11 February 2011
by Tom Dare
The unassumingly-named Fen were a band being whispered about even before their debut album arrived in 2009. Two years after The Malediction Fields began to infiltrate the British underground, sophomore outing Epoch suggests those whispers may soon start to turn into a roaring chorus of approval. Stylistically Fen might be unlikely to break out of the underground, but their sheer quality is right up in the big leagues.
Fen’s sound does have its obvious influences – Burzum’s shoegazing stage and the wandering, outdoor atmospherics of Agalloch spring to mind in particular. But where the debut immediately showed a distinctiveness that made them stand out, the evolution on Epoch hurls them even further into their own territory. The softness of some of the guitar tones and comparative lack of savagery to their peers somehow conspires to provide a more emotionally trying, hopeless journey than most records that assault the ears with frosty sonic violence. While the result is more cathartic than depressing, this is nonetheless a genuinely despondent experience – if Winterfylleth made you well up, this is liable to have you inconsolable.
This profundity is by-and-large achieved more by the rich atmospherics than by keen savagery or naked aggression. The confrontational rejection of whatever it is normally inspiring black metal bands is avoided in favour of a more resigned refusal- this is the sound of leaving that which disgusts you behind and walking away to remove yourself from its presence rather than avowing to destroy it with fire and hatred.
That changes with last track ‘Ashbringer‘ however, as more overt Norway-worship takes over, the distortion thickening into a fog in a moment of visceral fury that, after all the drifting contemplation, is rather shocking- like being plunged into a snow drift midway through sunbathing. The demo-era Old Forest-esque misery gives way occasionally into the stylings more typical of the rest of the album, before winding down to an exhausted ending of resignation.
Watch Fen performing ‘A Witness To The Passing Of Aeons’ here:
Don’t expect to understand Epoch straight away, as it cannot be boiled down into mere riffs and vocals, being based far more around atmosphere. Fen will put you through the wringer – they quite clearly want you to fucking feel this, and feel it you fucking do. The fury of the final flourish is sufficiently cathartic to make this bearable however, and means an otherwise daunting prospect is more likely to get the repeat listenings it demands to reap the most from it. A superb follow up to an excellent debut.
Sounds like: Burzum, Agalloch, Altar Of Plagues
Top tracks: Epoch, The Gibbet Elms, Ashbringer
Fen – Epoch tracklisting:
Ghost Of The Flood
The Gibbet Elms
Of Wilderness And Ruin
Carrier Of Echoes
A Warning Solace