[21st January 2013]
02. Hands of Dust
05. Wolf Sun
06. The Black Sound
07. Walking the Crowpath
Hailing from the desolate fens of England, from which they take their name, Fen play a fusion of post-rock and black metal; a mournful sound that is inspired by the melancholy and mystery of their surrounding home area. Their last two albums have each shown a progression in sound songwriting and maturity, and the newest, Dustwalker, is a brilliant culmination of their previous efforts, treading far more into post-rock territory than The Malediction Fields or Epoch, without completely abandoning their black metal roots.
The first song on the album, “Consequence”, is a bit misleading. It’s probably the most “black metal” track – although it does have a few less intense parts – whereas most of the rest of the album takes a more funereal approach. The song “Spectre” is a masterpiece, culminating in a spectacular rush of emotive swells. The shifts between the various moods are utterly flawless; one moment of introspective and minimalistic clean guitars bleeds into a ferocious gale of black metal, screaming of loss and anguish so perfectly that one hardly notices at all, simply going along for the ride. “Wolf Sun” is an odd one out in terms of sound being a strange driving tune rather than the usual slow and purposeful grandeur that graces the rest of the album, but it’s still a very good song.
Vocalist The Watcher’s harsh vocals have always fit Fen’s sound, and his clean vocals have improved much over the years. On this album they are superb, filled with emotion no matter which he is doing. His harshes have always been reminiscent of a howling wind, screaming through trees and over desolate fields. His cleans are echoing and haunted, slipping through the wall of guitars like a spectral whisper from a force unseen. The guitars, also performed by The Watcher, are clear and ringing. The clean tone is positively angelic, and the distorted tone is earthly and full. Usually a forgotten element in black metal, the bassist in Fen, Grungyn, has always played an important role in the band’s overall sonic palette. On Dustwalker his basslines alternate between tense and perverse, and soothing and mellow, and he occasionally provides vocals as well. The bass is mixed well so that its presence is always felt. The drumming, provided by the newest member of the band - Derwydd - is spectacular as well. He is capable of providing serious black metal blast beats and intensity, but can be called upon to tone it back for the more delicate passages on the album. This is also Fen’s first album without a keyboard player, and they do not appear to miss the element at all.
Fen have displayed astonishing development of their sound on Dustwalker, continuing to build on the potential shown in their previous releases. In a world where the post-rock/black metal hybrid has been fairly popular and overused, Fen have created the absolute zenith of the sound, mixing the two very different genres with masterful precision. Somehow bleak and desolate yet oddly spirited and uplifting, black metal and post-rock aesthetics have never been combined this well before. Fen are still a young band, and have immense potential to grow and create even more breathtaking music, but it will not be easy to top Dustwalker, which is truly one of the best releases of the year so far.