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Chapter 5 - The Purity of Peace - 94%

The Nemeton, March 7th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2013, CD, Code666 Records (Limited edition, Clambox)

"With the scent of damp ground and woodsmoke,
Nature’s incense unfurls
Sated by carrion, the watchers land and gather
Branches hang heavy as they observe
For their memory, for their pain,
For their very essence I walk the Crowpath"

On the fifth official release (and third full length record) of one of England's most promising metal acts, we see the band explore the lighter, elegant, post-rock territory of their influences. (Much to the chagrin of some of their listeners.) Post-rock/metal composition has been forefront in the group's song structure up until this point and since, and Dustwalker sees Fen achieve yet another wonderful synthesis of black metal and post-rock influences, evidently favouring the latter. (Many fans have taken to calling this "post black metal", as seen in my other favourite late 2000's group, Altar of Plagues.)

To clarify, my album version concludes with the gorgeous, stirring track, simply titled "Epilogue". (It seems not all versions do.) At eight tracks, (most of which are ideas-rich and robust in scope) and an hour in length, Dustwalker is an extensive, rousing experience. I have observed a fascinating pattern over the evolution of Fen's discography, which I will expound upon in my final review of their most recent album, but sufficed to say that this record principally embodies an uplifting, wispy airiness - the element of Air, in a manner of speaking. Somewhat removed from the wandering, contemplative, forested-borders-surround-marshy-fields of their debut, and even moreso removed from the wistful, gloomy, windswept shores of Epoch, Dustwalker is Fen's least mournful or aggressive album to date; nevertheless no less visceral or compelling than any of their work to this point, featuring some of their most compositionally impressive and convincing performances to date. (A bold claim, to be sure.)

"Embers settle on a sanguine shroud
With each cycle it sinks further
Beneath twilight’s burnished rind"

Five of the eight tracks are excellent, with a few being outstanding; two of the other three being solid and one that I would relegate as a b-side. From the crisp, thundering opener, the warm, progressive genius of "Spectre", and the rousing, triumphant conclusion of "Epilogue", Dustwalker spans an impressive range of sound and emotion. I can resolutely state, unequivocally, that "Hands of Dust" is my single favourite song, irregardless of genre, of the 2010's. (There are moments in that song that cause literal, physiological reactions in my body. I feel the screams "in my gut".) With that said however, this record is incredibly front end loaded, and though this band speaks deeply to me, I can definitely see the second half of the album dragging for others. Wolf Sun is the only track on this record that I feel does not belong, due not only for not standing up with the rest of the record, but also thematically and atmospherically throwing the album off somewhat.

All in all, the peaks of this album are palpable, chilling, and indelible. Fen comes as close to perfecting the crescendo as one could expect in metal. I could rate this in a strictly dry, song by song, detached manner, but that not only insincerely forfeits the subjective reality of the listener, but also ignores the auxiliary, somewhat intangible qualities of music. (Atmosphere, historical importance, art, seminal influence, viscera, emotionally compelling, Identity, etc) This band and album possesses something much more precious than mere track-by-track compositional strength; (there's no lack of that here, mind you) in a world awash with tired archetypes and endless competition, this group truly has a distinct and unmistakable quality - Their "own sound". This album stands firmly on its own individual merits, but like all things exemplary, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. More importantly even than that, for the listener, this album is a deeply moving experience, and will always remain with me. I'm uncertain I could confidently claim this is Fen's best work to date, but I can resolutely state that it contains some of Fen's career highlights thus far. Overall, it falls short of the teleological perfection of its implied theme and ethos, (due to a track or two holding it back, or throwing off the overall sound) but the climaxes it achieves are distinguished, graceful, and undeniably moving.

Recommended Tracks:
Hands Of Dust

Stuck in the Limbo of Ambience. - 60%

Crank_It_Up_To_666, March 23rd, 2015
Written based on this version: 2013, CD, Code666 Records

Fen’s latest full-length, Dustwalker, dives into the action so quickly that for the first song you feel as if you’re playing catch-up – the very first track, ‘Consequence’, opens not with an attempt to build moody ambience or lay the foundations for a towering feeling of grandeur, but instead launches straight into the shrieking and buzzsawing and blasting. This is hardly the territory Drudkh have been carving out of late, you say to yourself, and for a few minutes, that actually seems to be a genuinely exciting and refreshing proposition…

‘Consequence’, an icily savage song and an easy highlight, is an opener of rare power, with a fine balance achieved in the production between a clear sound and the sorry old ‘rough edges’ that are the black metal prerequisite. Between melancholia and ferocity Fen are perfectly positioned, and yet after this song, the rest of the record simply cannot match up. We still haven’t gone to the Drudhkian realm of course, but instead we are caught in the Limbo of Ambience, and we are well and truly stuck there.

