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The UK isn't the first place one thinks of when discussing black metal, and I admit that during my many discussions of the genre my own nation very rarely crosses my mind. Whilst Britain has given us a few noticeable acts such as Anaal Nathrakh, Lyrinx and Self-Inflicted Violence, I find for the most part, the black metal output of my island nation to be very severely lacking. Therefore, it is my deepest pleasure to be listening to the band Fen, who hailing from the UK have created a very powerful, poetic and emotional album with more than a few nods towards the American band Agalloch.
With easy comparisons to Agalloch most readers should be able to get a basic idea of what to expect from The Malediction Fields. Post rock inspired melodies mixed with soft and atmospheric black metal, a half screamed/half whispered vocalist akin to John Haugm, a suitably gloomy forest atmosphere. Fen function on a very similar to wavelength to Agalloch. Now, don't let this deter you, Fen aren't a carbon copy of the much more famous American band. Fen have their own identity, their own voice to speak. The songs aren't as accessible as those of Agalloch, with the black metal elements being much more at the forefront. Also the post rock elements are a very strong presence within the album, with frequent sections of the album being dedicated to mellow post rock instrumentals. The track Lashed by Storms in particular is comprised of a lengthy post rock instrumental that is very beautiful and emotional in its delivery.
Yet whilst Fen are particularly well versed in the realm of instrumental post rock, the black metal elements are where the band truly shows their colors. The black metal has slight nods towards the bands Agalloch and Drudkh, with maybe a few leanings towards band of the American ilk such as Wolves in the Throne Room. The black metal sections comprise of long, hypnotic melodies infused with the uppermost emotion and atmosphere. The vocals, highly reminiscent of John Haughm compliment the music greatly, adding even more depth and atmosphere. The clean vocals are also very good, flowing effortlessly over the music adding even more lush and soothing soundscapes.
It seems strange, at least to me that an English band plays a very American form of black metal, but alas, this is not a hindrance, and shows just how strongly the influence of the Cascadian scene has been felt across the globe. Of course, many elitists will attack Fen, and any other band of a similar heritage as not being true enough, or killing black metal. However if you're like me and you're a fan of Agalloch and other forward thinking dark metal bands then Fen is a name well worth looking into.
This is one of the best new metal bands I discovered in 2010. They play a very distinct, dark atmospheric black metal with perhaps a bit of post-rock influences mixed in. Some may say folk metal but it doesn't really scream "folk" to me, despite the calm/acoustic parts. The songs are quite long (7 songs clocking in at just under an hour) and contain both black-metal style harsh vocals and clean vocals. There's an abundant amount of clean sections but I'd say the backbone of the album is still mostly heavy and quite fast - just enshrouded with a thick, somber haze by the faint keyboards and synths (in a completely non-corny way, of course).
When I first heard some of these songs, particularly "Lashed by Storm," I almost thought it was John Haughm of Agalloch singing on the track. Admittedly, since I'm such a John Haughm fanboy, I started looking into them to see if it was actually him on vocals or not and that spawned my interest in the band. At first, I thought they were totally Agalloch clones but the more I listened I realized that I think they just have a similar vocal style; the music isn't really that similar to Agalloch although it would most likely appeal to Agalloch fans.
I do think this album is better then their next effort, "Epoch" although it is a very close second.
It is said that they are inspired by an area in England called The Fens, which contain many mysterious landscapes, most notably marshes and well, fens, and I think this translates into the music very well. I really feel like I’m on a rocky coast with waves crashing, under an ultra gloomy, overcast sky and rain pouring down nonstop. In fact, I almost always grab this album to listen to on gloomy, rainy days.
Fans of atmospheric metal such as Agalloch, Alcest, Katatonia, Summoning, Apotheosis, etc. should check them out as soon as possible.
Originally written for Amazon.com
First, I should thank a fellow blogger for turning me on to this, otherwise it may have passed me by completely as I do not recall any exposure to their previous EP Ancient Sorrow. Fen is a great and apt name for this UK 4-piece, because the glorious, melodic black metal they conjure will submerge one like the murky and complex waters of some backwoods wetland it implies.
