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"I was born long ago
My form fashioned from the primordial rock
Storm-winds seared the umbra and my verdant spirit
The essence of an era forged by the elements"
After the (sadly overlooked) brilliance of Fen's "Towards The Shores Of The End", Britain's finest young atmospheric metal group (and my favourite active band in the World) released an ambitious, thematic undertaking, 2011's "Epoch". Given the clear title, and the tone conveyed in the wonderful, surreal album art (produced by the band's own bassist, Grungyn), Epoch is a thematically consistent, holistic experience (intended for broader context, full playthrough listens), principally focusing upon the theme of time (in broad implication), with an overarching pelagial atmosphere.
The tense, moody atmosphere, and the aesthetic of the element of water proves a constant throughout the experience, and has made this album at once entirely cohesive, as well as accused of long-winded unvaried flavour. For my part, I find the distinct, fully immersive character and tone of this record remarkably impressive, considering it's over an hour in length and engages me throughout, but I acknowledge that this album appears to have had a polarizing effect on some.
"For what long ago was held to is no more
A hollow shell, a shattered conceit
Condemning the memories of a thousand generations
To the abyss of the forgotten"
The experience begins with the tone setting gloom of the title track, which serves largely as an instrumental introduction, building into the fuller album, and establishes the context and mood of the journey. Case in point, many accuse this track of overstaying its welcome, but from my perception, I infer that this track intentionally takes its time in establishing the tempo and tone of the record, effectively encouraging the listener to ease into and accept the authors design, informing you of the nature of this story. Fen have made clear in several interviews that they don't craft albums as collections of songs, but rather as holistic, immersive soundscapes; Fen is not trying to sell you a typical product, they are a theater of the mind, and the extent to which you struggle against this, and crave immediacy, is the extent to which you allow yourself to enjoy their art.
The pacing and build of the intro track only heightens the impact of the album highlight (and one of the group's finest songs to date), as "Ghosts Of The Flood" explodes in a torrential charge, lashing across its stormy skies with thundering, percussion-driven surges, deftly weaving between the immediacy of its violent outpourings, and its delicately crafted, vulnerable passages. In merely two records, Fen have achieved a remarkable balance of heavy-meets-soft dynamics, accomplishing an emotionally satisfying use of swelling, breathing, building, and crescendo, providing compositional integrity to their songs, while ensuring the listener is not smothered in the midst of the experience (which is essential in an hour-length immersion).
"Around and around the centuries thunder
Revolutions of earth and stone, oceans rise and fall
The waves of life flow high tide and beyond
This crystalline second still warm on the retina of remembrance"
Without descending into blatant track-by-track review territory, Epoch's windswept shores bring forth a wide range of tones, captured thematically within its water-element aesthetics. Despondence, wistfulness, gloom, stormy violence, pensive tension, intuitive reflection, melancholic jaunts, tentative respite, and a remarkable juxtaposition of the fragile peace of its moody, somber themes and textures, with its perseverent resolute force, triumphant tempos, and carefully constructed climaxes. What Epoch de-emphasizes in the way of instrumental variety (in accordance with the consistent, holistic theme and atmosphere of the overall experience), it more than makes up for with an incredible emotional range, and its layered compositions reward those patient enough with each subsequent listen.
Avid supporter of this band that I am, regardless, I could never have given this record a considerate and contextually respective review with only a couple listens, and it is with hindsight and deep familiarity to this album that I write this. Simply put, you have to get to know Epoch, you have to give it your time, and truly sink into it. I understand this theater of the mind experience is not how music is conventionally consumed, and many may not have the time or patience for this format, but I sincerely encourage those curious enough to give this wonderful group a chance. This edition of Epoch came in the form of a jaw-dropping artbook, which I wholeheartedly personally recommend; the aesthetics of the art will provide even deeper context to the tone, theme, and mindset that went into the crafting of this album, and the exclusive bonus tracks are simply majestic.
