FERMATA – Only Ghosts Remain
Fermata’s progression from their first EP recorded in January 2005 to their latest release in 2008 is nothing short of remarkable, but then principal member Jon Koschoreck is the lone remaining member. Even so, to chart the progress of his guitar playing, his execution, his development as a songwriter, arranger and lyricist is inspiring.
The band’s second release in late 2005, Through the Distance & the Dark, was a step forward but nothing in comparison to the current release, Only Ghosts Remain, which represents a giant leap forward. Through the Distance was marred by inferior production, spotty vocals, uneven tempos and ultimately sounded uninspired. Only Ghosts Remain, however, sounds like the Fermata concept has finally resolved itself. Gone altogether are the drums and distorted guitars, replaced with eerie mandolins, banjos and strings and one powerful vocalist by the name of Lisa Mazza. It’s as if only ghosts remain from Fermata’s former incarnation.
In short, you have not heard local music this earthy since Noah John. From the first notes of Cody Davis’s bowed bass, the intensity is apparent. The brief intro, where Davis is joined by Carl Stuen’s viola and Matthew Manske’s banjo, sets the tone for the rest of the album; a folk-infected Gothic stew with metal tendencies. Koschoreck takes some vocals as well and he and Mazza can become entwined in a melodic dance that summons darkness, night, love, rain, loneliness; themes that reoccur lyrically throughout the recording.
The move to Paradyme Studios (Jake Johnson co-produced) was a good one as the sonic quality is very pleasing and flourishes in the production abound. The drums are barely missed in these songs and one can almost imagine a band of gypsies gathered around a fire summoning their demons with possessed dancers twirling in madness around them. In fact, the tune “Gypsy Blood” is a standout with a remarkable mandolin solo from Manske and a responding solo from Stuen on violin. Here the banjo is also entirely appropriate. They follow this up with Koschoreck’s “Gunshots,” a really creepy tune with lyrics like “Her eyes, her eyes are gunshot wounds…” Their use of songs that segue seamlessly into other songs shows a maturity in their arranging ability and also that Only Ghosts Remain was well thought out. The ballad “I Swear to You” shows off Mazza’s vocal range and power. “The Coldframe” is another chiller with tight, staccato passages that create sufficient tension and reinforce the fact that this ensemble can do just fine without a drum set cluttering things up.
The point is, Fermata have a collection of songs here that could easily have gone in another direction: More drums, more distorted guitars, more typical Gothic metal. But they chose an alternate path and that’s what makes Fermata special. Their only problem may lie in finding suitable venues for which to reproduce their dynamic sound as it’s difficult to envision them going over in noisy Midwestern taverns. Being lost and looking for home is another theme that reoccurs in Only Ghosts Remain. It appears that Fermata, as a band, has found its way.