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Fermento's Insignia is a very strange album, especially considering the band is at its roots a brutal death metal band. Nothing on this album is generic or even close to run-of-the-mill. We have everything from lyrical themes about oppression and power-hungry figures to horrors of war, to a grind atmosphere and production style that lends itself to the harsh atonal riffing and cool lyrical ideas. The vocals of Roberto add to this as well, shifting between a semi-generic but still strong gurgle to mid-range screams that sound like a deranged ape more than a man.
Fortunately, they do back up the intense musical and lyrical themes with dark riffing and a wealth of noise provided by guitarists Roberto and Franco. The maniacal ramblings of the title track are more akin to, say, Gorguts' Obscura than to a Disgorge album - an effect that makes songs/portions like "Messiah to Burn" all that more powerful. What's even more baffling is the almost post-rock vibe that the mid section of "Hunger Among Wolves". It's so chilling and abrupt that it actually conjures images of the harshness and suddenness of war; no doubt the desired effect. Hell, even the instrumental "March of the Brutes" manages to produce those same feelings in a succinct instrumental that sounds like an Immolation tune.
On an equally unfortunate note, the bass presence is awful on this album. Whether that's due to an overabundance of distortion or just poor mixing I can't quite tell, but the problem remains. Most of the time the bass becomes a wall of fuzz that does not embellish the cool song structures and interesting ideas, but creates a glaring weakness in the album. Perhaps the 'wall of noise' approach was the intention, as it does reinforce the claustrophobic production job. Again, filling in the wall of sound is drummer Nuno, whose blasting is incredibly tight and his patterns quite nice. Drum tone is fittingly bottom heavy, with a fairly marching band-esque snare crack.
But for all that atmosphere they conjure, they can break it so easily and still create a cohesive piece of music. But, where the band fails most noticeably is the sometimes overlong or overtly spastic song arrangement - sometimes they will neglect the fact that they've been blasting for six minutes and then launch into another four minute song of similar pacing. But not before dropping a mandatory groovy section or some spacey guitar lick. It's more like the band is too comfortable in their own song structures sometimes to let the true wackiness out.
Despite that troublesome flaw, this is a meaty slab of death metal with a healthy influence from later-era Gorguts and perhaps very early Pink Floyd. I'd recommend this to people interested in death metal with brutality and very atmospheric tendencies, but would warn them to expect a slight lack of conviction in executing either of those.
Fermento has always been an intriguing outlier in the death metal scene; they're firmly rooted in oldschool death metal in many ways, but are also clearly a part of the brutal death scene, but additionally have melodic and experimental edges that leave them uncomfortable in any of those categories. 'Insignia' might be the best known album of the Spanish collective, and the music is just as strange as you would anticipate from a Spanish brutal death band that sings about Vikings and medieval battle. This isn't to say it's bad- in fact, just the opposite: it's a great death metal album that any fans of the genre, oldschool or modern, would be advised to investigate.
A ton goes on in these songs- Fermento appears to take influence from every slice of death metal out there, from oldschool Morbid Angel and Suffocation in the twisted riff construction to modern brutal death ala Disgorge or even Devourment to even bits of Atheist in the weirder passages. The amount of vocal styles present on this record is insane, from ultra-low gurgles and pig squeals to thrashy shouts and even a black metal scream or two and everything in between. Contributing to the chaos is the band's incredibly bizarre, jumpy style of songwriting, with blasting passages lurching into sudden grooves or vice versa like the band is trying to dodge a javelin made of angry dogs. While this is a heavily riffy album (with those riffs again ranging from old Possessed to new Deeds Of Flesh in style), the other instruments contribute just as much, with a nasty, slicing bass, some incredibly intricate (though questionably timed) drums, and the aforementioned myriad of vocal styles.
The production is full but not overpowering, accenting the music just enough to make it stronger but not enough to discourage careful listening. And careful listening will absolutely reveal some interesting stuff- 'Hunger Among Wolves' is easily the oddest track with its protracted, almost psychedelic middle portion sandwiched between savage, guttural death metal, but the strangeness doesn't begin and end with that track. 'Insignia' is packed to the prim with odd, jerky rhythms, strange turns in riffing or melody, and some of the most pulverizing slowdowns I've heard out of the Spanish scene. This does sound like the soundtrack to medieval warfare- the rawness and uncertainty of the music gives it a sense of chaos that you don't often hear in modern death metal.
While this does lack a bit in the department of overall memorability and catchiness, the sheer scope of the record and the intensity with which it's presented more than make up for it. 'Insignia' is a fine, savage release that death metal fans from any scene should definitely check out. It inverts your expectations of what a brutal death band should sound like without ever once giving up on the sheer savagery which defines the genre. Highly recommended.