Review Summary: Atmosphere, melody, and brutality mixed together into a potent musical brew.Dustwalker
embodies a spectrum of moods and sounds that convey a rather compelling musical performance. It's a very meticulously arranged collage of atmosphere, melody, and brutality that exhibits an eclectic range of musical styles. Throughout the album, we witness Fen regressing back to the nature of their previous albums, while yet fusing them with a better understanding of themselves and what emotion they want to convey in their music. There's an array of genres and concepts present within the album as we continue to see Fen embracing an affinity for borrowing and breaking down whatever musical styles appeal to them, and then mixing them together into a potent brew of melodies and rhythms that go well beyond the average metal repertoire. In a nutshell, Dustwalker
retains the aggression of Black metal, while adding a delicate touch of ambience and euphony to their music. Certainly an elaborate plot to work with, but it's nothing that hasn't already been explored by other artists. There's a very conspicuous influence which can be felt throughout the album that is distinctively derived from other bands well within their musical vicinity, such as Agalloch, Negură Bunget, and Altar of Plagues who have all pioneered the various possibilities of connecting the charismatic essence of Black metal with outside influences like Shoegaze, Folk, Post-rock and even to an extent, Progressive rock.
A song like "Hands of Dust" really illustrates the overall musical concept of Dustwalker
. There's an array of different musical conventions uniting here to compose a sound that aspires to be as engaging as possible, and in that aspect, it succeeds with ease. "Hands of Dust" opens with an introductory guitar arrangement that is embellished with a graceful echoing dissonance, thus exuding an ambient allure to ease our descent into its ever-fluctuating musical realm. This is one of the many times in the album where the progressive influences are at their most consciously evident, because this whole song is a constant ascension to a different mood with every passing second, yet it tends to operate with rather contrasting dynamics in style. For example, during the song's dreamy shoegaze section in the beginning, we hear the vocals alternate from a soothing tone to a more frustrated growl, and yet the music remains well in its calming state. And it isn't until the latter portion that we hear any distorted riffs and relentlessly manic drumming, but even then, though discreetly lingering in the background, we can still hear the echoing remains of its initial ambient texture.
"Spectre" yet again reflects the band's affection for spacey musical environments, though this time they incorporate a more folk-influenced sound. The primary melodic framework of "Spectre" is exuded by a gentle acoustic arrangement, which is accompanied by an electric guitar that lets out a sonic wave of psychedelic radiance in the background. This is definitely one of the highlighting moments of the album because it is just such a beautifully composed piece. The vocals, especially, are sung with an exquisite harmony that really vitalizes the music with a graceful aura. The only flaw in "Spectre" is that it probably lasts longer than it should. After the vocalized section reaches its climax, the song arrives into an instrumental passage that dissolves among a haze of ethereal ambience. And as mesmerizing as these soundscapes may be, you will indeed find yourself noticing how needlessly prolonged this interlude gets after the first 2 minutes, which kind of makes "Spectre" lose some effect from its trancing spell, but overall it is still an exceptional piece. Depending on the preference of the listener, one may find that this sense of repetition actually works thematically with the atmospheric ideology of "Spectre", but Fen, whether consciously or not, tends to exhibit a lot of monotony and repetition within their other compositions, though to a less than inspired degree.
The final two epics, "The Black Sound" and "Walking the Crowpath", seem to surpass their state of relevancy long before they reach their end. Both songs clock in a little over 10 minutes, and within that time Fen embrace their metal attributes much more intimately than any other moment in the album. There's an excessive usage of slow tempos and heavy rhythms being deployed here that express an overall pessimistic sentiment, and though there are some invigorating riffs and bombastic drum rhythms to be found, that's all they really have to offer, lacking any sense of ingenuity to coerce our intrigue enough to eagerly hit the repeat button. "Wolf Sun", on the other hand, is the one and only redeeming song in the latter half of the album, and the reason for that lies in the one quality that "The Black Sound" and "Walking the Crowpath" failed to harness, an innovative approach. "Wolf Sun" displays a combination of alternative rock instrumentation with infuriated Black metal shrieks and raspy vocals. Of course, there is prominent usage of 'clean' singing throughout the song as well, but it is still very compelling to hear the two contrasting musical styles compliment each other in such an irresistibly harmonic fashion.
At its final moments, Dustwalker
can very well be considered an even further progression in style from Fen's prior efforts, The Malediction Fields
, one that focuses more on their Shoegaze and Post-metal influences rather than Black metal. For anyone that was hoping this would be the direction Fen would explore more after hearing Epoch
, then Dustwalker
will be an experience well worth your time. As I mentioned before, there's an impressive level of creativity being expressed in their songwriting here, particularly in the methods of combining their different musical influences in a way that is both coherent and appealing. This is definitely a 'fan-pleaser', and though it's merely an addition to atmospheric Black metal and nothing that is particularly revolutionary or innovative in the genre, it still makes for a truly satisfying listen to anyone willing to give it a try.