meantime heavy and sharp; something violent, obscure and dramatic!

What were the songwriting sessions like for King?
Tommaso Riccardi: Very stressful, as usual… [Laughs] Well, joking aside, we are extremely meticulous on everything, especially the songwriting, and I think this is what made us grow up so fast and gave us the chance to play so many great stages during these years. We are hard workers and we never settle on anything. King songwriting and arrangement took almost 9 full months, plus all the recordings, so it was actually very challenging, but we are so happy about the results.

Musically, what did you want to do differently for King?
Tommaso Riccardi: King is a synthesis of Fleshgod Apocalypse and, in the meantime, it is much more than the sum of the elements. I think we reached the perfect balance between all the aspects of our music, but beside that I really believe that we simply wrote our best songs so far. Every riff is mind-blowing and the way we managed the arrangements and song structures is great; I really feel that everything is in the right place, when I listen to it. Last but not least, we are extremely satisfied about the work we did on the album sound, both during the recordings with Marco “Cinghio” Mastrobuono at Kick Recording Studio and of course during mixing and mastering with the almighty Jens Bogren at Fascination Street Studios.

Labyrinth was a concept based off of labyrinth of Knossos. Is there a concept to King?
Tommaso Riccardi: Yes, of course. King is about an old world that is slowly coming to an end. The King himself is, in a way, the only positive character of the whole story. He represents justice, integrity and wisdom that are slowly being corroded by ignorance and mediocrity spreading everywhere. We thought this could be a perfect way to describe our indignation about the unrestrainable downfall of our own society in an era that looks more like the Middle Ages rather than the 21st century. Obviously, in this story there is a positive message: that King could be inside everyone of us. It’s up to us to recognize him and find the courage to stand for what we believe in. As we have been saying lately, we should all hail the King we have inside!

How was your experience at Kick Recording and 16th Cellar Studios? Who produced King?
Tommaso Riccardi: We worked on the pre-production with Stefano “Saul” Morabito at 16th Cellar Studio and as usual we found ourselves really comfortable; we are brothers and he knows us very well, so we can always count on his long experience. For the recordings we decided to embark in this new adventure with Marco “Cinghio” Mastrobuono, at Kick Recording Studio. We have been friends for years and this is the first time we actually worked together and I have to say the results have been over expectations. This guy is a great sound engineer and producer and we had an amazing time with him. I think working with Marco has been the very first step towards the realization of a very high quality product.

You hired Jens Bogren to mix and master King. What were you seeking sonically?
Tommaso Riccardi: Of course, the good first step couldn’t be followed by something worse. This is why we decided to work with the legendary Jens Bogren at Fascination Street Studios for the mixing and mastering of King. Needless to say that when we listened to the very first mix, we were completely blown away. It was already clear that, beside the songwriting (of which we were already extremely satisfied) also the sound would be something massive. We were looking for people who could really interpret our music and put it in a way in which all the things going on could be intelligible and still extremely heavy and powerful, and we definitely succeeded. Thanks to the amazing job done by Jens Bogren and Marco Mastrobuono, we finally obtained what we had in mind since the beginning: a great sounding album.

Tell us about the cover art. Looks like an old painting, but is it?
Tommaso Riccardi: Well, talking about interpretation we couldn’t be happier than that, really. The “old painting” we are talking about was designed by Eliran Kantor, who I think gave a fundamental contribution to the artistic completeness of this album. We talked a lot with him about the concept and the idea behind this King and we asked him to give us his visual idea of what we had in mind. Even in this case, we proved ourselves that we made the right choice; Eliran did an amazing job… and wait to see the booklet inlay!

You might be the first band to sell a chef’s apron. Are you guys foodies in your spare time?
Tommaso Riccardi: Of course, we are man! We are Italians. How could it be any different than that?! [Laughs] Yes, we love cooking and we love good cuisine, so we thought this could be a great inspiration for metalheads and fans cooking good food all over the world!

OK, there’s wine and pasta too. Do you make your own pasta? Where are the wines bottled?
Tommaso Riccardi: [Laughs] Yeah, those are great too. That pasta is amazing. It is hand made by a very small factory nearby our hometown. Same for the wine which is produced and bottled for us by Cantine Ponteggia, also situated in our region. We support our local food industry!

Seriously though, what do the band members do outside of Fleshgod Apocalypse?
Tommaso Riccardi: [Laughs] Cooking… And what else? [Laughs] No, seriously. I love cooking and I enjoy making some good food and invite friends over for dinner and stuff like that, but I also love skateboarding! Of course, besides the band we don’t have a lot of free time, but we all have our hobbies! To make an example, Paolo Rossi is a crazy soccer fan and he always goes to the stadium to support our local team, while Francesco Ferrini is totally into cinema and TV series. Same for Cristiano. Francesco Paoli loves skiing, so he tries to go every time we got a couple of days off!

What do you want fans to walk away with after hearing King?
Tommaso Riccardi: We want them to walk away with something they will hardly forget. I don’t want to overestimate ourselves of course, but I am pretty confident our fans are going to love it! Hail to the King!

** Fleshgod Apocalypse’s new album, King, is out now on Nuclear Blast Records. The band has a myriad music items for sale, as well as cool products like wine and cooking apparel, which, on the surface, sounds silly, but the quality is department store level. Available HERE.