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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.

The darkest, most churning US death metal is no longer produced in the US, but in la bella Italia. If nothing else in the last couple of years Milan/Lombardy-based Ekpyrosis has vowed to carry on the sound that Incantation and Immolation have since abandoned. Not surprising considering it is the heart of Roman Catholicism and the religious disease should be fought tooth and nail. “Asphyxiating Devotion” is the quartet’s debut for underground specialist label Memento Mori and the follow-up to the well-received “Witness His Death” EP from 2015. More inspired by various eras of Incantation than by Dutch death/doom metal stalwarts Asphyx, “Asphyxiating Devotion” is thoroughly and utterly devoted to its genre, but none of it feels insincere or fabricated. “Asphyxiating Devotion” sees Ekpyrosis coming into its own and marks the beginning of the band’s Diabolical Conquest.

For the most part “Asphyxiating Devotion” is made up of entirely new material. It is custodian to another re-recording of ‘Morticians Of God’, a cut dating back to the “Black Aspid Of Doom” rehearsal tape from 2015. Only ‘Morticians of God’ and ‘Depths Of Tribulation’ differ slightly from the rest of the album in that both lean more towards a Stockholm death metal sound. ‘Unearthly Blindness’ breaks stylistically with the rest of the album as it is closer to “Luck Of the Corpse” era Deceased than any era of New York genre pillar Incantation. All things considered it are minor tonal hiccups as the remainder of the record is consistent within the context of its chosen influences. The inspirations and influences behind Ekpyrosis as a band are fairly self-evident and they at no point are they reinventing the wheel or breathing life into a stale, artistically vacuous, self-referential genre. Bereft of any pretense and prefixes Ekpyrosis has always been a band to pride itself in being able to do more with less. This is a death metal record, pure and simple.

Ekpyrosis embodies pure death metal and in sheer decrepit atmosphere and all-encompassing gloominess they are only matched by late 90s (and now long defunct) Canadian studio act Darkness Eternal and Morpheus Descends. Compared to the preceding EP “Asphyxiating Devotion” leans more towards different eras of New York/Pennsylvania death metal monument Incantation than to the early Swedish scene. “Asphyxiating Devotion” combines the dense structures of “Onward to Golgotha” with the more straightforward riffing of post-“Blasphemy” Incantation. The vocals of guitar tandem Marco Teodoro and Nicolò Brambilla more often than not resemble Mike Saez and John McEntee in the more shriekier passages. Marco Cazzaniga (bass guitar)  is a nonentity even though he provides serviceable enough low end tones. Cazzaniga (who has since defected) dutifully doubles the guitars but isn’t given much space to do anything interesting. Hopefully Ekpyrosis will see it fit to allow their bassist a greater presence in future output to truly show the world what he is capable of. On the “Witness His Death” EP the drumming of Ilaria Casiraghi tended to sound similar to Joakim Sterner (Necrophobic) and Anders Schultz (Unleashed) but on its Memento Mori recording debut she resembles long-serving Incantation skinsman Kyle Severn and occassionally Deceased drummer King Fowley, both stylistically and in overall delivery, more often.

Everybody the least bit perceptive knows that death metal has been stagnant at least since 2000. Never was there a genre more navel-gazing and self-obsessed; so hopelessly fascinated by its own not-too-distant past and, more often than not, completely bereft of firm leadership and much-needed visionaries to push it to a higher creative plateau. In a time where every other band looks more cartoonish, mistaking self-referentiality for substance and worshipping at the altar of yesterday’s heroes (some of which are still around, if not exactly alive and/or kicking) than the next – Ekpyrosis is the cure for the common complaint. Instead of worshipping at another’s temple, these iconoclastic irreverent Italians are building their own. These are the Disciples (Of the Heavenly Graceful) and from the catacombs they will command the Uprising Heresy. Ekpyrosis love vintage Incantation and their cavernous death metal attests to that very fact. It might not exactly be original, but it is very damn well expertly written and recorded. This might very well be a long lost Incantation record released under a different name…

“Asphyxiating Devotion” sounds like a 1990s USDM record and making it all the more impressive is that Ekpyrosis is a just a bunch of guys and a girl hailing from Italy, once home to a blooming exploitation cinema industry and some of the most beautiful starlets in all of continental Europe. These days Italy is rather infamous for its mechanical and, frankly, sterile breed of faster-than-thou death metal. Just like the Germans of Necrophagist, Hour Of Penance has a lot to answer for. Ekpyrosis is the antithesis of the stereotypical Italian sound and their breaking with tradition is what makes their music so engrossing. The handdrawn artwork by César Valladares bathes in monochrome and its precisely the sort of thing you’d expect a band like Ekpyrosis to use in terms of visuals. Would “Asphyxiating Devotion” have benefitted from a canvas by Miran Kim and Wes Benscoter? Probably. Is it necessary for the experience? Not in the slightest, but it would have helped further cement the bonds to early, prime era Incantation and Deceased. As it currently stands Ekpyrosis is one of the best death metal exports from Italy one is likely to find.