Fleshgod Apocalypse’s Francesco Paoli on pulling a double shift on guitar and drums for the symphonic death-metal masters

Fleshgod Apocalypse
(Image credit: Miikka Skaffari/Getty Images)

After nearly a decade of delivering brute-force blasts from behind his drum kit, Fleshgod Apocalypse’s Francesco Paoli has strapped on a custom Rufini guitar and stepped up to the mic for the sextet’s fifth epic full-length, Veleno

This just means everything is back in its right place, with the symphonic death-metal group’s principal songwriter having handled those same roles all the way back on their 2009 debut, Oracles

Speaking from his home in Perugia, Italy, Paoli explains with an incredulous laugh that handling the backbeat was originally intended to be a temporary measure. Though he’d always been meshing grave-desecrating metal licks with near-heavenly melodies behind the scenes, he’s happy to be back to the front of the stage after a long hiatus. 

“It’s the most natural thing, actually, because I always wanted to do [this],” he says over Skype about getting back to his roots. “I always led the band from the back; I always had somebody that was speaking for me. It’s way easier, because [now] I have a direct relationship and contact with the fans.” 

Fleshgod Apocalypse’s big lineup shift came out of the 2017 exit of singer/guitarist Tommaso Riccardi and lead guitarist Cristiano Trionfera, who opted out of the touring life following a trio of LP’s. While Paoli was writing Veleno with pianist Francesco Ferrini, they drafted Deceptionist’s Fabio Bartoletti into the group to tackle leads.

I’ve always been a decent rhythm guitar player. I can play some slower solos – I can fake that type of stuff but in the end, I’m very lucky to have a guitar player like Fabio, who is a real shredder

Though the band most recently unleashed their brutalizing No single, as well as a comically intense cover of Nineties Eurodance outfit Eiffel 65’s Blue (Da Ba Dee), Veleno remains Fleshgod Apocalypse’s most vicious and vivacious cycle of songs thus far. 

Take, for instance, Fury, which has Paoli and Bartoletti manically palm-muting their parts alongside Ferrini’s decadent piano lines, seemingly teleported from a Baroque-period ballroom rager. 

In one of the record’s most seething pieces, Worship and Forget pits doom-laden, chromatic tech-metal riffery against a resplendent burst of orchestral strings – all this while Paoli’s bilious growl decries religious dogma. 

“The first part is very heavy. Like, 280 bpm and super fucking straight forward,” he says of the monstrous intro. “Then it develops into more of a new-classical vibe in the chorus.”

While previous albums often relied on midi-programmed orchestration, Veleno’s massive sound is down to a pivot toward a more organic blend of distortion-blackened guitar damage and beautifully bowed strings, as well the use of mandolin, uilleann pipes and a full choir.

Paoli also tips his hat to Bartoletti, a firebrand player just as comfortable imbuing Veleno with tastefully spacious divebombs and vibrato (Carnivorous Lamb) as he is a wickedly sweeped-out series of arpeggios (Sugar).

“I’ve always been a decent rhythm guitar player,” Paoli, who also chugs out menacing riffs with metal combo Coffin Birth, says of his own style. “I can play some slower solos – I can fake that type of stuff – but in the end, I’m very lucky to have a guitar player like Fabio, who is a real shredder. He can play; he knows his shit.”

  • Fleshgod Apocalypse's Veleno is out now via Nuclear Blast.

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Gregory Adams

Gregory Adams is a Vancouver-based arts reporter. From metal legends to emerging pop icons to the best of the basement circuit, he’s interviewed musicians across countless genres for nearly two decades, most recently with Guitar World, Bass Player, Revolver, and more – as well as through his independent newsletter, Gut Feeling. This all still blows his mind. He’s a guitar player, generally bouncing hardcore riffs off his ’52 Tele reissue and a dinged-up SG.