Ghosts Of The Flood
A Waning Solace
The Winds Whisper Of Loss
Fen continue with their particular powerful and emotional style of black metal / post-rock fusion in a more melodic vein. As with the debut album "The Malediction Fields", the emphasis is on depressive lyrics about individual solitude against the forces of nature, landscapes and time and the feelings and moods such a tension arouses. The music usually dives from tuneful and often very moving rock and post-rock melodies to the machine-gun aggression and pained atmospheres of black metal and back again.
After the opening title track, the band surges straight into "Ghosts of the Flood" which presents as a call to hope in spite of the obstacles presented in the song: the song changes from ferocious black metal with raspy voice to a softer approach with wistful singing and back again, this time with hope and renewed energy and motivation. "Of Wilderness and Ruin" is a more pessimistic track, more strongly black metal in style and emotion but with a definite post-rock rhythm, that expresses nihilism as stars and other familiar elements of the cosmos die. "The Gibbet Elms" is quite a good if not really outstanding track with catchy melodies and rhythms and an airy feel that comes with the atmospheric synthesiser wash.
The album charges through other fairly long songs like "Carrier of Echoes" with much the same formula: bouncing from one genre to the other and back with melodic lead guitar, the occasional acoustic guitar flourish, breezy synthesiser tone washes, indications of hope and optimism, and emphasis on a variety of elements brought in from other styles of music apart from black metal and melodic rock / post-rock. The result is that most songs don't have a very distinct identity and if run together without pause between tracks, could very well appear as movements in one long meta-song. "A Waning Solace" has an urgency and energy not present in other songs. "Ashbringer" begins with a solid black metal instrumental passage complete with needling rapid-fire percussion and gravelly vocal roar before settling into much the same template as the rest of the album.
The result is an album that, while consistent in musicianship and delivery, comes across as generic Fen: listeners familiar with previous Fen releases know exactly what to expect here once they have heard the first few songs as there are no surprises. There's not much here that's fresh, experimental for the band or completely left of centre. It all seems rather calculated and aimed at a wider, more mainstream audience interested in more melodic black metal and Odinpop. There's just enough black metal in most songs to satisfy those who want anger, aggression and energy in their Fen music consumption.
I'm not really sure that I would recommend this album even though technically it's good. I have the impression that Fen have settled into a rut and are quite happy to mine it for all it's worth. There are flashes of energy and vitality but I fear these are not going to sustain the band over the next album or two. In a fusion genre that's popular and attracting more bands, Fen need to do something more to stand out from the crowd and relying on more melodic post-rock elements, synthesised orchestral music and variations of what they do already might not be enough.
So here it is - after the successful 2009 album The Malediction Fields, Fen returns with Epoch and shows no signs of decline; instead, they have crafted an over hour long journey that fuses elements of post-rock now perhaps more dominantly with the atmospheric nature themed black metal, and does it with great success. Once again. Epoch does take a lot time to open, though. I consciously avoided writing about the album for a long time, knowing that the first few listens - during which the album didn’t indeed sound very remarkable at all - wouldn’t be anywhere near the amount of spins that a band like Fen requires to open to its full glory.
What comes to Epoch’s production and overall atmosphere, it’s very reminiscent of the debut, sounding as distant and foggy, with an inclination to deep blue watery landscapes as the cover art suggests. Unusual time signatures are occasionally implemented to the music as well, but never in a way that would kill the hazy, dream-like mood. Enough repetition is given to such patterns, making them sound more like shamanistic trances building up to fantastic climaxes (hear the violin fuelled ending of the 11-minute ”Carrier of Echoes”) than anything purposely technical.
The way Fen manages to balance between bright sounding fragile post-rock passages and energetic black metal blast beats is still admirable. This becomes clear already in the beginning when the calmful title track’s transition to the heavier ”Ghosts of the Flood” seems to happen naturally without any annoyingly sudden changes in dynamics or sound levels. Every single track on the album seems to be of high value, always showing something new on each spin, so I think it’s unnecessary to start naming any particular highlight moments. If you’ve enjoyed Fen’s earlier material, Epoch is surely to grab your attention as well. Among the best 2011 album I’ve heard. Enough said.
