Fen
Winter


4.8
classic

Review

by Brett Tharp STAFF
March 15th, 2017 | 172 replies


Release Date: 2017 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A perfect marriage of the delicate and the vicious, the vulnerable and the fearless. Fen's genre defining moment is upon them.

Bluntly put, Fen aren’t going to win any brownie points for brevity on Winter. The album, their fifth to date, is a monstrous thing, clocking in at around seventy-five minutes all said and done. Furthermore, it matches the scale of its runtime musically, an ebbing and flowing atmospheric black metal behemoth packed to the brim with agonizingly patient builds and apocalyptic crescendos. Winter feels like a journey, and it was clearly meant to be to judge by the well-worn “roman numerals instead of normal track titles” gag. So, I believe them when they say that Winter is “a lengthy and self-indulgent record for which we make no apology”, a quote taken directly from the album’s Bandcamp description. But you know what? It’s so damn worth it, clichés and self-indulgence aside.

It’s hard to say precisely what happened between Dustwalker and Carrion Skies to result in such an abrupt shift in quality, but who’s complaining? With one swift stroke, England’s brightest post-y, folk-y, blackish underground forerunners jumped from three records of brazenly whatever material to focused, memorable black metal on Carrion Skies. Winter continues that trend triumphantly, making for the career defining masterwork that Carrion Skies fell just short of becoming. Where its predecessor was jammed full of songs that caught your attention and didn’t let go, Winter feels like a culmination of artistic growth into one intensely ambitious creation. Taken, once again from the album’s Bandcamp description, The Watcher (yes, they’re one of those bands) summarized the direction of the album as wanting “to return to the roots of the band”. I don’t really buy that, since their earliest material could often be boiled down to average Agalloch worship. Winter just feels new to me, one of those rare records that melds its influences just right, nailing that perfect middle ground of post rock, shoegaze, black metal, progressive rock, and whatever else you might be able to hear in the mix (there’s a lot).

If there’s one thing Winter doesn’t have going for it, it’s that the songs aren’t as individually distinctive as those on Carrion Skies. That’s not to insinuate that they’re not memorable, the album doesn’t lack in that department by any means, but it’s true that the album is meant to be heard in one sitting. Everything flows into the next piece elegantly, but there are plenty of alternately explosive or delicate moments to wonder at. The bookends prove to be the most individually impressive, “I (Pathway)” being both the longest and most varied track on display. It’s structured in a way more reminiscent of post rock, simply executed by way of black metal. There is a distinction in that, believe it or not. Most bands in this niche of post-y atmospheric black metal just flavor black metal songs with major keys, twinkly guitars, and wandering runtimes without really putting much thought into it. Fen do these things, but they’re handled more gracefully, properly building up to climaxes without ignoring the downtime afterwards. Conversely a few of the middle tracks, “II (Penance)” and “III (Fear)” go the opposite route with more emphasis on scathing shrieks and buzzing riffs. Likewise, there’s a graceful execution that sets them apart from the pack. The manic screams that lace the heavier moments are superb, slicing through the cacophony with precision and power. Soft chants and singing accent the calmer moments, like the somber intro to “I (Pathway)” before giving way to a positively electric explosion of metal.

While the core five tracks are an exhausting and absorbing experience in and of themselves, the closing track is shockingly condensed and focused comparatively. “VI (Sight)” is both the shortest track and the most straightforward in that it very clearly goes in one direction. It takes most of the first five minutes to progress through engulfingly beautiful ambience into a brief, and gorgeous, clean guitar passage. Yet when the wave hits, it hits with a fury only hinted at before. It’s the catharsis of the end, a climax and release after an impossibly tumultuous adventure. It fades with a similar suddenness to its arrival, several long moments of emotional upheaval and then a swift fall into fading sound. It’s a curious way to end things, but all said and done, Winter could end in no better way.

