Review Summary: Chapter 1 - Centuries Of Solitude
"I close my eyes and drift away..."
Welcome to the earthen splendor of "Ancient Sorrow", Fen's first official release. Recorded in the summer of 2006, and released over a year later in the autumn of 2007. I've searched my mind and heart for the most appropriate adjective that captures the essence of Fen's overarching sound and spirit, and, in truth, the word itself isn't even in the English language. "Hiraeth", to which there is no direct English translation, is a beautiful Welsh word that refers to a very specific emotional phenomena - in essence it is a longing, a mourning, or an abstract homesickness for a perceived past time, state of being, or home. In Wales this refers to the wistful emotions associated with a cultural longing for the poetic Welsh past. (As if the EP's own title wasn't clear enough!) Fen's entire ethos unmistakably exudes this quality: a vague yearning for, and mournful eulogy of a perceived past, through the eyes of mortal men, animals, and the enduring impersonal perspective of the passing of time - so beautifully captured in the vocalist and guitarist's alias, "The Watcher".
"I watch the Crows drift across lightless skies..."
More to the point, with three robust tracks, clocking in at twenty-eight minutes in length, the scope of this EP and the depth and atmosphere of its content is rather substantial. Ancient Sorrow's highlights are strikingly resonant and lasting for such a young band's premiere, like few things I've heard before or since. Arriving in confidence,"Desolation Embraced" imposes it's reverberating warmth and cavernous howls upon bleak marshy landscapes (further explored in "The Malediction Fields"), climaxing in a memorable midsection, and finally winding back up it's earthen roads, returning home.
"The Gales Scream of Loss" pierces the air with a grave, mournful chill; it's humming, searing riffs and rousing keys paint a vast and reflective atmosphere, gradually forming a hypnotic hold over the listener. The song builds so effectively that the four minutes absent of vocals feel brief and engrossing, and three quarters through the experience, the howling wail of The Watcher will send chills down your spine. Immersive, pensive, lamenting, and bordering on emotionally exhausting, Gales is sincerely one of my favourite songs of the 2000s, and endures as a staple of the band's live setlist. By contrast, the final foreboding offering explodes with an abrasive and tumultuous edge, serving as the longest song on this outing, though doesn't keep pace with the captivating prior two tracks.
To be frank, I never expect to be blown away by an EP. EP's are typically a transitional splurge of leftover or experimental ideas bands have in between proper releases (or sometimes, in the case of this release, they're simply abridged albums). Nevertheless, Ancient Sorrow not only earns an identity of its own amidst Fen's wonderful discography, to be entirely blunt, the first two tracks are as strong, or stronger than anything from their full length debut, and some of the group's finest work to date. In summation, this EP is a compelling debut and standard to set, sowing the seeds of Fen's sound we would see blossom on future releases. Ostensibly, if not for the final track, which is neither deeply moving nor intolerable, this release would be as close to the mark of relative, thematic perfection as one could expect. The first two tracks are a "100%" experience. Needless to say, a strong recommendation and a promising outset from an exceptional group, and one of my personal favourite EPs of all time.
The Gales Scream of Loss