To describe their sound is to describe the very essence of atmosphere and sorrow, because few bands can conjure these in perfect conjunction within the black metal context. Not only do Fen excel, but they do so with a near mint mix and an onslaught of clean chorus like vocals, some acoustics and beautiful songwriting. "Exile's Journey" is an excellent opening track, conjuring directly to the front the band's heavier side with some beautiful blasted riffs under swelling ambient synthesizers. "A Witness to the Passing of Aeons" begins with a subversive, swampy vibe, some flute like sounds and creepy whispered rasp over a plodding bass line, almost as if a corpse were rising slowly to it from the depths of a peat bog, waterlogged and horrifically preserved by natural forces. "Colossal Voids" is a dreamlike post-rock segue which breaks into melodic shoegazing riffs under snarls. "As Buried Spirits Stir" is another glorious track with several captivating layers of subtle melody. "The Warren" is a delightful, bluesy and folkish piece which finally shifts into the driving black form near its climax. "Lashed by Storm" is the most black metal and 'epic' of its kind on the album, and "Bereft" is another haunting but melodic piece which ends the album much as it opened.
This is the very substance of a job well done, a lovingly crafted piece of atmospheric and sad black metal which should appeal to both the kvlt sects of the depressive, tortured style and the multitude of artsy, romantic black fans who adore bands like Lifelover or Agalloch. I'll go out on a limb and say it will also tickle the bearded and braided chins of the epic Viking/folk metal crowd. It's a phenomenal debut album deserving much time and attention, and there is nothing quite like it haunting the weed choked waterways and shadowed glens of the Isles of late.
So I have finally gotten around to listening to Fen, the almost cancer-like infestation on such sites as Last.fm that has the black metal scene going crazy...and I am not amused.
First and foremost, this is blatant Agalloch worship, and sloppy at that. The vocals are eerily similar, the style of dreamy riffs mixed with smokey synth reeks of the aforementioned band. I love Agalloch, and this is a poor regurgitation.
Second of all, this black metal/shoegaze-post rock hybrid stuff is really wearing me thin. Going from an atmospheric black metal/dark metal to a dreamy Sigur Ros style with high feminine vocals with no warning is quite annoying and I don't see the allure.
I guess the guitarwork is decent, nothing special really, and nothing that hasn't been done before. There are some nice parts, such as in As Buried Spirits Stir, where the nice acoustic guitar picking is coupled with the distorted guitar riffs, and the damn drummer finally laid off the crash cymbal so the listener can FINALLY hear the synth and the riff nuances...but that really is about it.
The song structure is very slapdash, and doesn't flow well at all. There are stark shifts from Agalloch rock to shoegaze, and slaps the listener in the face with an unwarranted pace change. Every song incorporates the same elements, and begins to sound the same. More to the point, black metal riffs, some semi-acoustic reverberated guitar riffs, and the whole post-rock sound mixed in as well.
Along with the annoying lack of structure, there is very poor recording quality, and because of this, the growled vocals and the crash/ride cymbals are in the foreground of the mix. If the drummer had some variety, this may not be an issue, but I believe those are the only types of that percussion that is in his drum kit. The ride is very rarely used, except for the shoegaze portions. The recording also sounds like it was performed in a cave, and there is high reverb in basically every instrument in the band, along with the vocals. Making out a single word is quite difficult, even for the clean vocal portions.
The drumming, as stated above, is quite poor. There are not many fills, mainly steady snaring, and crash cymbal abuse. The ride is predominantly used for the shoegaze, with smatterings of high hats.
The guitar riffs are original to the band, but performed in the almost plaigeristic style of Agalloch, a band that has existed a full decade before the conception of this abomination, and this is worse than even the most pointless color-coded EP that Agalloch has ever released.
Vocally, as the reader may guess, is again cookie-cutting Agalloch, and late Alcest and pasting them together. Nothing special, nothing that hasn't been done before, and overall boring.
I am not impressed at all by this "long awaited" first full length. In fact, I find it to be a step or five back from their initial EP, mainly because I expected a semi-sloppy constructed album. The hybrid styling this band uses is tricky to incorporate correctly, and they flubbed it pretty good.
Overall, a flop. If you are a die-hard lover of shoegaze and black metal hybrid bands, give it a try. Otherwise, you can overlook this quite easily and not feel bad about it.