I don’t know where Fen go from here truthfully. Winter feels like that last masterstroke that leaves no room for return, and I don’t foresee a future where Fen top it, at least not anytime soon. But it’s also the kind of experience that, despite the sure diminishing of all future endeavors, is so good that you’re thankful to have experienced it anyway. Sure, it’s self-indulgent as hell and Winter is a singularly awkward title for a record that embodies nothing of that cruel, humorless season, but I’ll take the stuff I don’t understand along with the stuff I do, gladly and fearlessly.




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user ratings (128)
Chart.
4
excellent
other reviews of this album
Alex Newton (4.5)
Fen is cementing its place at the fore of a black metal scene whose fans expect a more nuanced and, ...

TheNemeton91 (4.5)
Chapter 8 - A Winter For The Soul...


Comments:Add a Comment 
Gameofmetal
Staff Reviewer
March 14th 2017


9923 Comments

Album Rating: 4.8

Took me longer than it should to get this out because words repeatedly failed me (read: I'm a lazy prick) describing this beauty



already have a contender for album of the year folks, gonna be a good one

TVC15
March 14th 2017


7820 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

This may end up being my first 5 of 2017

Digging: Ground Zero - Revolutionary Pekinese Opera, Ver. 1.28

Gameofmetal
Staff Reviewer
March 14th 2017


9923 Comments

Album Rating: 4.8

Same honestly

Hawks
March 14th 2017


48539 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Niceeee. m/



This is number 2 this year so far for me, don't think it'll drop below 5.

Digging: Full of Hell - Trumpeting Ecstasy

Gameofmetal
Staff Reviewer
March 14th 2017


9923 Comments

Album Rating: 4.8

What's your number 1 hawkz

Hawks
March 14th 2017


48539 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

The Great Old Ones bro, think it'll prob end up a 5 before long.

TheNemeton91
March 15th 2017


59 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Excellent review! I couldn't quite 5 this; Death has wonderful moments but feels unfocused, Interment has a gorgeous intro and outro, but is rather bloated, and, while I understand its abrupt end was conceptually fitting, I don't feel Sight ended in an emotionally satisfying manner, but all in all I'm amazed at how engaging this record is for an entire 75 minutes. Pathway and Fear are fucking incredible, after that, Sight and Penance. Honestly, I preferred some of the bonus tracks to Death and Interment. The Keening Soils is better than half the bloody album!

Moge
March 15th 2017


319 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

My favorite release so far this year, terrific review tho.



Feel like all the reviews for this have been great.

Digging: Obituary - Cause of Death

burningbeard
March 15th 2017


138 Comments


This year's Terminal Redux?

MarsKid
March 15th 2017


4612 Comments


You think Fen are gonna be the scapegoat for the whole damn machine?

Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit

Digging: I Would Set Myself On Fire For You - Believes In Patterns

Gyromania
March 15th 2017


22001 Comments


Terminal redux blows

Totengott
March 15th 2017


4099 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Very good review, amazing album.

Digging: The Ruins Of Beverast - Exuvia

Atari
Staff Reviewer
March 15th 2017


22395 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

a 4.8 hot damn

FullOfSounds
March 15th 2017


14976 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

can't wait to sink my teeth into this, the bass is so good. awesome review brett

Digging: TSVI - Sacred Drums

Evokaphile
March 15th 2017


3026 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Sweet review

Digging: Signs - Skin Out

Moge
March 15th 2017


319 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This album deserves more attention

RustCohle
March 15th 2017


163 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Great review, this record is on repeat here, loving it soooo much

Digging: Cult of Luna - Years in a Day

JasonCarne
March 15th 2017


791 Comments


About to give this thing a listen, sounds like they've finally tapped into that potential I felt they've had for years.

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necropig
March 15th 2017


2522 Comments


AMG is the only negative review I've seen so far

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LambsBreadCrumbs
March 15th 2017


26 Comments


I used to actually kind of like AMG. They have been slipping as of late



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