Fen - _Epoch_
(Code666, 2011)
by: Kostas Sarampalis (8 out of 10)
I like being pleasantly surprised. Even more so, I really like coming across a band I had never laid ears before and speedily falling for their output. Such is the case with Fen. Just before the release of their sophomore _Epoch_, I stumbled upon their debut _The Malediction Fields_, a pleasant (if a bit lacking in maturity, which is fair enough for a debut) foray into a medley of black metal and post rock. _Epoch_ is definitely a more mature and complete effort than the first album. Combining the two styles together successfully is not an easy feat, however. What is a cross between Wolves in the Throne Room and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, could easily have been the ugly bastard child of DHG and Amy McDonald (though, on second thought...).

Fen's music can best be described as exploratory soundscapes with sudden and prolonged moments of focused aggression. The listener can comfortably slip in and out of the experience, meaning that the eight songs in the album can be as demanding as the audience wishes them to be. Pay enough attention, and you will find interesting nuances and details for a good number of listens before the album sinks in. Opener "Epoch" builds up on the calmness of the first minute and a half before very surprisingly turning into a tribal affair not too far off what Primordial did earlier in the day. Quite frankly, the song feels like an orgasm that almost never reaches its climax and is a very effective album opener.

Jumping immediately into the deeper end, "Ghosts of the Flood" starts off as a blistering black metal hurricane before later slowing down considerably and settling into an atmospheric mid pace that characterises a good chunk of this album. And so the album continues to unveil, not just alternating but merging the styles and paces, often abruptly (though rather skilfully and effectively). There are plenty more moments that stand out. The guitar riff towards the end of "Of Wilderness and Ruin", backed by repetitive but engrossing drumming and the final sang words of the track is sublime. "Carrier of Echoes" reminds me of sounds I fail to pinpoint with a name, yet surfaces a delicate feeling of nostalgia, before it picks up pace and offers a rather grandiose riff and then yet again turns its gaze into post-rock territories.

Personally I like _Epoch_ much more than I liked Agalloch's latest release (the albums tread similar trajectories). Perhaps Fen are still a young enough band (as in, a band still in it's early stages of development) that enthusiasm and ideas are still flowing strong in their collective. The clean vocals might not be to everyone's taste, but they are used appropriately, whereas the harsh black metal vocals are very emotive and at times agonisingly brutal. As the album wraps itself up perhaps it could have used a little bit more energy in its closing half, but I wish for this because I truly enjoyed the fast black metal bits in the album a great deal. The band need to focus their energy and songwriting a little more to produce a tighter result that balances effortlessly between the two genres and rid the occasional awkwardness. Overall, _Epoch_, while not yet a breathtaking effort, is a very good album and it makes me await the band's follow up in anticipation. Hopefully that one will leave me breathless.

Contact: http://www.myspace.com/fenband

(article published 25/2/2011)

2/14/2010 P Azevedo 8.5 Fen - The Malediction Fields
7/12/2009 D Cairns 8.5 Fen - Congenital Fixation
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