Review Summary: Follow the perennial light…
goes without saying that black metal has had quite the run circa 2019. While bands like Falls Of Rauros, Saor and Can Bardd may have dominated the year’s earlier hype, there’s been no shortage in acts producing more quality material (in varying degree) as 2019 continued and now that we’re in the year’s closing month there’s still a few acts popping out of the woodwork. Fen’s The Dead Light
helps close the current decade on a high, but unfortunately fails to achieve the same status of the acts mentioned above. For whatever reason, Fen has always maintained a second tier relevance in today’s music. Chances are it’s due to the band’s soundscape that comes straight from the Agalloch handbook, inserting a few pages of Alcest-ian nuance and the a-typical stereotype of highly atmospheric black metal itself. With that said; The Dead Light
is a more than traversal slab of forward moving black metal that suffers from the occasional light hiccup released too late in the year for most die-hard fans to care about as they draft their end of year lists.
At first listen, The Dead Light
is a simplified version of the band’s previous music, keeping true to the roots that defines the foundations of black metal’s “prettier” hybridization of post, black and doom that occasionally teeters on the edge of shoegaze (without falling into the trappings of combining the two). Compared to the band’s previous records, The Dead Light
has a more airy, spaced out fluidity than that of Winter
or Carrion Skies
and brings back the natural feel found in the debut and Epoch
. The record’s opening track, for example (“Witness”) offers a steady climb, nodding to pointed clean vocal passages and cascadian riffing. There’s a progressive styling to the instrumental effort, but everything stays where it should… preventing a misstep in rushed climes. The two-part title track is especially impressive as far as second wave black metal goes. By leaning heavily on the guitar melodies and driving, bleaker rhythms the band combines the more Alcest-y (loosely) shoegaze harmonies to take a centre stage while acknowledging the music that came before it (particularly in the album’s opener).
At times the music tries to meld some of its initial lofty jaunt into driving grooves that disparagingly displace the feel of the crescendo the band often creates, but these are little gripes to be easily looked over as the lush post-progressive sounds that joyously throw themselves through the speakers. The hard-working style of Fen often come to the surface. The juxtaposition of the two-part titular to the spacey “ Breath Of Void, and again to the grace of the album’s closing piece, “Rendered In Onyx” which offers positive, refreshing atmosphere as it lunges through emotion, melody over simplicity.
Wholly, there’s a lot a listener can take away from Fen’s 2019 piece, but compared to the rest of the year’s offerings within the genre it falls short. Don’t get me wrong; Fen have shown themselves to be one of the hardest working black metal groups in modern times - they’re just outgunned by some truly impressive acts.