Fen are the impressive sum of disparate parts. Imagine the acoustic progginess of Opeth's Damnation, mixed with atmospheric, melodic black metal. Clean vocals sit alongside awesome black metal screams. Blast beats and acoustic guitars. Bouncing rhythms that make me think Orchid. These guys don't give a fuck, and it rules.
The guitar work, performed by The Watcher, is great stuff. The black metal riffage is infused with oceans of melodic originality. The numerous clean passages are the most impressive piece of the pie. I'm really impressed. This compliments the melancholic singing well and paints a stark contrast to the black metal undercurrents. Completely epic.
The clean vocals bring to mind a young Jonas Renske, circa Discouraged Ones. There are some excellent and compelling melodies here. The black metal vocals are perfection in my book. Not too raspy, and just raw enough. There are tasteful keys throughout, either in an atmospheric capacity, or as excellent pure piano accompaniment.
The production on the album is wide open and airy, doing great justice to Fen's sound. As I mentioned earlier, Fen are not content with the standard clean/heavy dichotomy. All of the elements are mixed up in a pleasing fashion. The songwriting skill is quite evident. The Malediction Fields evokes an array of emotions, from funereal disconsolation to complete triumph. The album holds my attention from start to finish, and never turns itself into background music.
If you think you can stomach their concoction, then I highly recommend checking out Fen. If you're a fan of epic, dark, melodic metal that's bursting with originality, then you should give this a shot. Opeth fans take heed. This album embodies progress, to me, as I've never really heard anything like it. The Malediction Fields is riding high on my list of the year's best albums.
Fen hail from the UK, and Code666 records are located in Italy, so as you can imagine, it's difficult to get your hands on this album, especially in America. I was able to order The Malediction Fields from The End records.
Originally published here: http://atanamar.blogspot.com/
Having recently borne witness to England's Fen in the live arena I summised at the time through an indifferent review that potential was evident in their sound but that their sprawling ambient black metal was more likely a home-listening proposition. Well without blowing my own trumpet (toot toot) I was right; their debut album "The Malediction Fields" is a brilliantly atmospheric and deep record, possessing too grand a sophistication for the unknowing ears of mine to detect in a pub setting. Being a stew of Agalloch, Primordial, Opeth with a sprinkling of Falkenbach, Fen settle on an at times uncomfortable collusion of soaring, majestic ambient, darkened folk with the blackened spirit of a BM band, minus the pretension. The Watcher (ok, some pretension exists) ranges from a blackened growl/shriek similar to Grutle Kjellson (Enslaved) of the overriding majority but he isn't afraid to dip his toe into clean vocal territory either; just see "Colossal Voids". The dynamic and loose song structures incorporating both clean and harsh vocal draw the comparison to early, darker, Opeth works, and though The Watcher's clean vocals don't compare to Mr. Akerfeldt's one feels the potential is there for improvement on future works.
It is with America's own Agalloch that Fen bear closest resemblance however; passages of interwoven clean and distorted guitar sounds submerge with heavy usage of synth that is both highly successful and pleasant on the ear. In the "The Warren", dramatic lead guitar pierces in between the rhythm sections for a truly mind-bending altercation into another world of the kind that I have known but Agalloch and a few select others to possess. Yet there is also the time in the song for the strong ambient edge of the band to make itself known as if not wanting to be outdone by the creativity on the strings - the benefit of long well-written songs. "A Witness To The Passing Of Aeons" is as dramatic as the title suggests, if not a little twee in the very opening stages but a demonstration in careful composition and structural knowledge to keep the keys of Draugluin in perfect harmony with the rest of the band, a feature that has been the undoing of some bands metal bands before them. Keeping the long songs (shortest is 7 minutes) interesting is done without any considerable effort on Fen's part as they flow so much quicker than their lengths' suggest, which at such an early stage in the band's career can only hold them in good stead.
I dare not hype Fen up to the gods as rarely is that a good idea but "The Malediction Fields" starts and ends in a confident form; albeit not of the sonic variety us extreme metal fans are used to. Albums of this kind are tricky concoctions, where the natural beauty of the piece can sometimes teeter precariously between tacky and genuine, but there's no doubt which side of the fence Fen sit. Just wishing I knew "The Malediction Fields" before their live jaunt, I however now look forward to what they will follow this up with.
