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One of the greatest perks of reviewing music (if you manage to overcome or, better, avoid becoming a bitter jaded cynic that no longer gets excited by anything in the process) is discovering talented musicians waiting to break out and seeing the formation of new bands as they happen. Ferum (no, this band isn’t called Perun, even though Cianide obviously was a key influence and they even cover the song ‘Funeral’ from them) is an Italian death/doom trio that is barely a year old but already scored a recording contract with Everlasting Spew Records and Unholy Domain Records for their debut EP “Vergence”. Ferum is made up of three seasoned underground veterans (two of whom have been in a band together earlier) and it’s evident that the darkness in the Italian catacombs is very much alive. It’s a rare and distinct pleasure discovering a band this young that has conceptualized its vision and overall direction of choice so precisely. Ferum is one such band and it makes a scribe as yours truly content to be a music critic.

Angelica Pinetti (left), Samantha Alessi (middle), and Matteo Anzelini (right)

Samantha Alessi is a girl in the Italian underground metal scene whose progress as a songwriter and musician we’ve been monitoring with great interest over the last couple of years. Suffice to say the redhaired miracle has been in a number of different constellations during that time, but the newly forged Bologna-based Ferum (Latin for “fierce”) is the first unit where she is in complete creative control. “Vergence” (or ‘the simultaneous movement of both eyes in opposite directions to obtain or maintain single binocular vision’, also sprach the infinitely wise Wikipedia) is a summation of virtually every band and genre Alessi has dipped her tiny toes in prior to its formation in 2017. Samantha is a girl close to our black heart. Bodacious, vivacious, multi-talented (she plays guitar and bass guitar next to her singing) and with an excellent taste in music to boot. To be entirely frank we were sold on Ferum without even having heard a single note of music. Samantha has put her money where her mouth is. Acta non verba. “Vergence” thankfully lives up to every one of our assumptions in terms of how we imagined Ferum would sound.

For an Italian band Ferum sounds distinctively Swedish. At least as far as its riffs are concerned. “Vergence” is permeated with the influence of Unleashed (“Where No Life Dwells”, “Shadows in the Deep”) and Necrophobic (“The Nocturnal Silence”), its charnel doom passages recall the darkest moments of early Asphyx (“Embrace the Death”, “The Rack”) as well as Autopsy’s “Mental Funeral” whereas the general direction is somewhere along the lines of Death’s primitive beginnings with “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Leprosy” with a thoroughly morbid and decrepit disposition not unlike Blasphereion. Samantha’s sickly rasps and bellowed grunts sound absolutely monstrous without ever becoming overly guttural or exceedingly serpentine. Matteo Anzelini’s bass guitar is positively thundering with a full-bodied tone that would make Demilich and Gorefest proud. Angelica Pinetti’s drumming is fitting for the style holding the middleground somewhere between Kyle Severn from Incantation, Ilaria Casiraghi from Ekpyrosis, and King Fowley from Deceased (circa “Luck Of the Corpse”). In other words, these two girls and guy know their underground classics, and it shows. Ferum plays it far closer to the chest than, say, Amthrya – but like them “Vergence” is bereft of any modern influences, which is one of the EP’s biggest selling points. The only thing we sort of miss is a nicely laid out explosive guitar solo or two, but that's mere nitpicking, not a complaint.

‘Siege Of Carnality’ is equal parts “Seven Churches” Possessed, Death circa “Scream Bloody Gore” and any early European death/doom metal pioneer of note with a churning Swedish death metal main riff. ‘Perpetual Distrust’ has guest vocals from Marko Neuman from Finnish funeral death/doom metal combo Convocation (their debut “Scars Across” had some of the greatest artwork in the underground this year). It is by far the most Incantation sounding track of the EP, which is never a bad thing. During its more psychedelic moments it is reminiscent of now defunct Riti Occulti (circa 2012) without said band’s overt retro occult metal imagery and production aesthetic. ‘Subconscious Annihilation’ further explores the doom metal direction of the preceding track and hints that Ferum could very well head into a diSEMBOWELMENT “Transcendence into the Peripheral” direction if they so desired.

