Review Summary: Fen continues to do the same thing that other bands are doing better, but with Epoch they show that with direction there may be something worthwhile buried beneath the mud of their insipid songwriting
The progression made by Fen since their debut LP The Malediction Fields
proves to be introverted and rather subtle, with their latest album Epoch
clawing further down into their niche of atmospheric black metal, post-rock and shoegaze. It’s this very identity that has drawn comparisons to such titans as Agalloch and Wolves In The Throne Room, but those who continue to shell out such labels may need to think twice. Epoch
, aside from its winding and heavily atmospheric structures that focus almost wholeheartedly on the darker and more surreal aspects of nature, is its own beast; drawing heavily from the sheer intensity of black metal while also leaving ample room for exploration into the ethereal soundscapes of shoegaze and post-rock to levels beyond that of their so-called counterparts in the metal scene. Whether or not these further elaborations add to or detract from the overall product is up in the air, but the flourishing ideas that are strewn about Epoch
show a band that is on the cusp of becoming something worth talking about.
The album is at its best when it doesn’t seem to be so intent on driving home a particular mood or feeling. The clean vocals feel contrived and too concentrated on creating serious emotion to realize they are doing the exact opposite- pretentious cooing by a vocalist whose aspirations far outweigh his vocal ability, a trait perfectly displayed during the first several minutes of “Half-Light Eternal”. On the other hand, the down-to-earth and true emotion portrayed during such blissful segments as the second half of “Carrier Of Echoes” is simply astounding and wholeheartedly real- these are the makings for something truly special. The entire album seems to rest precariously on this motif, one that is trapped on a thin ledge between utter mediocrity and greatness, simply needing a small nudge in songwriting and a more well-thought out sense of direction to propel Fen’s sound to the next level.
The same can be said of the more aggressive side to Epoch
, taking itself too seriously to integrate well with its laid-back and atmospheric backdrop. While far from being a waste of time, the intense black metal that riddles the album only partially acknowledges the fact that it isn’t the only sound present here. It’s as if the two are roommates who have exactly the opposite schedule- when one is at home the other is nowhere to be found and vice versa, with their few interactions both awkward and rather brief. The rasps of vocalist “The Watcher” are more than adequate; above-average, in fact, when compared to releases with similar influences. They are throaty and raspy, with an edge that blends well with the torrent of crashing drums and rumbling bass when the album picks up in intensity, making songs like “Ghost Of The Flood” noteworthy despite their clumsy attempts to work in the slower-paced aspects of Epoch
that comprise the opposite face on the same coin.
is so very close to being something truly incredible, but the problem is that it has one final, monumental step to take before such things can be claimed. Fen need to sift through their songs and their goals and intentions, and need to have the eye to realize what works well and what doesn’t. It’s almost frustrating in a sense that the moments of brilliance within Epoch
aren’t used to their full potential, and the precious balance between the calm and benign and the visceral and intense needs to be addressed with more focused and fluid songwriting. Yes, the faults contained within Epoch
are massive, but I can guarantee that the potential held somewhere within the minds of the members of Fen shines through enough times here to warrant a listen, if only to hopefully capture a glimpse of what the future may look like.