Your humble scribe is perhaps giving Dustwalker an unfair lambasting, because it is a thousand miles from being bad. Indeed, if a little nihilistic soulgazing is your thing then this is essential listening; the only misstep is ‘Wolf Sun’, which is quite possibly a pop-punk track recorded completely by accident. The otherwise almost entirely ambient and acoustic songs like ‘Reflections’ and ‘Hands of Dust’ are undoubtedly fine-crafted mood pieces in their own right, the mood (of course) being remorselessly dour. But that opening track is so forthright, so balls-to-the-wall, so out of character for a genre that seems lately to have put aside its straight-ahead, aggressive aspect… is it wrong to wish that ‘Consequences’ had not merely set the tone but defined the piece?

{Originally published: Soundshock Webzine, 15/11/2012}

Serendipity in splendor - 95%

MetalDeity, April 12th, 2014

Fen's Dustwalker has sadly remained an unnoticed masterpiece, overshadowed and superimposed upon by many an albums of inferior rank and range. And where numerous releases have indeed earned their reputation and attention rightfully, they still remain subordinated and subjected to this magnificent monolith of acoustic, post-rock passages interwoven and juxtaposed with sections of aggression and anguish, with crescendos and culminations of supreme , sublime beauty. An obligatory, inescapable listen to any respectable art lover.

The groundwork laid on two previous releases provides a steady and sturdy substrate of both riffs and overall compositional rhetoric, and whereas some sections entirely escape the definition and conception of metal in general, being constructed entirely of isolated chords, keyboard sections emanating soothing, soporific notations, very prominent and perceptible bass juggling, and, naturally for such a conglomeration of styles. dual, or better yet multiple contrasting vocals , alternating and differentiating between a very coarse and crude mid-pitch growled rasp,and more dreamy whisper, to some manly cleans and some very calm, serene recitals. Indeed, the vocal aspect is one of the most readily recognizable here,as it deviates from any particular modern norm in metal, drawing upon numerous disparate and divergent techniques, textures and tactics of delivery. The production is organic and rich, as it allows all the timbre to shine through, and is only polished enough to allow all the layers of instrumentation and vocalization liberal and lavish participation in the construction and continuation of the musical idea.

And do they do precisely that. Riffs are unpredictable,having very catchy grooves about them, erupting unexpectedly but seamlessly into more explosive and eccentric moments and episodes, only to metamorphosize once more into eerie, entropic actualizations. There is an opulence and affluence of riffs throughout, and tracks that in my view particularly provide for this generosity in riffing are „Consequence“, „Wolf Sun“ and „Walking the Crowpath“. And as splenetic and erratic some rhythmic deviations appear to be, there is a definite underlying sense of direction and discipline anchoring them to the central, cyclic focus of the album: one of Nature, and human inseparability from it.

When one calls an album associated with black metal uncompromising, this immediately imprints ideas of unabashed savagery and Satanic abhorrence into the mind of the reader, but here it is a case of pure aesthetic vision, of an unadulterated, accomplished saga for the realization of a mental concept. The entire composition exudes professionalism, proactivity and prestidigitation rarely encountered at such magnitude and mastership, and is only to be commended and recommended. 9,5/10

The only music on Earth. - 97%

IcemanJ256, November 18th, 2013

Fen keeps proving more and more that they are the best metal band I've discovered in the past three years or so. That may not say much, because I haven't been getting into metal as much as I used to 5-10 years ago. However, each one of their releases, hands down, blissfully surprises and captivates me. I get hopelessly hooked on it for weeks, if not months, as if no other music existed on Earth.

I think Fen are some of the best at merging two completely different genres and making it sound easy and natural, while somehow ending up with a sound that's completely different from both genres. I'm talking about black metal and post-rock, but wait. Some metal fans hate the term post-rock, I know. I only use the term because I can't really think of anything more appropriate. I'm referring mainly to their experimental, complex, long, winding style of songs - maybe this is actually more similar to progressive rock. Seriously, while they "mix" both of those genres, it sounds like neither of them at all. Agalloch is probably the most similar band I can think of, but they really don't sound like them too much either. I guess I can hear sort of a "sludge" sound hidden in there too, like Isis and Pelican. In fact, I would say they sound much more like those bands than your traditional black metal bands like Emperor, etc.