4.5 / 5
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Every post black metal band seems to have their own take on how these genres come together. On their sophomore release “Epoch”, Fen takes a notably mellow approach to the style. While there are some black metal riffs (mostly inspired by Enslaved's more progressive albums) and screeched vocals, there is no real black metal spirit to this album. Fen is just too even keeled to dive into the dark depths of black metal. They are also too mellow to reach the cathartic heights of post rock. Their aesthetic is derived much more from the dense, reflective sounds of fellow Northern Islanders such as The Cure and My Bloody Valentine. This music is heavily inspired by the dense, grey atmosphere of the region—thick and heavy, like a calm and steady flow of rain.
Unfortunately, Fen lacks what make those other bands so special. There is a real lack of direction in the songwriting and little punch in the melodies. While the songwriting is far from the conventional pop song structure, it fails to captivate. The transitions pass by, virtually unnoticed, like one grey cloud followed by another. This is actually quite amazing, since the transitions can be pretty vast. Fen often shifts from a soft passage with clean vocals into a metal passage with screamed vocals, but oddly enough, the transitions make little impact. The band seems emotionally stuck in neutral, so whether it’s heavy, soft or something in between it has the same plain feeling.
Melodically, the album ranges from pleasant to monotonous. Throughout the album there are scattered some nice clean vocal passages, such as those in “Ghosts of the Flood” and “Half-Light Eternal.” These soft passages are what Fen does best. The heavy passages just are not their forte. They all blend into one another, failing to make an emotional impact. Fen simply lacks the attitude and fire needed to making moving metal.
The album starts stronger than it finishes. The opener contains a nice series somber post rock riffs with looping percussion a la Godspeed You! Black Emperor. “The Gibbet Elms” consists of a slithering guitar line and interplay of raspy growls and Pink Floyd style vocal harmonies. Unfortunately the last few songs are long and uneventful. The album becomes burdensome, wearing out its welcome.
When it’s all said and done, Fen do not have a lot going for them other than atmosphere and a few decent melodies. The musicianship is good, but not great. The metal riffs are derivative and lack the right attitude. The clean passages are nice, but honestly nothing you cannot live without hearing. Like a being stuck inside on rainy day with nothing to do, “Epoch” is a fairly forgettable experience.
(Originally written for http://listenwell-nocturnal.blogspot.com)
The high standards of a strong debut will forever be a challenge that plagues up-and-coming bands, especially in the more underground circles, and so it is incredible when a band succeeds in creating something that betters their first outing. This is most definitely the case with British post-black metallers Fen and their recent release “Epoch”, the follow-up to the evocative debut “The Malediction Fields”. They have successfully toed the line between keeping their original and quite unique sound and yet also bringing new elements which make it sound fresh.
“Epoch” opens in a traditional post-rock fashion, with layers of melodic guitar and some muffled drumwork. But what struck me instantly when I heard this song was the presence of an audible, even melodic bass section. The band then weave in a distorted riff before breaking out into a powerful slow black metal section. The first comparison I drew was with Insomnium's opener “Equivalence”, and they are not that dissimilar. The song then incorporates anguished screams and rasps in a DSBM style, with ethereal cleans floating in the background. Although the song lacks in structure, it is a fantastic way of explaining the sound of the album to the listener.
The album continues much in this style, alternating calm post-rock with varying tempos of black metal, and a narrative of brilliantly written nature-inspired lyrics of loss and desolation. An excerpt from my favorite track, is as follows: “Illumination wavers in the strengthening grip of dusk/Darkness summoned something more than dreams and empty promises". The vocals are varied, although the mid-pitch rasp is the most frequent. They also employ some tasteful low growls that work surprisingly well. The cleans have improved markedly since the debut album, especially in “The Gibbet Elms”.
