The Fërtility Cült, Eschatology: Sax ‘n’ Umlauts

Double-umlauted Finnish riffonauts The Fërtility Cült make their debut with Eschatology. The four-piece formed in 2008; their purported and noble mission to worship early Black Sabbath via the most potent means – i.e. getting stoned and riffing out. Three years later, their first full-length finds them more or less doing just that. Eschatology boasts five extended tracks — the shortest is second cut “Into the Sacred Grove” (7:38) – and a sound that matches its nudie-goddess-lady-meets-nebulous-gas-cloud artwork, the inclusion of saxophone helping at once tie The Fërtility Cült to the heyday of ‘70s prog (think the first two King Crimson records played at half speed) and distinguish them among their many fellow pilgrims. The extra dose of weird that Ryhänen adds with his horn goes a long way in setting a psychedelic tone for Eschatology, and though the term from which the album takes its name refers to knowing or theorizing the end of times, the album itself is far less apocalyptic than it is interstellar, where commonly the former relates to post-metal crush, The Fërtility Cült follow the vapor trails of Kimmel’s guitar through a star system of circular riffs and languid cosmic pacing.

Eschatology feels mostly instrumental, and rightly so given the expanse in these songs. Bassist Kaila proves able to add a reasonably diverse range of styles to the music with his singing, but it’s mostly an afterthought compared to the guitars, which set the tone and tempo immediately on opener “Cosmic Kaishakunin.” It’s actually one of the album’s more straightforward songs, with discernable verses and an instrumental chorus, but The Fërtility Cült aren’t trying to be mindful of structure as much as they’re using it to set up the jam, which is really the essential piece of the song. A bridge sets up a heavier part – Kaila’s low end well matched by Kimmel and drummer Mäkinen – and soon “Cosmic Kaishakunin,” finds Kimmel and Ryhänen pitting solo against solo, not quite the beheading promised in the title of the song (“kaishakunin” referring to the person charged with cutting someone’s head off as part of the Japanese ritualistic suicide, seppuku), but then, The Fërtility Cült’s specialty seems much more to be heady grooves than titles for them.

And a while lot of those grooves will be familiar to heads who’ve been around stoner rock for any amount of time, the Tampere outfit manage to put an individual mark on the nod-worthy “Into the Sacred Grove” (also a much more appropriate name). Again, Ryhänen is a big part of that, enacting improvised-feeling leads that give way to an underscoring rhythm for Kaila’s vocals, following his bass line. The addition of organ played by Antti Loponen further fills out “Into the Sacred Grove,” and a far-off spoken part leads to an extensively-wah’ed guitar solo that, in turn, gives itself over to the organ and sax to set up a return to the chorus. The Fërtility Cült may have started out wanting to pay homage to Black Sabbath, but they’re clearly doing more than that on Eschatology, as backing vocals sneak in to complement Kaila and the start-stop groove in the guitar begins to feel like the skeleton on which the flesh of the song is constructed, there’s clearly more at play here than just recognizable progressions. Still, with the overdriven fuzz of “Rheopolis” in both the bass and guitar, there’s no question that some listeners are going to hear The Fërtility Cült and be able to predict where the band is headed next.

That’s not a complaint, as far as I’m concerned. When it comes to slower-paced stonerisms, I’m less inclined to criticize a band for not being outrageously original, because if they were, it wouldn’t fit the genre. There’s a bit of preaching to the choir on Eschatology, but The Fërtility Cült have enough swirl, enough of a laid back confidence in their performance, that these songs – and “Rheopolis” too as the first of the last three tracks to top 10 minutes (they all do it) with its ultra-slowed midsection and sampled speech – don’t want to be singled out for their innovative aspects. They want to be singled out for their groove, for their riffs. The sax is a novelty in the sense that not everyone does it, but to Ryhänen’s credit, it also works remarkably well with Kimmel’s guitar, and that’s where The Fërtility Cült carve out their place. “Rheopolis” flows easily with faded feedback into “Völkerwanderung” (“Migrants,” or more literally “migrating people” from the German word roots), which takes a somewhat darker tone in the guitar to establish its central riff cycle, giving the later-arriving organ something to contrast, which it does fittingly. With just 15 of Eschatology’s total 48 minutes in the first two tracks and the rest broken up over the remaining three, one might think there’s some change in methodology on the part of the band, but that’s not really the case.

Rather, “Völkerwanderung” takes a similar course to the rest of Eschatology, spreading out over different flowing parts – almost oozing between them – rather than building and crashing. The Fërtility Cült again let the organ and sax cap off the song, and “Return to the End of the Beginning,” Eschatology’s longest cut at 11:22, soon comes on with a quiet intro leading into another stone-age riff over which Kaila announces “Cycle’s completion” as the first lyrics. So it is. “Return to the End of the Beginning” feels suitably conclusive, and though it also includes Loponen’s organ, there isn’t much to it The Fërtility Cült hasn’t already shown. Nonetheless, it wraps the album well with a touch of Sleep stomp in the main riff and the same head-trip flourishes the band has employed all along, and like the rest of the album, it’s impeccably mixed so that neither the saxophone nor the organ dominates where they shouldn’t, and neither do the vocals (the backing vocals return on the closer), so that Eschatology provides a solid, whole listening experience. The final four minutes of the album are given to a s-l-o-w march out, the organ adding a flair like one of Ufomammut’s quieter stretches, and some more echoing sampled speech, closing with a crash and collapse.

The bottom line here is that The Fërtility Cült, like a lot of bands, use stoner rock as their basis for varying stylistic explorations. Their jams are consistently engaging with hypnotic rhythms that, added to the flourishes of sax and organ, make for a solid listen. It probably won’t change your life, and if you never liked stoner rock, it probably won’t change your mind, but if you’re a fan of the style who regularly bemoans the lack of individuality within it, there’s enough personality on Eschatology to maybe quiet your woes for a while, and more than enough to make me want to see what the band does the next time around. I dig it. You might too.

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2 Responses to “The Fërtility Cült, Eschatology: Sax ‘n’ Umlauts”

  1. Milk K. Harvey says:

    Fact : We’re saturated with stoner bands.
    Fact : 50% of them lack personality and distinctiveness.
    Fact : Novelty or not, the sax in the cûlt (you gotta have balls too use the word cult in your bands) is definitely doing it for me.

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