Lunga vita al metallo: Fleshgod Apocalypse + Obscura | 02.26.23, The Forge (Joliet, IL) (with photo gallery)

Photo of Fleshgod Apocalypse by Ed Kost

w/ Thulcandra and Wolfheart

A nearly packed house at The Forge in Joliet, IL, was treated to a dazzling display of talent from some of Europe’s finest extreme metal bands: Fleshgod Apocalypse (of Rome, Italy), Obscura (of Munich, Germany), Thulcandra (also Munich), and Wolfheart (of Lahti, Finland). The bands represented a variety of styles of metal, making for a consistently engaging and varied experience.

Being a long-time fan of both Obscura and Fleshgod, this was a can’t-miss show for me, despite the tour not coming to Missouri. This was my first time at The Forge, a midsize venue that hosts many of the same metal tours that are ultimately booked at either Red Flag or Pop’s as well. The Forge has an elevated stage, making it easy to see the performance, no matter how far on the fringe of the crowd you are. Like Pop’s and Red Flag, it also has balcony seating that comes at a premium. Why someone would want to sit down at a death metal show eludes me, although a few hours into the evening I did envy those whose elevation offered them a reprieve from the inevitable sweaty stench that permeates mass gatherings of metalheads.

The evening kicked off with a set from Thulcandra, a melodic black metal band clearly indebted to Dissection, the common source of inspiration for most bands in this style. Their album covers even feature a Grim Reaper figure in various frozen hellscapes, a clear homage to the iconic artwork for Dissection’s Storm of the Light’s Bane. The tribute is clearly intentional, and Thulcandra frequently covers Dissection songs live; all of their recent shows have featured a cover of “Night’s Blood” as their set closer.

Obscura frontman Steffen Kummerer is also the frontman for Thulcandra, so consequently, he has been pulling double duty every night of this tour. This is not the first time that Kummerer has toured with both of his bands simultaneously, although based on my research, this seems to be Thulcandra’s first time touring in North America. Although not quite as interesting as Kummerer’s work with Obscura, I have a deep fondness for Thulcandra’s style of music, and I found them extremely impressive live. Their drummer, Alessandro Delastik (who uses the stage name Erebor), was probably the highlight for me; the sound team did an excellent job with the percussion at the show, and every kick of his blast beats came through clear as a bell.

Finnish melodic death metal band Wolfheart was next, and because they were the band whose music I was least familiar with, their set was probably my favorite surprise of the evening. Finland has a particularly rich history of great melodic death metal bands (Insomnium, Amorphis, and Wintersun, to name a few); Wolfheart, who are celebrating their tenth anniversary as a band, happily fits within that proud tradition. The band had a very dynamic stage presence, particularly guitarist Vagelis Karzis, who pounded his chest like Donkey Kong between songs. I would definitely recommend them to fans of the previously mentioned Finnish bands, particularly Insomnium, who is a clear influence on Wolfheart.

Since forming in 2002, Obscura, who take their name from Gorguts’ landmark 1998 album, has built a reputation as one of Germany’s most prominent death metal exports. As with Finnish death metal’s emphasis on melodicism and folk elements, the German death metal scene has become infamous for its absurd technicality, demonstrated with bands like Defeated Sanity, Necrophagist, and of course, Obscura (all three of which have exchanged members over the years). Steffen Kummerer, a notoriously demanding perfectionist, has been the only consistent member of Obscura, which has undergone many lineup changes over the years due to creative differences.

There appears to have been something of a truce between Kummerer and his former bandmates, as their most recent album, A Valediction (2021), featured original guitarist Christian Muenzer (also of Defeated Sanity and Necrophagist fame) and original bassist Paul Thesseling, who were both present for this tour as well. Despite his reputation as a control freak, I will say that Obscura’s live shows definitely do not come across as “the Steffen show”; in fact, Muenzer did all of the most complex soloing, not Kummerer (who is also the vocalist). One of my favorite parts of Obscura’s music has always been the prominent and lovely fretless bass solos, so I was very happy to see Thesseling return for the most recent album and this tour.

Despite whatever behind-the-scenes drama may have transpired between them, I will say that these musicians work incredibly well together. If your motivation for going to metal shows is to see highly complex and well-written music executed with great precision, I cannot recommend an Obscura show more highly.

And finally, we arrive at the denouement of the evening’s high drama: Fleshgod Apocalypse. A symphonic death metal band from Rome, the band’s modus operandi is to pervert the mannered aesthetic of Italian opera and classical music with the brutality of modern death metal. Donning corpse paint and dressed in tattered Enlightenment-era clothing, complete with tailcoats and riding boots, the band looks like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s worst nightmare.

I have been a dedicated fan of this group since discovering their 2009 debut album, Oracles, and the follow-up EP Mafia (2010). Those two releases were primarily in the style of brutal death metal, with the symphonic elements largely being an influence on the guitar compositions, rather than the main feature of the music. Starting with 2011’s Agony, the band made a stylistic shift to full-on symphonic metal, greatly expanding their fanbase but also, in my opinion, losing some of the pummeling technicality that made Oracles and Mafia so special in the process.

They have also had the occasional detour into meme territory in recent years, including a death metal cover of Eiffel 65’s 1998 hit “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” and their 2020 single “No”, which prominently features part of the chorus to “…Baby One More Time” (the very stale joke of a death metal band covering a pop song still remains hilarious to some people). Though I was disappointed that Fleshgod does not play any material from Oracles or Mafia live anymore, I was pleased to see the best songs from all four of their symphonic-era albums represented (including “The Fool”, “Minotaur”, and their signature song, “The Violation”). And yes, they did the song with the Britney Spears thing too.

Guitarist and vocalist Francesco Paoli and bassist Paolo Rossi have been in Fleshgod since its very beginning; their most recent tours have also featured new guitarist Fabio Bartoletti and drummer Eugene Ryabchenko, who both joined in 2020. The symphonic element of the group is exemplified through pianist and composer Francesco Ferrini, who furiously pounds away like a Mozart from Hell when not whipping the crowd into a frenzy, and vocalist Veronica Bordacchini, who greatly impressed with her operatic vibrato and tremendous vocal range and stage presence. She is also a recent addition to the band, and I hope she will have a prominent role on their forthcoming material. Molto bene!

The Fleshgod Apocalypse + Obscura tour is currently making its way down the Atlantic coast; it will end on March 16th with a performance at the Regent Theater in Los Angeles, CA. For those unable to see the tour in-person, here is a playlist with recent setlists for all four bands. | David Von Nordheim

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