Thursday, August 4, 2011

Fen- Epoch (2011)

Every post black metal band seems to have their own take on how these genres come together. On their sophomore release “Epoch”, Fen takes a notably mellow approach to the style. While there are some black metal riffs (mostly inspired by Enslaved's more progressive albums) and screeched vocals, there is no real black metal spirit to this album. Fen is just too even keeled to dive into the dark depths of black metal. They are also too mellow to reach the cathartic heights of post rock. Their aesthetic is derived much more from the dense, reflective sounds of fellow Northern Islanders such as The Cure and My Bloody Valentine. This music is heavily inspired by the dense, grey atmosphere of the region—thick and heavy, like a calm and steady flow of rain. 

Unfortunately, Fen lacks what make those other bands so special. There is a real lack of direction in the songwriting and little punch in the melodies. While the songwriting is far from the conventional pop song structure, it fails to captivate. The transitions pass by, virtually unnoticed, like one grey cloud followed by another. This is actually quite amazing, since the transitions can be pretty vast. Fen often shifts from a soft passage with clean vocals into a metal passage with screamed vocals, but oddly enough, the transitions make little impact. The band seems emotionally stuck in neutral, so whether it’s heavy, soft or something in between it has the same plain feeling.

Melodically, the album ranges from pleasant to monotonous. Throughout the album there are scattered some nice clean vocal passages, such as those in “Ghosts of the Flood” and “Half-Light Eternal.” These soft passages are what Fen does best. The heavy passages just are not their forte. They all blend into one another, failing to make an emotional impact. Fen simply lacks the attitude and fire needed to making moving metal.

The album starts stronger than it finishes. The opener contains a nice series somber post rock riffs with looping percussion a la Godspeed You! Black Emperor. “The Gibbet Elms” consists of a slithering guitar line and interplay of raspy growls and Pink Floyd style vocal harmonies. Unfortunately the last few songs are long and uneventful. The album becomes burdensome, wearing out its welcome.

When it’s all said and done, Fen do not have a lot going for them other than atmosphere and a few decent melodies. The musicianship is good, but not great. The metal riffs are derivative and lack the right attitude.  The clean passages are nice, but honestly nothing you cannot live without hearing. Like a being stuck inside on rainy day with nothing to do, “Epoch” is a fairly forgettable experience.

Overall: 4.5/10

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