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"Look What These Animals Have Done!"
2011 was a momentous year for the indelible, young British "post-black metal" cornerstones, Fen. With the release of their second full length record, "Epoch", Fen would also release (a sadly overlooked) split album with frontman The Watcher's collaborative side project, De Arma. The contents of Fen's half of this split were recorded over the course of several years, in multiple studios, going as far back as 2008. De Arma, a composite of Swedish musicians (from bands, Whirling and Stilla), and Britain's The Watcher, make their first outing as a group with this release, displaying an atmospheric-black-meets-early-Katatonia aesthetic. At over fifty minutes in total, we're given a full album's worth of content.
Opening the experiencing, is my beloved Fen. Exploding with warm, familiar tones (for those who enjoyed their genre-beloved first two superb releases), "Soilbound" teems with life, breathing almost playfully, before settling into more focused, key-laden progressions. A lush exploration through softer graces builds towards a rousing climax of violence, finally reprising the main charge before giving way to the thundering gallop of the bass and drum rolls of "Ageless Threnody". A stirring midsection and cathartic outro later, and we arrive at the title track, and standout of the split, "Towards The Shores Of The End". Ambient waves wash upon Albion's shores as an anthemic riff builds atop pulsing bass lines; the song weaves effortlessly from passage to passage, delicately building toward a final breakdown, ultimately collapsing back into rolling waves. Finally, we're treated to the serenity of a (Malediction Fields') "Bereft" reprisal, and the stage for De Arma's debut performance is set...
After the tranquility of Bereft, the listener is immediately throttled by the melodic gallop of (the thematically titled) "Crimson Waters Ebbing The Shore". De Arma make a confident entrance, boldly displaying a triumphant-meets-melancholy (excuse the cliche comparison) 90s Katatonia ethos, while certainly grasping at their own identity. A (doubtless intentional) hazy production, recursive chord progressions, and peculiar male choral arrangements prove an immediately distinguished performance. "Noemata", the highlight of De Arma's contribution to this split, greets us with a further instantiate of this triumphant-meets-melancholy juxtaposition.
It appears a consistent element of The Watcher's ethos and songwriting, across projects, to contrast lyrical and conceptual melancholic aesthetics (which I feel is better understood as a form of eulogy) with triumphant and resolute force, that can, at times, border on upbeat rock-oriented groove (The Watcher has personally stated in several interviews that it was in fact a glam metal album that inspired him to pick up guitar in the first place, all those years ago). Noemata essentially embodies this woeful-yet-perseverent aesthetic, recursively building upon its unabashedly upbeat main hook, organically reaching out and spreading its wings, in all its glorious Brave Murder Day worship, before making way for the final driving track on this offering, that, while enjoyable, fizzles out without the momentum of the first two tracks.
"Towards The Shores Of The End" showcases a promising extrapolation of Fen's previous efforts, while laying the groundwork for their following endeavour that same year. What we have, essentially, is a worthy stylistic intermediary, more directly rooted in the earthy tones of Malediction Fields (understandably, given its recording dates), while hinting at progressions towards the stormy shores of Epoch. De Arma achieve an alluring debut, stylistically comfortable enough to find their bearings, while distinctive enough to intrigue listeners enough for a full length premiere.
Towards The Shores Of The End
It hasn’t been but a couple of weeks when Fen’s second full-length Epoch was in my hearing and now it’s already time to get exposed to some more of this group’s atmospheric blending of black metal and post-rock - and I don’t complain! The other side of Towards the Shores of the End consists of De Arma, a new project of A’s, better known from Armagedda and Lönndom.
The four tracks provided by Fen deliver pretty much nothing surprising for those who are familiar with the band already: a heavy dose of melancholy and natural sound, combining the harshness of black metal and the fragile sound and song progressions of post-rock. Fen might be slightly more in-your-face on the split than on any previous recording of theirs: the war rhythms in the beginning of ”Ageless Thenody” sound for a while like a different band until the melodies kick in and ”Soilbound” has tendencies to a more chugging(-kind-of) sections. The title track builds up slowly from the beginning where only bass guitar, toms and kick drums follow a certain pattern. A lush acoustic instrumental of ”Bereft”, deriving from the debut album, is added to the package as well, and what a sweet piece of acoustic guitars, piano and minimal percussion it is.
De Arma offers a more traditional take on mesmerizing lo-fi black metal, and the three tracks could be divided into two categories: ”Crimson Waters Ebbing the Shores” and ”From Horizon to Oblivion” are clearly rooted in the sound of Armagedda where the mostly tremolo-picked riffs have a somewhat evilish tendency, not to forget the similar reverberating guitar tone, and the Lönndom esque odd clean vocals. The 9-minute centerpiece ”Noemata”, on the other hand, could pretty much be a Fen track because the sound is extremely similar, from the vocals to the melodies and overall atmosphere. Due to its identical sound in comparison to Fen, I find the track the least impressive of the whole bunch though it’s still pretty well done, no question of that.
Towards the Shores of the End presents two great bands of which the other has already received truly deserved recognition, and of which the other is still a new name that will hopefully continue in the vein of the two more original songs in the future. Definitely a recommendable purchase for any Fen lover and for fans of A’s other projects, now that Armagedda has been buried for a long while already.
