Review Summary: Chapter 7 - The Shores Of Albion
In March of 2016, Britain's post-black metal stalwarts, Fen, announced a sudden split album release with, in their own words "the enigmatic Russian post-black metal project Sleepwalker". Putting aside uncertainty over Sleepwalker's precise stylistic background, I sought to provide a review of a hitherto seemingly inaccessible recording, one that, even a year later, appears to be nearly non-existent for listening online. Nevertheless, being the collector of this splendid group that I am, I managed to import a copy from the Russian label itself. It seems that you'll simply have to take my word on this, or purchase a copy yourself (which you should, as Fen deserves it, and they're doing a starting project a real solid here).
Not knowing what to expect from the unheard of Sleepwalker, and, lacking any information on the group, I presume this may very well be their first work. As one might expect form an unheard of underground band from an unheard of underground label, the instrumentation and production is bare bones, but earnestly so, and seeks resonance over ferocity or bedazzlement. The three tracks present are all instrumental, so lyrics and vocals are absent, leaving emphasis on the foreboding instrumentation. Endearingly amateurish, chilling plucked strings, basic dark ambient atmospherics, and the use of pace, and the spacing between ideas to draw out the tracks and draw the listener in, making the most of the present elements. This is a haunting low to mid tempo, mostly clean release. Distortion is sparing, and used climatically. The tone is perhaps best fit for a chilly night, reading or writing (how fitting). Admittedly, it is, as mentioned, rather basic, and not terribly distinguished, but it's a split record that few will unfortunately ever hear, and I wouldn't judge it with the temerity of a full length release. The first track sets the resonant, paced, chilly tone. The second track is a purely ambient stretch, reinforcing the eeriness of the experience, and the final track a reflective farewell, setting the stage for one of Britain's finest.
On the back story of this release, Fen offered this, from their official social media: "‘Stone and Sea’ presents three interlinked songs relating to the crumbling coastlines of Eastern England and the restless spirits that dwell beneath the relentlessly hungry dark waters. This material sees us harking back to our musical roots a little, presenting a more direct melodic black metal approach with some definite folk influences.". The opening track of this interlinked piece, and the highlight of this split release, is the excellent "Tides Of Glass". Tides bubbles to the surface with an enticing riff before bursting forth into playful progressive charms, not unlike Dustwalker material. As the percussion builds and begins driving the track, we're met with the pummeling blasts of (what would be) the chorus (if Fen truly made use of any). The intensity is ground to a pensive, doomy halt, before slowly building back into the progressive weaving, until finally giving way to the foreboding instrumental interlude (which not unlike Carrion Skies instrumental sections) title track. Fen round out the release with a feel-good, triumphant jaunt, featuring building layers of clean vocals, giving way to some tasteful departing chords. All in all, it was interesting to hear a more melodic, structurally progressive take on the kind of water-aesthetics we've seen from Fen in past. Fen proves, even on releases that sadly few will ever hear, that songwriting has become a second nature excursion for them, and that they've clearly found the confidence of a band who knows their strengths, yet is entirely willing and capable of growth. Cheers to all the lads, and to Fen for helping out a hopeful up-and-comer.
Tides Of Glass
Stone And Sea
The Last Gravestone