Originally written for Rockfreaks.net
Northern Silence Productions really has a way of introducing great bands to the metal community. Two come to mind with the release of Amesoeurs EP in 2006 and Fen's EP in 2007. Both bands this year have released their first full lengths on Code 666 and no doubt, both albums will end up on many end of year lists. They certainly have a chance getting on my end of year list, that's for sure.
Fen plays a great mix of atmospheric black metal and post rock, which brings to mind the likes of In The Woods, Agalloch and even Negura Bunget (the synth work) at times. Fen have crafted their own distinctive sound though, that is the thing. It is very impressive and 'The Malediction Fields' was/is a wonderful way to start the year (I think this was the first new album I got for 2009).
The album opens with 'Exile's Journey' which has some nice clean melodies that remind me of In The Woods 'Heart Of The Ages' era. The In The Woods feeling continues when you can hear the faint tremelo riffs behind the heaviness that ensures after the introduction. Layered synths bring to mind Negura Bunget's 'Om' album and the harsh and clean vocals are nicely done. An awesome way to start off the album.
It gets even more interesting with the way the harsh and clean vocals are done together (eg: 'Colossal Voids'). It is very well done. The heavy riffs are well layered and bring to mind Wolves In The Throne Room at times, and when you combine this with the synths and those faint tremelo riffs in the background, it produces a great haze of atmosphere. What I like about those faint tremelo riffs is that it helps you really listen and concentrate on the music so you can fully appreciate it. The same effect is done well when the tremelo riffs are replaced with acoustic passages. And if that is not enough, the clean melodies add to it all as well.
I like the drumming on this as well. The sound fits in perfectly with the music and atmosphere. It showers and echoes amongst the riffs and melodies. Really adds to the feel of the music. Sit beside your bedroom window while it is raining outside and put this album on and it will be the perfect soundtrack for the event.
To go one step further, after the rain has stopped, go and take an epic adventure through the bush or fields and take this album with you. After all, this type of setting helped inspire them to make an album like this and seriously, they have pulled it off superbly. Enjoy!
Aside from depressive black metal sub-genre that has dominated the underground scene for the last few months, this new fusion of black metal and post-rock is beginning to find its feet in the world of extreme music. I cannot pin point exactly where it began, but I can safely say I know where its at its strongest and that is here, on ‘The Malediction Fields’. Though this record, and this band, may be comparable to certain other pioneering acts, Fen certainly maintain their own style with dignity and poise. The level of musicianship present here is top notch and you’re unlikely to find another band, in the world, let alone the United Kingdom, who has the strength to take this band’s crown. Though Fen’s ‘The Malediction Fields’ isn’t the ultimate highlight of the glittering genre that is black metal, one feels that it may yet serve a greater purpose in the industry than those pioneering acts of the first, and even more notorious second wave bands, including the iconic Scandinavians who developed the genre considerably in the early to mid period of the 1990’s. I have no doubt whatsoever that Fen’s debut isn’t the biggest success story of all time, but it’s one of the most important steps in the move towards experimentation for black metal.
This band, this record and this sound will continue to grow in stature, displacing some of the olden day traditions and allowing other bands, of a similar nature, to take their levels of experimentation to the next level. Having been a fan of Skaldic Curse for a while too, I can safely say that this is no fluke. Fen possess talented musicians who’re capable of using high levels of experimentation for their own gain. Fen had a much maligned task on ‘Ancient Sorrow’ as the production was almost unprofessional, by their high standards. It wasn’t clean enough to allow our full appreciation to not be hampered by the littered path that was the heinous production job. Thankfully however, Fen have done things professionally this time. I am by no means suggestion the production was a draw back to the old days where blenders furiously swiped at the positive traits with its noisy mechanical and menacing approach to life. Although the production gives Fen a dark and almost doom-esque feel to it, that by no means acts as a limitation of the instrumentation present as it is top drawer.
