FERUM – Asunder / Erode (2022)REVIEW

To cleave apart, to degrade, to cleave apart and degrade, to cleave apart and then degrade, to degrade by virtue of cleaving apart, to degrade and necessitate cleavage. While there is no real sensical statement made or inherent dilemma to be had between these two relational events parsed into temporality at face value there is at least a logical order dictated by the natural and applied sciences. The vast majority of matter degrades of its bonds as a prerequisite, or process, to its inevitable erosion out of phase (read: form) and in most every case the cascade into entropic release begins with some manner of erosion nonetheless, at least with any process specific catalyst excused. The only reasonable place to begin applying the science of broken bonds, decaying matter and systemic shutdown in terms of death metal music is perhaps some thought on the process of purulence and rotten gore or, if you’re a bit brave, nascent hardcore punk teenaged level social commentary “What divides us, degrades us.” with a raised fist or somesuch etc., though in the thick of Italy-borne death/doom metal band Ferum‘s debut full-length we must build our personally divined allegory from the visual ghastliness of conjoined monozygotic twins and their interdependence, turning our disgusted eyes and ears to scenes of mental fissure, intrauterine body horror, and emotional decay. ‘Asunder / Erode‘ meditates upon the collapse that comes beyond the break, the severance of human dependencies… or, hey, I guess practically speaking the trio plainly resemble the earliest modus of death metal and doom metal hybridization: Slow, decidedly mean, simply achieved and miserably taxing. However you absorb it at a glance, the effect isn’t necessarily ‘deep’ and only catches the fray of the mind for the sake of the experience being intentionally sapped of all energetic value.

Such brutality is tradition.Ferum initially formed in Bologna circa 2017 between two former members of blackened sludge band Saturnine with the goal of making classic, no frills death/doom metal. Their first EP (‘Vergence‘, 2018) made it clear that their influences were largely traditional and that the key songwriter and guitarist/vocalist S.A. was the director of the ship as they’d expanded into a trio. When I’d given short review of the EP upon release I’d appreciated that their influences were easy enough to pick up on and that there was plenty of room to expand into beyond their bare bones approach. As it turns out the minimal, honest presentation of the band seems to be a symptom of striving for something more genuinely ‘old school’ and there won’t be too drastic a leap felt between that first release and this debut LP despite working with a new line-up and engineer. In this sense Ferum‘s sound has been entirely consistent between their two releases, quite slow but not necessarily funereal death/doom metal which sidesteps the romanticist and heavily melodic transformation beyond seminal death and doom metal hybridization. If we can consider Winter without their Amebix-bonded atmospherics, and most of early Netherlands death/doom metal without its Celtic Frost infused sense of groove we arrive upon a form of sub-genre hybrid which is cold, joyless and severe much in the same way earlier funeral death/doom metal ideas would manifest in the transition from death metal to primeval funeral doom, leaving behind all but the most deadpan late 80’s cassette-fed doomed gauntness.

Asunder / Erode‘ bears no such easy “in”, no warmth or too clear nod to the greats up front and ends up feeling unapproachable beyond its simple, occasionally knotted rhythms. Although there are some obvious tips from the best of Cianide (Mike Perun notably guests on “The Undead Truth”) and similarly slugged and simplified death metal of that same era a la Mythic‘s demo, there exists more than a bit of a ‘Lost Paradise‘-esque thread within the sleepy, doom metal encrusted dirge of Ferum‘s debut LP. We can most clearly begin to find the core impulse of the full listen as we trace back to the roots of Mystic Charm‘s sole full-length ‘Shadows of the Unknown‘ and to some degree the slow rotting simplicity of Coffins‘ debut ‘Mortuary in Darkness‘, records which are dry and nonplussed in the same way Spina Bifida were on their ’92-’93 releases. Much as the occasion might call for dredging up the appeal of primitive yet inspired tapes like Cathedral‘s ‘In Memoriam‘ demo we’ll never quite land upon the late 80’s doom metal influenced verve of earliest British death/doom idyll on ‘Asunder / Erode‘ (though “Monolithic Acquiescence” almost gets there and is the clear standout overall), it is an entirely non-participatory misery-in-place in terms of tonal dread being presented with brutality rather than catharsis, though there are shades of romanticism bubbling at the most distant edges of the full listen. This is where I tend to lose interest in the plain, droning directness of Ferum past and present, though I have to appreciate their aim for flawless simplicity, readability and analog realism even if it supersedes any directive aimed at the memorable, existentially stirring groan of the traditional doom metal riff.

My favorite death/doom metal past and present illustrates a unique presence via atmosphere which depicts all but the very throne of the actor, yet as I sat through several runs of this record I’d felt like Ferum were entirely concerned with maintaining balance atop their throne, holding the thing together without enough glue or entirely nailed-together pieces. “Entrails of Linnahall” is one of few pieces on the full listen to truly depict a horrifying space, and indicate a direction for the droning pulse of the guitar work, a brilliant exception to the album’s somewhat droning modus. That isn’t to say that the rest of the album suffers from its slow, droll death metal riffcraft — In fact it’ll likely be the biggest selling point to death/doom lifers who appreciate a certain level of solemnity and subtlety within a painfully doomed work. When the sonorous focus of the full listen shatters a bit and manages an inspired flourish or outward catharsis, such as the Hooded Menace-esque “Desolate Vantaa”, it begins to paint the full listen as consistent yet impersonal otherwise. Fair enough, though, the steady mid-paced chunk of it all will likely read as proper robotic absurdism fit for a ruthless death/doom album, no detraction applied there, yet there is a fine line between “safe” and distinctly traditional ethos drawn here. I’d personally found it a bit “safe” in movement, average in some respects and exceptional in terms of its earthen render and strong choice of guitar tone in balance with the rhythm section.

Where ‘Asunder / Erode‘ lands with the listener will depend on their niche ‘old school’ death/doom metal interest as it won’t likely read as particularly hip physicality or passionate swaggering as we find in the trendier stuff out of the United States these last few years. My only real gripe with the experience is that even at room-shaking volume I’d found the listening experience somewhat one-note and lacking in inspired rhythmic detail. Beyond a general lack of show-stopping riff ideas the running order landed largely nonsensical from my point of view and contains no true standout, grouping pieces which were often too similar and in turn making the ~45 minute run of it feel much longer than it should’ve. Of course my analysis -should- rightfully sound a bit conflicted as taking a closer look at Ferum‘s debut longplayer has kicked me between nutso ‘old school’ appreciation syndrome and fits of sapped listlessness, an uneasy feeling of malaise inspired by an album obssessed with scission and dissolution. Much as I hate to suggest I’d been somewhat bored, restless, miserable beyond the tenth listen or so… that does count as an effect of immersion and, I suppose a worthy enough experience getting there and feeling something. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (75/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Asunder / Erode
LABEL(S):Avantgarde Music,
Unorthodox Emanations
RELEASE DATE:August 12th, 2022

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