Fleshgod Apocalypse have been perfecting their brand of orchestral death metal for nearly a decade and have crafted their finest release yet with the simply titled King. The marriage of symphonic elements with a concussive death metal assault has been the band's sticking point since Agony, where they took the foundation of the debut record and sent listeners into a frenzy with bombastic orchestral compositions. Labyrinth saw the outfit refine their sound with more balance, but King is the album that matches the fearless bravado surrounding its release.

King is a concept album where each track concerns a member of the king's court, ranging from the king himself, queen, prince, princess, minister of war, bishop and more with each person representing different dark sides of humanity. The album opens up with the introductory war tempo of "March Royale" which gives way to the orchestral majesties sent on a collision course with pummeling brutality on "In Aeternum."

The march tempo is prevalent throughout the album, which serves Fleshgod Apocalypse well in a multitude of areas. The guitars employ stronger rhythms that impose their will by their sheer weight and the bellowing horns accent the riffing, freeing up drummer Francesco Paoli to play with more flair and subtlety than on previous albums. The mix is spacious most notable on songs like "Healing Through War," evoking the feeling of imminent doom as the orchestration shines while Tommaso Riccardi wretches forth his scornful lyrics. While the words that emanate from his bowel-scraping gutturals are mostly unintelligible, reading the lyrics alongside a listen of King is a worthwhile task.

"The Fool," led by a rapid harpsichord melody before Fleshgod unleash a full on aural assault, harkens back to their pre-King material. What used to be the expected sound from the quintet is now used to accentuate one the two extremes the band explores: the slower, grinding war tempo and uncompromising, relentless fury. Sandwiched between "The Fool" and "Mitra," another unabating death metal spectacle, is the cinematic "Cold as Perfection."

Listeners get a reprieve at the halfway point with "Paramour (Die Leidenschaft Bringt Leiden)." Clocking in at four minutes, the track features sparing piano melodies and operatic vocals from session singer Veronica Bordacchini, who makes appearances on "Cold as Perfection" and "Syphilis." The track showcases the importance of these elements in the band's music and her piercing voice and sharp vibrato works in gorgeous harmony within this facet of the group.

The second half of the album wastes no time. "And the Vulture Beholds" puts an abrupt end to the piano and vocal duet, tearing into blasts and fills with choirs ascending to the heavens as Fleshgod Apocalypse dig further towards Hell. Bassist Paulo Rossi provides operatic clean sung vocals with his best effort yet, adding another dynamic facet to the band.

The tempo tug of war ensues with the crushing and aptly titled "Gravity," boasting a Morbid Angel-esque lead. The war march is once again washed away in favor of the punishing "A Million Deaths." Fleshgod Apocalypse wrap up their side of the story on "Syphilis," instilling fear with the delicate melody against the thundering low end bursts that carry the song. The title track closes out King, allowing time for reflection through four minutes of piano work that lets the dust settle from the aftermath of Fleshgod's brutal narrative.

What separates King from the rest of Fleshgod Apocalypse's work is that the orchestration has struck a perfect balance with the rest of the band's sound. For the first time, it truly feels like the Italian group has crafted an album that undoubtedly could not stand without its symphonic counterpart. The composition is bursting with subtle and playful arrangements, achieving complete mastery over their style, much like Septicflesh accomplished on The Great Mass and Scrambled Defuncts did on the overly ambitious Souls Despising the God. King's title is no mistake and can rightfully be considered death metal royalty.

Fleshgod Apocalypse, "Cold as Perfection" Music Video