Take ‘Bereft’ as an example. The slow residual nature of the song glorifies the production. The darkness descends over the instrumentation like nightfall and cloaks the elements in obscurity that is mysterious and frighteningly effective. The bass is a consistent outlet, but the best aspect of Fen, to me, is in the dual vocals. The rasps are clean and concise, most words can be made out without having to resort to looking up the lyrics, but it’s the dual impact of the rasps alongside the eerie clean vocals that suit the style ever so well that make me enjoy Fen as much as I do. This style was becoming a force on the debut EP and is now in full flow. Like a river, the emotive elements wash over the listener and hits them hard in the face like waves of sadness. ‘Bereft’ successfully manages to maintain the original black metal epic feel, but also coats it in a new lick of majestic paint. Having heard ‘Pathogen’ from Skaldic Curse, and loving it, I knew that Fen were capable of achieving great things. Although Fen and Skaldic Curse may have two completely contrasting sounds, both bands still have ties to one another and are good examples of how visionary the band’s leading men are - The Watcher, in particular.
His possessive performance is one that sparks much emotion from the listener. Not only does he control the main source of vocals, but he also performs exceedingly well on guitar and, more importantly, on keyboards which are responsible for a fair amount of the symphonic tones that lay underneath the crust that is forged by the black metal material. Fen seek a higher ground on which to showcase their talents and their material. The band takes great strides up the mountain through their majestic soundscapes that invokes the holy grail of images that black metal usually represents - desolation and isolation coated in pain like the soundscapes are cereal and the imagery is sugar. Fen scales the summit that many bands perish on, falling to the depths and into the obscure shadows that mask whatever positive trait’s the band in question might have. I do rate Skaldic Curse highly, but its evident from both the EP ‘Ancient Sorrows’ and this debut full-length ‘The Malediction Fields’ that Fen have a more successful career in front of them.
Having recently seen Fen live for the first time in March, my admiration for the band has grown tenfold. The atmosphere that the band carries constantly with it, like a fashion accessory, comes across incredibly potent live. This English band has something which most bands, all over the world, wish to possess - atmosphere. Whether its on the record, or even in person, Fen maintain their performance and achieve the best possible atmosphere in doing so. There are several key elements as to how this is achieved and perhaps surprisingly, these elements are the least raw aspects. Nowadays, its becoming more and more common for black metal acts to succeed largely based upon the subtle elements that the band portrays in their instrumentation. Take the bass, for example. Most black metal bands seem to omit this pivotal aspect of the soundscapes immediately due to the fact that they use repetitive guitar styles that are consumed by distortion. Fen don’t necessarily do this, the approach is more experimental than that.
I’ve noticed a common trait of ‘The Malediction Fields’ and that is, both in terms of the instrumentation and the vocals, how Fen like to ignite the performances of one or two sections, drawing them into the frenetic foreground, whilst obscuring other aspects into the background. This is a consistent approach and key to the eventual outcome of the material. Of course, Fen do not limit themselves in their approach. No, its more accessible than that. The band may highlight the bass in the slower sections, whilst taking note of the subtle symphonies that digest the raw emotions and spit out a sense of painful loss. When the band aren’t doing this, they highlight different sections, so no matter what your interest is, in terms of instrumentation and such, Fen are always likely to give you your fix because they have an affirmative and assured ability of being able to pull the strings behind the scenes as they chop and change their approach from highlighting bass, alongside the emotive clean vocals, and then the harsh raps, alongside the tremolo bass and heavy guitar distortion. Subtle aspects soar through the soundscapes and hit hard. This debut is one of the best you’ll find within the new generation of black metal bands.
On their EP "Ancient Sorrows", Fen signalled their considerable potential for creating potent black metal / post-rock fusion music and this potential is revealed more in "The Malediction Fields". Admittedly the black metal aspect tends to be restricted to the vocals, some of the fast guitars / percussion work (if you blink during crucial moments in some tracks, you may miss those tremolo string passages) and the subject matter of the lyrics. Some compensation comes in the form of expansive and often very exhilarating and uplifting rock that has an optimistic and hopeful air. This can be at odds with the lyrics on one level, though if you think of death as a welcome release or a transformation to a higher level you won't find any contradiction between the music and the lyrics. There is also a lot of energy and power that surge throughout a number of songs, especially in the first track "Exiles Journey" - in this track and the one following "A Witness to the Passing of Aeons", you will find thunderous drumming, synthesiser work that soars to the heavens, thrilling guitar solo work and melodies and riffs with a life all their own.