This really is one of the most atmospheric metal albums I own without any cheesiness. I really feel like I'm on a rocky coast with waves crashing, under an ultra-gloomy, overcast sky and rain pouring down nonstop. I have a tendency to listen to Fen on rainy days, but that doesn't mean it's some ultra-depressing cheesy Goth metal or anything. The sound here is very organic, and remains very heavy despite all the atmospheric parts, which seem more like jam-session type segues at times. It's amazing what they can do with only guitars, bass, and drums; there are no keyboards here like on the past two albums, but I don't miss them. Anyway, this is easily one of the best albums of the year, and one of the best bands of the decade.

The earthy kin of "Epoch". - 90%

ConorFynes, February 4th, 2013

Around this time two years ago, Fen offered its second record to date, "Epoch". Adorned with an inconspicuous blue cover and coming from a band I had then-heard very little about, I would never had predicted that it would become one of the most powerful experiences I'd ever had with metal overall, let alone any of the specific sub-genres listeners claim the band fit into. Boasting a style fusion of atmospheric black metal and post-rock popularized by some North American bands (namely Wolves in the Throne Room and Agalloch), Fen put their own twist on the tried-and-true formula, evoking an atmosphere like few I'd ever heard before. To this day, I've considered "Epoch" one of the greatest black metal albums to come out of the contemporary period, and it comes as no surprise, then, that "Dustwalker" was, and still is an album that inspires quite a bit of excitement in me. Although it may still be too early to tell how "Dustwalker" will ultimately stand against its near-perfect predecessor, I can't think of a better album to have started 2013 on. It's a rich, darkly beautiful exploration of the feelings between hope and despair, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's just as impressive by year's end.

Especially considering the effect "Epoch" has had on me, it's only natural to have approached "Dustwalker" wondering how it would stand up to the one before. Although albums have been cut from the same proverbial cloth, there is the sense that Fen wished to reinvent themselves here, however subtle the changes may be. While "Epoch" gave the impression of an air, or aether-based album, "Dustwalker" offers an earthier experiences. Many of the superfluous background synths have been taken out of the mix, now replaced by a greater focus on clean guitar tones. Although the emotional emphasis on melancholia and sober reflection has never faltered within Fen's formula, the way they convey the atmosphere feels far for natural. Rather than "Epoch"s experience of soaring lonesome over a dark forest, "Dustwalker" plants you beneath the tree canopy, looking from the roots up and feeling all the more insignificant as a result.

As one may imagine, Fen's black metal aspect has become grittier with this earthy atmosphere and production. Even so, Fen's style seems more rooted in post-rock aesthetic than ever. Although the distorted guitar tones have been kept true to organic form, there's nothing about the sound that grinds against the ears; it's a rare case where I would call a black metal album beautiful from the classical aesthetic. Much like Fen's past work however, "Dustwalker" enjoys a fair deal of cinematic complexity birthed by an influence in progressive rock. Most of these tracks linger around the ten minute mark, and there are ideas enough to keep each of them vibrant and engaging throughout. Among these, the first three tracks ("Consequence", "Hands of Dust", and "Spectre") are the best things the album has to offer. "Consequence" takes a more progressive approach to songwriting than previously seen from the band, whereas the second and third opt for a slower-paced, 'cinematic' feel. "Spectre" may very well be the greatest thing Fen have ever done, opening with warm acoustics and brittle-yet-tender clean vocals, before ultimately building up into an almighty climax that has never lost any of its staying power. The second half of the album follows a similar stylistic direction, but it never feels quite as memorable and emotionally perfect as the first three tracks.

Although it has higher highs than "Epoch", "Dustwalker" is not quite as consistent as its predecessor. Regardless, Fen have successfully innovated their sound just enough to make this album take on a life of its own. It will be curious to see if any other atmospheric black metal band this year is able to knock off Fen off of their early throne. Ultimately, it will be up to time to decide where the album stands, but it's rare that an album leaves such an immediate, yet lasting impact on me. 2013 is now upon us, and it is sounding incredible.