Fen – Dustwalker (Code666, 21 January 2013)
Hey, people. It’s time once again to take a little stroll back in time — all the way to last year. I am determined to finish reviewing everything on my top albums of 2013 list before the end of 2014, and with this one I’m publishing today, I’ll officially reach the halfway point! No worries, there are still over three months for me to work through the rest of these (while still somehow trying to keep up with newer stuff, too). Oh well, I’ll get there eventually (hopefully). It just gets kind of frustrating sometimes, especially when bands keep putting out newer stuff faster than I can keep up with them — as is the case with UK atmospheric/progressive black metal band Fen (not to be confused with the Canadian prog-rock band of the same name). They’ve just announced that their fourth LP Carrion Skies will be coming out this November through Code666, which is exciting news for sure, but first I need to share their awesome THIRD album Dustwalker with you!
I publicized some of the details about this album when they were first announced, nearly two years ago, and I have been really enjoying listening to it ever since it was released (about three months after that). I’d say it’s about time I got around to following up and writing about the album itself!
To call Fen atmospheric black metal, or progressive black metal — two of the terms most frequently used to describe the band — would be to severely sell them short, as these eight tracks (spanning well over sixty minutes in length) display quite an impressive array of genre styles. Opening track “Consequence” starts off in a fairly typical black metal fashion, at least for about the first four minutes — but then it veers off into a bit more post-metal territory (incorporating hints of clean, melodic backing vocals as well as sneaking in a layer of acoustic guitar for added texture), slowly blazing a trail for even further excursions away from the main black metal path as the album progresses.
By the time the second track (“Hands of Dust”) rolls around, the band are already creating an ambient soundscape of dulcet tones, giving off a rather pastoral vibe (recalling the nature-inspired works of bands like Oak Pantheon or Agalloch), blending in some ethereal harmonic vocals, although the lead vocals do sort of flip-flop between a gruff shout and a blackened-death-growl. Following this, though, “Spectre” has very little hint of any sort of metallic element — being built, rather, on acoustic and steel slide guitars (musically sounding like something that might easily have fit on R.E.M.‘s Out of Time) while the vocals consist of a gorgeous multi-part harmony that sounds inspired by 70’s classic rock such as Crosby, Stills, and Nash or (even more so) America.
After a brief instrumental interlude (“Reflections”), the last few songs [excluding the final, instrumental track “Epilogue” (which is listed as a bonus track for the Limited Edition version of the album), which revisits many of the main ideas of the album, recombining them into a sort of summarizing outro, much along the same lines as “Remergence” from Pink Floyd‘s “Atom Heart Mother Suite”] return somewhat to the familiar progressive/post-black metal, at least as a general guideline, but in various combinations with many of the other harmonic and melodic elements that have been previously introduced. The result is something that is simultaneously beautiful and serene as well as overpoweringly frightening and almost otherworldly; thus achieving the band’s apparent objective in sonically representing the atmosphere of the sparse marshland from which their name derives.
For some odd reason, this album is not included on the label’s Bandcamp page — but through a bit of Googling, I did manage to find that you can hear the whole album (including bonus track) on YouTube (see below). You can buy Dustwalker on CD or MP3 right here.
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