Review Summary: Ah, winter and epic journeys... seen it all before.
In these days and times black metal has become a rather stagnant genre. Great acts like Ulver turn away from their roots, others such as Agalloch only release sporadically while other such bands like Dark Funeral descend into clichÃ© and usually disband because the vocalist has been decapitated (or any other form of gruesome death). So where does Fen fit in with the ever expanding catalogue?
Well it is a rather tough question. On first impressions the music is of a black metal/ folk metal style. However the further into the album the listener picks up on the great level of ambience used within the song structures pointing to a more Totalselfhatred and Wolves In The Throne Room influence. The album is an amalgam of these two styles but it never adds anything new to these styles. The instrumentation is the same standard upon other albums of the genre. The lyrics are equally disconcerting with the already explored genres of long journeys, loss and nature. The band crosses the same ground laid by their forebearers but it stays in that comfort zone. It isn't totally a band thing as the album is very accessible because of it but it does leave the impression that the band were not taking risks.
Thankfully the variance and experimentation within the songwriting is far better. They attempted to break the quite rigid song structures that were present within Bergtatt. Whereas Ulver made distinctions between folk acoustic and black acoustic, Fen attempted to pull apart that rigidity through the use of ambience. The bridge of ambience allows for smooth tempo changes and flexible song writing. It yields some interesting and beautiful results. Beneath The Waves keeps a relaxed atmosphere throughout with the long, ambient keys. The atmosphere is ceaseless even when the vocals change from mournfal cleans to a lizard like rasp and the introduction of the electric guitars. The song is rounded off with a beautiful keyboard solo that fully completes it in nearly everyway possible
That said though there are times when the attempt to create an atmosphere of vast, windswept landscapes becomes smothered by the unbalanced nature of the musical layers. As Buried Spirits Stir and The Warren suffer from this with overbearing acoustic guitars, cymbles (particularly these) and ambient solos all in different sections of the song. The overbearing nature reduces everything to a distortion, a cacophonous fuzz of instruments. It is not so bad you cannot hear the instruments but it still lacks a level of precision, the cymbles being a particular issue since, nine times of ten, they drown out every other instrument apart from the vocals. This level of thoughlessness also extends to the song writing. For instance the intro of The Warren is simply a five-minute acoustic bridge. It is thanks to this that it renders this song near null-void. Smaller moments of error or misjudgement occasionally rear their heads with the vocals being out of tune within smaller moments such as short passage within Beneath The Waves. However the music flourishes in the smaller touches, little moments such as the adding of piano keys onto to the end of the guitars and the use of the little tremolo riffs that raise their head above the parapet within Lashed By Storm. It's that level of detail that helps make this an unoriginal but satisfying listen from a band who display potential but need to take a step into the danger zone with their next release.