An early highlight is "Colossal Voids", as close to singles material as Fen gets here: there is a prettified aspect in the sad melody and clean vocal counter-balanced by a sinister power in the rhythms, the occasional BM vocals and thrumming vibrato guitar passages. A real conflict exists between those BM elements and the more pop-oriented music which is resolved at the end when the poppy elements fall in with the sentiments expressed in the lyrics and a delicate piano tune rounds off the song, innocent of the depths and struggles the music ploughed through earlier. Fen use this device of finishing off songs with a fragile melody about twice or three times on this album - well, one album is enough but this can easily turn into something of a cliche for the band.
As with any recording, there are peaks and troughs and one such trough is "As Buried Spirits Stir" which, in spite of the acoustic guitar passage that appears after the halfway point, comes over as filler material. This is followed by a second major peak "The Warren" which features a long instrumental introduction with a near-psychedelic ambience. Tragic grandeur and sludge-like power dominate the rest of the song. The last track "Bereft" brings in storming durms that have a slight acid sheen to them and a mix of fast, slow and medium-fast music with complicated rhythms and beats to match. Jangly guitar riffs bring in a psychedelic air as the song works its stately majestic way to a climax. We have a teaser of a quiet section of bass and acidic space synth that then explodes into a joyful celebration of sparkly guitar and bass textures and cheerful drumming, even while the lyrics are screaming loss.
The best tracks on this album are those that combine elements of black metal, post-rock, psychedelia, a bit of sludge metal and even pop, with melodies and riffs that come alive from the tensions that combinations of different musical genres can generate. Filler moments arise in the second half of the album ("As Buried Spirits Soar" and "Lashed by Storm") when Fen fall into a default post-rock mode and start to sound like they're on autopilot and churning through as many riffs and short-lived bursts of inspiration as they can. While the BM singing is confident enough, the clean vocals can sound a bit shaky and lacking in confidence particularly on a song like "Colossal Voids" where it's necessary for the singing to be smooth and in tune so the lyrics can make their dreadful impact. To be fair, I tried humming some of the melodies myself and did find a couple tricky to navigate as a couple of notes go right up and then right down the scale.
I rate this a very good debut album: there is a lot of powerful music here and if Fen can develop more confidence in creating and playing more fusion black metal / post-rock, they will go very far. This means bringing in MORE black metal elements into the music than they have done so far here, plus more psychedelia and other influences to counteract the turgid and bombastic side-effects that post-rock sometimes has. One possibility might be to include guest musicians and collaborators on future recordings to help vary and expand the music. The combination of optimistic and upbeat music with depressive lyrics is a strength that could be extended into scenarios of Nature-versus-humans / technology / Western civilisation, this could inspire some great music.
When I first heard this band a few months ago, I instantly fell in love. I listened to their EP “Ancient Sorrow” a countless amount of times, and the brilliance of this release came as no surprise to me. As a fan of Agalloch, Ulver, Blut Aus Nord, and other various atmospheric black metal bands, I am a diehard fan of Fen. I highly recommend this band, especially this album to anyone who is a fan of the aforementioned bands.
One of the things I like best about this album is how many different genres are incorporated into the sound and atmosphere of the music. When I listen, I can hear influence from Ulver’s Bergtatt, Agalloch, and I am sometimes even reminded of Alcest. While this album takes a lot of influence from these bands’ styles, they still keep to their very own unique sound. The best way to describe it would be atmospheric black metal with a bit of an earthy folk sound.
As far as instrumentals, and individual talent of the band members, it is all up to par. The guitars are great and are a main component of the atmosphere created by this album. The drums are fabulous, and the vocals are brilliant. Though some think the vocalist is weak, I think he is just performing in an appropriate way to fit the overall scene that this album is trying to purvey. I was quite pleased when I first listened, because I heard more use of clean vocals, which barely showed up on Ancient Sorrow.
Fen is truly a unique band. They do not fall victim to any of the black metal stereotypes that bands like Immortal and Mayhem may have propagated. I cannot stop listening to this album, and I will recommend it and push it to no end. Every black metal fan should have this album.