Fen - Epoch
Code666 Records
Progressive Black Metal
8 songs (01:09:46)
Release year: 2011
Fen, Code666 Records
Reviewed by Charles
Fen’s debut was a tricky album; looking back now, I feel I overrated it slightly. It was a promising record that mused on the English countryside of the band’s name, using a brooding and ‘post’-influenced approach to black metal that was nonetheless rooted in pastoral folk ideas- something very comparable to Cascadian acts across the Atlantic. But, in hindsight I felt their subtler passages weren’t rendered effectively enough, particularly in the gentlest sections in which the clean vocals were not quite up to scratch.

Epoch represents a definite step forward- though I didn’t realise that until I put The Malediction Fields on straight after and was left feeling quite underwhelmed. Like the respective hues of the cover art, a wintry brown as opposed to a resonant blue, the timbres used just feel richer here, blended into a more organic whole. I suspect this may be because the band has really strengthened its engagement with progressive rock. Whilst that is hardly a revolutionary concept in today’s black metal scene, it suits Fen’s sound perfectly, enabling a real textural depth to develop. The opening title track is a highly effective six-minute build-up in which a gracefully pulsating bassline, luxurious keys, mournful faded vocals and rolling, almost tribal percussion wind around each other like colours merging on canvass. This multi-faceted and subtly shifting sound is perhaps best evidenced by The Gibbet Elms, in which an agitated, undulating bassline (Grungyn does a fine job on this album) is repeatedly transformed into a picture of 1970s progressive rock serenity by sweet string-led chord progressions. Angry black metal blasting appears momentarily and is then subsumed back into the wash, in place to unbalance the sound and lend a needed sense of drama rather than to take centre stage.

Thus whilst this is unquestionably a metal album it isn’t really a heavy one. Regarding the vocals, a frequent feature are those clean, melancholy moans employed in the opener, which blend into the picture and are rarely asked to carry songs alone. This is to the album's benefit, because it is the harsher vocals that work best here. They cram in a wealth of ragged emotion, sometimes even touching on a yelled Primordial-like character. Instrumentally, periods of blackened intensity are relatively rare but rendered more effective as they emerge out of this deeply-textured progressive collage of sound. For example the breathless and savage blasting of Of Wilderness and Ruin never manages to quite displace its subtler surroundings, but instead merges into them like a trace of black added to blue, darkening the palette but never transforming it. Indeed, for long stretches it is only the harsh vocals that retain the link to black metal, with even the growling finale of Ashbringer being deeply soaked in powerful keyboard tones.

Fen inhabit a world in which this wistful, folksy approach to black metal has been covered by several key scenes already. They must sit between the stark, organic approach of Negura Bunget, the rural bleakness of Primordial, and of course the post-rock influenced ideas of North American bands like Agalloch. But with Epoch, they seem to have found their own distinct- dare I say quaint?- niche. Such is the success of their genteel proggy influences here that on future albums I wouldn’t be that surprised to hear more esoteric (perhaps Canterbury scene) influences filtering in. If you were intrigued by The Malediction Fields, you will be engrossed by Epoch.

Killing Songs :
The Gibbet Elms, Of Wilderness and Ruin, Ashbringer
Charles quoted 88 / 100
Other albums by Fen that we have reviewed:
Fen - Winter reviewed by Andy and quoted 89 / 100
Fen - Dustwalker reviewed by Andy and quoted 89 / 100
Fen - The Malediction Fields reviewed by Charles and quoted 80 / 100
Fen - Ancient Sorrow reviewed by Alex and quoted 83 / 100
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