Not even the closing (and somewhat swinging) psychedelic stoner riff feels out of place eventhough it stands in stark contrast to the rest of the track. ‘Funeral’ is played true to form and Ferum is at its best when playing slow grinding deep cutting Cianide riffs. The brooding outro ‘Ed è Subito Sera’ (‘And then it is Night’) is a black as pitch dirgey doom waltz in tradition of Winter, Sempiternal Deathreign, and (who else?) Cianide set to a poem of Sicilian novelist, Hermetic poet and Nobel laureate Salvatore Quasimodo with a prominent place for Anzelini’s bass guitar. There’s a minor undercurrent of psychedelic – and stoner doom metal to some of the riffing and overall atmosphere with Ferum. Not exactly surprising considering some of Alessi’s and Pinetti’s prior bands but it tends to contrast heavily with their fully realized traditional death/doom metal direction.

If one was to compare Ferum to any of the classic bands it would be earliest Hypocrisy, especially “Penetralia” and “Obsculum Obscenum”. Like that band Ferum has the meanest crunch and Samantha’s beastly bellows are as everlasting spewed and vociferously vomited as any of the classic European death metal bands. The similarity in delivery to Acrostichon circa “Engraved In Black” is fairly obvious. Over the last fifteen or so years Italy has become the new Poland in terms of housing some of the fastest, most mechanical and inhumanly technical death metal that is about as glossy as it is soulless. Thankfully that movement is now countered by a resurgence of so-called “cavernous” death metal acts out of the underground. Ferum clearly knows their American and European genre classics. There used to be a time when death metal like this didn’t came with the redundant old school or cavernous prefix and things were easier and simpler back then. Ferum has no intention of reinventing the wheel and they don’t do so either. There’s a dire need for bands as Ekpyrosis, Ferum and Amthrya that defy convention where/whenever they can. Modern death metal tends to retroactively date itself through the usage of all of the usual cover artists and production techniques. Ferum lives and breathes death metal the way it was intended. Samantha never disappoints, and neither does she here. The Latin proverb corvus oculum corvi non eruit never rang truer.

We hesitate to describe Amthrya as Italian death metal - even though they hail from Italy and do indeed play death metal - if only because the usual connotations that come with such description do not apply and might even give the wrong impression to listeners. The fact is that Amthrya has little to nothing to do with the likes of Hour Of Penance, Fleshgod Apocalypse, and Hideous Divinity – even if they (for better or worse) have come to define Italian death metal as it’s currently known. Amthrya bears no semblance to more cavernous acts as Ekpyrosis or Ferum either. No. Amthrya is something else entirely and they don’t let themselves be pinned down to one convenient regional sound. “Incision Of Gem” is their first with former Opera IX frontwoman Abigail Dianaria (no, that’s not her real name) behind the mic who has adopted a whole new stage persona and calls herself Kasumi Onryō (no, that’s not her real name either) now. Appearances can be deceiving and no release makes a better case for this than “Incision Of Gem”, where nothing is ever what it seems…

Life is stranger than fiction. The best thing to ever happen to Opera IX in the last 18 years was the recruiting of Kasumi Onryō, the heir apparent to legendary frontwoman Cadaveria who left the band in acrimony after 2000’s “The Black Opera”. Onryō brought Opera IX back from the brink of irrelevance with her devilish womanly wiles and reinstated some of the occult magick that defined the greatest Cadaveria-era works. “Back to Sepulcro” - Onryō’s debut with that band - was a lot of things. For the most part it was an exercise in redundancy redeemed by the inclusion of two new songs. More importantly, it allowed giovane donna Onryō to showcase her vocal abilities. These abilities are now put to even better use in Amthrya, a unit consisting of nobody you ever heard of or anybody important for that matter. Again, looks can and will be deceiving. Even though Kasumi Onryō has a penchant for dressing up like Sadako from Ringu (1998) and its hand drawn artwork is richly adorned with kanji and folkloristic drawings “Incision Of Gem” is not a conceptual effort about ghosts and apparitions of Asian mythology. It might very well be the most ambitious project la signora Onryō has partaken in.