The musicianship is fantastic, with many a good riff or tremolo from the guitars, and even one section in “Ashbringer” that reminded me of Drudkh. The bass makes multiple appearances, including a brilliant solo in “Carrier Of Echoes”. Synths dance in the background, adding to the atmosphere but never taking center-stage. The drums are generally quite good, although not outstanding.
It becomes difficult to find issues in this album, although I can find a personal few. Firstly, there is a noticeable lack of structure to the songs, and it is possible for them to meld into one. Secondly, the production on the drums could have improved on the snare sound, and there are constant tom fills which break the structure. Finally, I feel that the album would end a lot better if “A Warning Solace” were to come after “Ashbringer”, as the former has more of a closing feel to it.
However, do not let these small errors put you off this album. “Epoch” is truly a fantastic listen, and anyone who has read this far should definitely consider giving it a try. Even if black metal may not be your usual port of call, there is something for most people to appreciate. Let us raise a toast, if this is the new epoch of black metal.
Originally posted at: www.blackwindmetal.blogspot.com
Following hot on the heels of their acclaimed debut album 'The Malediction Fields', UK- based black metal act Fen's second work 'Epoch' promises to deliver the same powerful blend of raw atmosphere and beauty that has made the band among the most promising of the up-and-coming metal bands. Combining post-rock, folk and black metal in much the same way as established bands like Agalloch and Drudkh have done, these young Englishmen may have released the best album I have heard so far this year.
The style Fen plays is not largely unfamiliar for a fan of atmospheric black metal, but the way that Fen does it deserves all possible praise. Although a raw album at first glance, several deeply engaging, almost spiritual listens of 'Epoch' really lift the veil to show the grace and dynamic of the music here. As can be heard on the album's first truly brilliant song 'Ghosts Of The Flood', Fen have quickly established themselves as masters of the dark/light contrast. Heavy and blistering guitars will erupt under the powerful rasps of The Watcher, before lowering into a smooth, equally melancholic but more melodic and beautiful quieter moment. Then, the black metal elements return once again, creating an absolutely enchanting wave of sound. While this formula has been made famous by such acts as Opeth a good twenty years before this, Fen's adoption of shoegaze and overtly atmospheric mellow sections makes the dynamic really work for them, feeling much more than a mere gimmick to sound artistic.
From a largely instrumental and slowly building title track, 'Epoch' eases the listener into their magical world through a title track that works more like an introduction to the rest of the album, moreso than a legitimate song of it's own. Building intentionally to 'Ghosts Of The Flood', the title track makes the second song hit the listener like a slug from a railgun, but all in all, 'Epoch' does drag on a bit longer than an introduction should. The fact that the album is a tad slow to get going is this masterpiece's only real weakness. While the use of clean vocals here is generally used beautifully in the context of Fen's shoegazer elements, they do sound a bit weak and amateurish when compared to the epic growls the band displays on the heavier front.
While this is an atmospheric black metal album first and foremost, the album is made only more powerful and more evocative through its mesh of less aggressive sound. With such absolutely gorgeous depressive epics as 'Half Light Eternal' and 'Carrier Of Echoes' to grace my ears, I can only say that 'Epoch' is a masterpiece, despite its small blemishes. Although the beginning of a new year usually feels void of truly excellent albums, I would not be surprised if Fen's 'Epoch' is seen near the top of the best metal albums released in 2011.
One of my highlights from 2009 was Fen's "The Malediction Fields", a stunning effort from an underground British band melding black metal with progressive and atmospheric elements to create a deep and meaningful record worth repeated listens. Two years on and we have the release of their sophomore record, "Epoch", but how does it compare in scope to it's illustrious predecessor?
