Fen
Winter


4.5
superb

Review

by Alex Newton USER (49 Reviews)
March 3rd, 2017 | 108 replies


Release Date: 2017 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Fen is cementing its place at the fore of a black metal scene whose fans expect a more nuanced and, ultimately, transportive listening experience.

Fen is a black metal band from eastern England formed in 2006. Now four albums (and two EPs) into its career, the trio has begun to establish itself as not only a solid player in the atmospheric metal scene, but one of the genre’s leaders with its last two efforts. 2014’s Carrion Skies was a behemoth at more than an hour and 40 minutes – a magnitude that would cause most bands to crumble under jarring repetition – but was justified in at least most of that run time by strong songwriting and varied compositional techniques. While Fen touches upon a number of genres, including post-metal and doom, its willingness to branch out is particularly notable in the band’s overarching field of black metal, which too often sticks to a small comfort zone of buzzing guitars and predictable structures. The songs on Winter cover a large amount of sonic territory, from arrays of contemplative guitarwork and shuffling percussion to furious riffing and back, usually within the same song.

Fen’s fifth album is a highly conceptual piece, described by frontman The Watcher (article and all) as “the culmination of over 18 months of writing and rehearsing, pushing ourselves harder and harder as musicians…a lengthy and self-indulgent record for which we make no apology.” Winter is, of course, a popular topic for black metal bands, so the onus is on Fen to create a landscape that hasn’t been traveled countless times before. The most prominent characteristic of Fen’s music is the broad dynamic spectrum explored across each song. Opener “I (Pathway)” sets the template emphatically, as the band moves seamlessly between sections of Windir-inspired metal and more restrained moments of textured guitar interplay and uplifting clean vocals. While plenty of acts utilize this dichotomy, Fen’s deft songwriting lends exceptional balance to the array of styles as the songs ride drummer Havenless’ ever-shifting rhythms. A few unusual time signatures even work their way into the mix, bringing to mind previous effort Carrion Skies’ opening statement.

Much of Winter’s success lies in its soft, expansive sound cultivated by producer Jaime Gomez Arellano (Altar of Plagues, Primordial, Ulver). “III (Fear)” begins with a laid-back jam led by bassist Grungyn, while additional instruments slowly join the revolving riff until Havenless signals for the song to begin in earnest via booming tom-tom rolls. It’s easy to overlook how seamless these transitions often are, as the full breadth of the mix is explored whether there are just two instruments in play or several layers over chaotic blast beats. “I (Pathway)” features hazy tremolo-picked guitar in the background, while clearer interwoven lead lines guide the song through its many twists and turns. Some moments work better than others, of course – the sudden break eleven minutes into “IV (Interment)” feels a little awkward sandwiched between two high-energy runs, but at least provides a landmark before the song slowly decompresses into doom metal out of the Ahab playbook.

The next song, “V (Death),” wanders into the album’s primary shortcoming. While it comes at a point in which Winter – now approaching the hour mark – could really use a singular moment, it is instead largely content to meander between mid-paced riff ideas that extend the song without building much momentum. Each motif is plenty interesting in its own right, but even the best albums suffer from the law of dimishing returns, and Fen may be better served in saving some material for a setting when it can shine on its own. That said, clean vocals (sounding very much like Ghost Brigade’s Manne Ikonen) bring some flavor to the song, and the aformentioned singular moment finally arrives in a luscious instrumental outro which sets up “VI (Sight)” to finish Winter in grand style. Four minutes of ambience opening the song are a welcome breather, even a breath of fresh air, as the piece works its way to a pummeling climax (fans of Isis’ post-metal classic “Carry” may feel a familiar rush).

Winter is a surprisingly easy overall listen, which is a testament to Fen given the magnitude of the project at hand. There’s a somber grace with which the trio crafts each song, accentuated by an organic-sounding mix courtesy of Arellano. Now in its second decade, Fen is cementing its place at the fore of a black metal scene whose fans expect a more nuanced and, ultimately, transportive listening experience. While the band is exceptionally long-winded and may benefit from tightening things up, it’s hard to earnestly complain about there being too much material on an album with such a high compositional floor. Winter certainly achieves the band’s stated goal of presenting “a journey towards sanctity and redemption across a landscape steeped in mystery, hints of forgotten darkness and sorrows long since drowned in the distant past.” Here’s to hoping that Fen’s journey continues into more such lands, either forgotten or uncharted entirely. If this is the logical conclusion to Fen’s first ten years of existence, then it’s probably safe to expect something just as enthralling the next time around.



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user ratings (186)
Chart.
3.9
excellent
other reviews of this album
Gameofmetal STAFF (4.8)
A perfect marriage of the delicate and the vicious, the vulnerable and the fearless. Fen's genre def...

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Chapter 8 - A Winter For The Soul...



Comments:Add a Comment 
pedro70512
March 2nd 2017


4167 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Official video - "II (Penance)": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OenMFgZGE94

Official stream - "I (Pathway)": https://fenuk.bandcamp.com/album/winter



As always, feedback and thoughts are appreciated. First posted at The Sonic Sensory.

zaruyache
March 2nd 2017


18093 Comments


vote 4 pedro

Hawks
March 2nd 2017


52296 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

So pumped to hear this. Band has always been consistent, but Carrion Skies is a 5 for me hard and I'm hearing great things about this one.

Digging: The Body and Full Of Hell - Ascending a Mountain of Heavy Light

Xenorazr
Contributing Reviewer
March 3rd 2017


1051 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

I'll have to check this out.

teamster
March 3rd 2017


2179 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

My favorite band on the planet right now. Cannot wait to listen to this. This write up got me pumped. Excellent review and thanks.

Digging: Viscera - 3 | Release Yourself Through Desperate Rituals

Sevengill
March 3rd 2017


7516 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Your fandom is in good hands teamster.

Digging: Grafvitnir - Keys to the Mysteries Beyond

RustCohle
March 3rd 2017


194 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

The masters of atmospheric/progressive black metal are back, stronger than ever!

Very nice review.

Digging: A Night in Texas - Global Slaughter

DarkNoctus
March 3rd 2017


10104 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

winter IV is /so/ good, oh my god



this album is really great

Digging: Aetherian - The Untamed Wilderness

Evokaphile
March 3rd 2017


6502 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Ayy so pumped

Digging: Less Art - Strangled Light

DarkNoctus
March 4th 2017


10104 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

may bump rating, i'm astounded at how this band just keep getting better and better

Evokaphile
March 4th 2017


6502 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Damn eh. Carrion skies is top shelf stuff for me cant imagine what thisll be like. Now.. Just gotta find a working leak or wait till release

Sevengill
March 4th 2017


7516 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Original leak was at GetMetal, according to HasItLeaked

DarkNoctus
March 4th 2017


10104 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

i got a flac from a private tracker

Evokaphile
March 4th 2017


6502 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah the getmetal one didnt work for me unfortunately. Beyond google searches idk where else to look

Hawks
March 4th 2017


52296 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I can wait 2 more weeks to hear it, just gonna make it that much sweeter.

Sevengill
March 4th 2017


7516 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

and it'll almost certainly stream before then. you've already got like half an hour of music with the two singles haha

Hawks
March 4th 2017


52296 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Ughhhhh so much shit to check.

zaruyache
March 4th 2017


18093 Comments


"Beyond google searches"

slsk slsk slsk

Evokaphile
March 4th 2017


6502 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Dont snicker at the techno-peasants... Its uncouth

teamster
March 5th 2017


2179 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I am actually going to purchase this.



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