The intro ‘Mist of Perdition’ sounds like an unused atmospheric moodpiece written by Romeo Díaz and James Wong for a Tsui Hark A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) tie-in feature that the world somehow never got. The music that follows it on the other hand holds the middleground somewhere between the Dutch, German, and Finnish schools of death metal without ever sounding like either. It never gets quite as abstract and left-of-field as “Nespithe” from Demilich, nor as absurdly technical and structurally dense as Pavor, or as mechanical/angular as Gorefest (circa “False”). However, it clearly takes influence from all three to a greater or lesser degree. The "Nespithe" influence is present in the riffing and drumming and while the rhythms never get quite as out there as their Finnish forebears the spirit is there. The dry guitar tone and some of the more post-influenced chord progressions and accents recall Brood Of Hatred and Golem (circa “Dreamweaver”) in equal measure. Amthrya never stays conventional very long and the bass guitar is as integral to the compositions as any of the other instruments. That ‘Anesthesia Survival’ was chosen as a single is only normal as it’s pretty representative for what “Incision Of Gem” aims for. Onryō is at her best and most primal in a cut as ‘Ebony Gem’ and ‘Letters to my Dears – Thoughts Of A Lost Man’ where she’s allowed the space to unleash and alternate her many singing styles at different times. Which brings us to the proverbial elephant in the room and the one true point of contention (if it can be called that) that we have with Amthrya and “Incision Of Gem”. Why is so little made of Kasumi Onryō’s fascination with Asian folklore and mythology?

That the lyrics she’s singing deal with psychological deterioration and diseases of the mind is a creative choice we’re not going to contest because at least they are put to mildly entertaining Asian ghost horror imagery. Far more damning is that except for the intro segment and a guest appearance from Kotama Omen Mako from MagdaleneJu_nen (マグダラ呪念) and Hiroyuki Takano from Church of Misery precious little actually capitalizes on the Asian imagery the record so proudly boasts. In our heart of hearts we’re hoping that Amthrya ropes in session musicians to lay down some guqin, shamisen, shakuhachi, or koto melodies or even invites 瑜子 from Bloody Tyrant (暴君) to provide pipa for atmospheric breaks or as interludes on their third effort. It’s unfortunate that the usage of ethnic Asian instrumentation is limited to merely the intro. Hopefully future releases will integrate these sections into actual songs or use them as moodsetting interludes, or preferably both. There’s plenty of precedent after all, whether it’s Nile and their Egyptian segments, Morbid Angel and their ritual wanderings, or Hate Eternal integrating ritual ambient into some of their songs. What Opera IX did for Italian folk music on “Sacro Culto” Amthrya should aim to do for ethnic Asian music on any of its planned future releases. The potential here is unlimited.

The closest companion to “Incision Of Gem” are “Suspended from the Cosmic Altaar” from American death metal duo Apocrophex and “Skinless Agony” from Tunisian death metal act Brood Of Hatred, although each put their own spin on what is roughly the same formula. Unlike the Apocrophex record this one doesn’t come bearing artwork from Raúl González. That isn’t to say that the artwork from Kasumi Onryō doesn’t fit the package because it most certainly does. It stays within the monochrome spectrum which is befitting for what Amthrya is trying to convey here. Ultimately one’s enjoyment of “Incision Of Gem” depends purely on one’s preferences. The sense of theatrics and melodrama is typically Italian while the music most certainly is not. Above all this is a record that grows with each listen. This isn’t a death metal record to listen for an easily digestible fix nor has it any hooks to drag first-time listeners in. No. Amthrya is the kind of band that demands the listener’s full attention to truly absorb the layers and nuance of their work. That alone makes them worthy of adulation compared to all these other more conventional Italian death metal sounding bands. None of them are seldom as interesting as Amthrya is here – and that sells Amthrya as the superior practitioner.