Opening with the brooding and understated title track Fen clearly have no desire to blow your head off with scything black metal from the first instance, instead choosing to gently welcome listeners in with their sombre, moody inclinations before "Ghost Of The Flood" kicks off, The Watcher's screams knocking towards a Wolves in the Throne Room/Wodensthrone-esque tempo, however it is not long before Fen's Agalloch-ian tendencies take hold and the song slows to a more relaxing and progressive tempo. In many ways, this theme, which typifies Fen's songwriting across the 8 lengthy tracks on "Epoch" (six being 8 minutes or longer), holds them at odds with the great many of BM's characteristics but the authenticity with which Fen meander between varying elements at free will is the thickest string in the bow. The under-used clean vocals of The Watcher, which first peak their head in "The Gibbet Elms" and "Half-Light Eternal", reflect further progressive tendencies in Fen yet despite all of this they remain best when really letting go of the brakes and bounding forward with their dark, WITTR vibe, as evidenced in parts of "Of Wilderness And Ruin" and "Half-Light Eternal". Ten-minute "Carrier Of Echoes" pushes the use of keys and acoustic guitars further to the fore while "A Waning Solace" drifts along more serenely than anything since the opening title track.
Closer "Ashbringer" picks up the pace from where earlier proceedings left off to recall a harsher, Wodensthrone edge to their atmospheric riffing and hammering but these moments never last long enough, invariably being reduced to a mid-speed before their full effectiveness has really been felt. Eventually "Epoch" finishes as a record that doesn't quite meet it's potential but Fen's natural artistry flourishes enough to secure "Epoch" as a more than decent record, though I can’t help but feel a tightening of the songwriting is what separates it from some of the other records in their atmospheric black metal field.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net
England's Fen are having themselves quite a productive year, both with a 70 minute new full-length and a decent split with Sweden's De Arma (which I've also reviewed). But the question is, are they spreading themselves too thin? The Malediction Fields was a fine debut, one of the best executions of the black metal/post-rock melting pot that I'd yet heard, a deep and fulfilling journey through the natural environments of the band's homeland. Having now listened through its follow-up, Epoch, a number of times, I can say that they still have the magic, even if I'm not nearly so overwhelmed with atmosphere as I was when listening to the last album.
Epoch is laid out like a series of tides, an ebb and flow of tranquil synthesizers and ringing, psychedelic guitars that launch into moments of chaos and turmoil. You know it's coming, you simply need to paddle yourself out to the swell of the sea, and wait for the ride. The title track, and album opener, is almost all anticipation, rising to voluminous discourse but once, but the following "Ghosts of the Flood" utilizes a more traditional black metal structure, with blasted drums and driving guitars that feel like a tunnel of restless brine on an overcast day, your conscience drifting straight through, the spray alighting on your cheeks. There are calm segues here with clean vocals, and I found them to be more interesting musically than the heavier elements, but it does balance well. "Of Wilderness and Ruin" is more impressive yet, with demented, drawn out barks over a thick flow of melody, like Neurosis having a day at the beach.
Elsewhere, there is the glistening of "The Gibbet Elms", or the passive/aggression of "Half-Life Eternal", another case in which I feel the band's atmospheric post-rock elements do us more of a service than their explosions into viscera. "Carrier of Echoes" probably has the best guitar riffs, a warm flood of substance and emotion that fades into the background. But I also really got a lot out of "A Warning Solace", and the album ends on its highest note with the sullen majesty of "Ashbringer", in which I truly enjoy the collapse and shine of the keys. It's probably the most consistent piece on the album, or at least the best at the band's intended escalation and decay.
From a broad standpoint, Fen do have the emotional staying power to impress the growing scene of fans that enjoy the hybrid of these musical components, but I'll admit that I was just not that into their blackish metal elements here. When you dissect the guitar lines, these are usually the coordinates in which they're just not doing anything memorable. That said, I enjoy the tangible, thematic departure here, the setting and mood of the album. Where The Malediction Fields felt more repressed, boggy and cold like a still marsh, Epoch is more like the shoreline after a violent rain has spun through, even though the stylistic fundamentals remain similar. It will be interesting to see if the band can constantly give themselves this minute shot of renewal through each of their incarnations. At any rate, this is a good sophomore, if less revelatory than its elder sibling.