New Jersey-based progressive death metal outfit Fernwah are a new entity from a demented and creative duo: Zakk Mild, whose projects vary from hardcore punk/grind (Come Mierda) to righteous death metal (Oxalate), and drummer Peter Martin of the sexually depraved grind punks Pink Mass. This latest project, however, is their most ambitious to date—debut album Approaching Oblivion seems to be (and mostly is) a death metal album, especially based on the album art, but there are layers to this psychedelic psychosis. It's a progressive metal dork's take on both 1990s death metal and atmospheric progressive rock like Camel and Wishbone Ash, plus the artsy jazz fusion of acts like Mahavishnu Orchestra (whom even classic Finnish death metal band Convulse cite as a reference). Fernwah is music for the musicians, the kind of stuff that doesn’t always make it past the idea phase in our brains, but with Approaching Oblivion, the two have fulfilled this destiny for themselves and we are here for it.

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The progressive rock influences show up immediately on opener "Toska," which could almost have been a track off of Wishbone Ash's Argus or Camel’s Mirage. Though it acts as an intro more than anything, this track sets up a lot of what the rest of the album sounds like. In fact, much of the album is instrumental and musically rich, drawing just as many influences from your dad’s vinyl collection as the quintessential death metal dude who “saw ‘em live in ’92.” This might only be 27 minutes long, but it keeps listeners guessing at what direction the band will swing next for every second.

The title track, as well as the latter centerpiece of the album “Vertigo of Freedom (Individuality Rendered),” does an excellent job of balancing out the album's progressive metal meets death metal (meets Dinosaur Jr.?) mixture. The second song here is long-form instrumental progressive metal with drums that carry the heft of excellent riffs that seem to have time travelled from over 50 years ago to present day. The closing moments even have an ‘80s sci-fi feel to it juxtaposed next to a sample, giving the impression that the credits to a movie are about to roll before it all goes dark. There are so many different pieces Frankensteined together here that I am bound to miss some of the more subtle sections that this duo has managed to put in here.

The 2-song punch with vocals starts with Sanguisugabogg’s Devin Swank delivering the kind of guttural vocals and lyrics you'd expect from a band who finally debuted a full-length last year named Tortured Whole. This isn’t as off the wall heavy as Swank’s main vehicle, but this track itself wouldn’t feel all that out of place on an early Immolation album either due to its crushing execution. Mild is up next on vocals with “Conscious Dust” which is bookended with references to the Burgess Meredith-starring episode of The Twilight Zone, “The Obsolete Man.” The song comes across as hardcore punk in terms of speed and even a slight bit of crossover with the quick vocal section towards the end of the run before the track ends.

Going hard on the ‘70s prog is “Amulet,” a track that we have already talked about at length, but it bears repeating that if it weren’t for songs in this style from bands like Leafhound and Captain Beyond, we would never have had the later-career greatness of bands like Corrosion of Conformity. Mild and Martin know this and highlighting it makes the music nerds in all of us that much more appreciative. This is, again, truly music for the musicians, music for the kinds of fans that love to point out the subtlety of the albums they love so much. Approaching Oblivion is the next step in an evolution of bizarrely stitched-together extreme music, combining so many different styles into a monstrous labor of love.

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Approaching Oblivion released December 31st, 2021 via Horror Pain Gore Death Productions.

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