4 / 5
[ http://www.vehementconjuration.com/ ]
I first discovered Fen when I was looking for bands that sounded similar to those such as Amosoeurs and Alcest, bands that manage to fuse elements of black metal, atmospheric music and post rock together to form beautiful music. While I personally found bands like Alcest too "mellow", Fen does it for me by not having the music too soft, incorporating black metal vocals on top of the atmospheric music.
They return this year 2 years after their debut full length album, The Malediction Fields, a split with De Arma, a relatively young Swedish band.
The album starts off with Fen's side and wasting no time, they present to the listener what they do best. The introduction riffs to the opening song, Soilbound, is nothing "br00tal" or "gr1m" as one would expect from the black metal connotation, they are a preview of what the band does best - their brand of a mixture of black metal and post-rock. The Watcher displays his versatility in both clean and rough vocals; his growls are deep and gruff, while his clean vocals are sufficiently dreamy to instantly transfer a listener from a headbanging madness into a floating state of mind.
The band also makes full use of various guitar effects (such as clean guitars with a heavy chorus effect), on top of the standard keyboard/synthesizers to further emphasise on the atmospheric aspect of the music. It's nice to hear the impossibly large improvement over 2009's The Malediction Fields. While that had certain awkward moments present at times, there isn't even a slight tinge of that present on their contribution to this split, as all the notes of the music link seamlessly with each other. Fen ends their side with an acoustic (and instrumental) reprise of Bereft, off their previous full length, complete with beautiful melodies by acoustic guitars and a piano, a beautiful and fitting end. Fen's side is definitely a good companion for those who love taking long walks on a cold, quiet night, and is easily one of the albums that can put you to sleep on a sleepless night (in a good way, of course!).
With Fen having set such a high standard on their portion of the split, it is certainly interesting to see how De Arma would be able to match up.
De Arma picks up where Fen left off with their brand of atmospheric metal and does not disappoint. The first thing that one notices that distinguishes their music from Fen's is the vocal styling. Vocalist A's (of Armagedda fame) voice has a unique quality, dreamy, yet soulful and full of emotions. His growls, unlike The Watcher's and unsurprisingly, border more on black metal shrieks, reminiscent of bands such as Summoning instead of the growls presented on Fen. De Arma's closing track, From Horizon to Oblivion is closer to straightforward black metal fare, with the desolate riffs and the song structure.
While the music is similar to Fen's brand, it certainly stands apart mainly due to the vocalist's approach. Overall, De Arma's music is also faster paced, giving much life to the music.
This split is a good starting point for someone who is new to Fen, and at the same time, a display of the potential of De Arma, and is recommended to fans of atmospheric black metal, or the newer fusion styles of black metal and post rock.
Fen are gearing up for a big year in 2011, both with the release of their eagerly anticipated sophomore Epoch and this split with a newish band out of Sweden known as De Arma. If you had the good fortune to experience The Malediction Fields, then you know what to expect from the English upstarts: dense, meandering and melodic black/dark metal with post-whatever overtones, perfect to dream and drift along with. To that extent, De Arma makes for a great companion, as they perform with a similar, evocative atmosphere that differs primarily in the more rasped vocals and traditional streaming of black metal currents in the guitar lines.
Fen have gone even more accessible here than the debut album, and their half of the split consists of four well managed tracks. Moods of both gloom and the radiant sunlight piercing said gloom are conjured through "Soilbound"'s mix of spacious, ringing chords and synthesizer washes, whereas "Ageless Threnody" creates a more belligerent, slower pace, with the same mesmeric, glinting waves of keyboard colliding into the substrate of guitar and thick, anguished vocals. "Towards the Shores of the End" itself is another lengthy piece (all three of these have been 8+ minutes) which uses a bass flow and simple stringing to adapt a more progressive environment, and I found this to the best of these new compositions, with a style hopefully redolent of the forthcoming full-length. The band has also included an acoustic reprise to "Bereft", the final track on The Malediction Fields, and while there's not much to it, it sets up the 'passing of the torch' here rather well...
Which is snapped up De Arma in the more hurried, desperate "Crimson Waters Ebbing", a black metal blasted standard with shaky, clean vocals that soar into the treacherous rasp and a slew of dire, twisting melodies channeled alongside the cleaner guitars and nulling synth line. "Noemata" is perhaps my favorite track on this entire split, 9 minutes of melancholy cast through the same, simple process: roving, spacious guitar lines with driving drums and shining chords. "From Horizon to Oblivion" transforms from a charge of melodic black metal to a more mid-paced, haunting bridge sequence and back again, and I didn't appreciate it so much as their other two pieces, but it certainly fits.
At over 52 minutes, you're basically getting a full-length album, only shared. Fen alone has about 30 minutes of material here, substantial when you consider that they've written about 70 more for Epoch. The production for both bands is suitably vapid and repressed, really giving one the impression that he/she is outdoors witnessing some dour, natural process of decay or the rising of a sun over an unforgiving landscape. The music does its job in sending you to that other place that surrounds you every day, which you often fail to notice. That being said, the compositions are not entirely impressive, and I'd imagine that those outside of the black metal/post-rock (Alcest, Altar of Plagues, Wolves in the Throne Room, etc.) subset of fans will find it far from alluring. Towards the Shores of the End is a good release, showcasing two good bands, but there are no surprises here and nothing that makes you reflect for very long once the music ends. Despite their similarities, the bands would simply be better experienced on their own full-lengths.