December 2, 2019 Fen – The Dead Light (Album Review)
The dark vibrancy of second wave Black Metal produced many offshoots, with hosts of up and coming musicians taking stylistic cues from the genre and offering a more angular, secular, progressive approach to songwriting that forever altered the limits of this form of expression. One of the prime examples of this new direction was Fen, who hail from the same area of England as can be found the flat moors of their namesake. On Friday, December 6th, 2019 they return once more with The Dead Light, their sixth full-length album in a fifteen-year history.
The Dead Light shines upon the world via Prophecy Productions and promises to be a bit more of a concise vision than prior offerings, as the trio of Grungyn (bass/vocals), The Watcher (vocals/guitar/synth), and Havenless (drums) weave their spells across eight songs clocking in a few minutes shy of an hour. This in mind, the slow build of opener “Witness” rises up in cascades of riffs, building to a gorgeous crescendo of double-bass drumming and psychedelic clean vocals. Nods to Enslaved and Pink Floyd should perk up the ears of Progressive Metal lovers everywhere.
When “The Dead Light (Part 1)” comes in, the band reveals a healthy penchant for guitar phrasing and different tones which once more conjure especially mid-2000s era Enslaved. Influence is the key word here, because while similarities exist, its not like the band is copying their Norwegian peers. The song is also reminiscent of the Crimson albums by Edge of Sanity. This is lofty company for Fen to find themselves in, and cheers to the English three-piece for not being content to throw together a Shoegaze-like mishmash of dusky, bleak riffs and call it an album. There is far too much energy and sense of spontaneity going on for anyone’s eyelids to grow heavy.
“The Dead Light (Part 2)” functions as a gorgeous illumination of the opening song, the rolling drums and buoyant guitar leads focusing down to a chugging instrumental run. Fen could write an album without vocals and it would convey just as much emotion. This isn’t easy, but they pull it off here with ease.
A song already making the rounds in their live circuit, “Nebula” dreams its way into existence via a mellow opening that features some placid clean vocals. Don’t get lulled though, because growls and blast beats insert themselves unobtrusively yet oh so effectively into the mix. Think Agalloch at their best. The album isn’t even half over at this point, and the listener has already been immersed, baptized into the art of Fen, and the massive “Labyrinthine Echoes” hasn’t even started yet.
What begins as a standard-bearer for the Post Black Metal style gets augmented by a those well-placed proggy parts, which by their very natures serve to jolt the listener into a state of anticipatory wakefulness. Speed and brutality mix with incredible bass guitar runs, and what results with “Labyrinthine Echoes” is worthy of high praise. The back quarter of the song is another example of pure emotion committed to tape, melancholy without sacrificing heaviness.
The storming howl of “Breath of Void” stands in contrast to the imperial loveliness of closer “Rendered in Onyx,” leaving the listener breathless and ready to start the journey over again. Fen manages to cram a host of influences into one album, calling to mind varying acts while still maintaining their uniquely English Black Metal feel. No dips in song quality can be detected, the band proving that they cannot be consigned to anyone’s notion of what genre or sub-genre they occupy.
For their lovely attention to detail, their ability to synthesize calm melodious pieces of songs against heavy and immersive backdrops, never feeling forced or forumlaic, this album has to be considered a serious success. That is why Cryptic Rock gives The Dead Light 5 out of 5 stars.