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In a scene that once promised so much hope and once spawned some real gems of musical talent, intense originality and foresight (In The Woods, Ulver, Emperor, Fleurety to name but a few), black metal seemed to lose its way for a while, and became rather stale, with band after band harking back to its early ‘90s style and churning out re-hashed, unoriginal and too often appallingly-produced drivel, and some even still wearing corpse paint.. oh dear. Sure there are still some bands continuing this theme but, fortunately, thanks to the likes of Agalloch, Alcest and Fen, there is hope on the horizon, with their atmospheric, shoegaze/post-rock leanings, whilst still clearly having their roots in traditional black metal. Taking inspiration from the bleak, “windswept and desolate” flatland landscapes of the eastern English fens, and reflecting upon a gruelling time for certain band members, ‘Epoch’, the band’s second full album release, offers a relatively evocative, dark and reflective musical journey, interspersed with fragments of hope, with the bleak, grey watercolour of the cover art capturing perfectly this aspect. It’s also of note that, in addition to the standard release of the album, a limited 40-page artbook release is also available, comprising photographs of the landscape that inspired the music, and for those that still appreciate the importance of cover-art and design (over the rather detached MP3 formats that seem to be too-commonly favoured now); this certainly seems one worth getting hold of if you can. Title track ‘Epoch’ masterfully draws the listener in, with its initial slow-pace and vibrato-like guitar, prominent melodic bass, subtle cymbal-play and haunting, breathy keyboard lines, gradually building into an epic, raw, primal (and slightly Primordial-esque), minimal-note-change fast riffing with heavily tom-pounding drums interspersed with tight drum fills and emotion-filled growled screams. The track ebbs and flows between these two stylings before flowing seamlessly onto ‘Ghost of the Flood’, an initially faster track with a vocally more classic shoe-gaze feel. With all eight tracks being between 6 and 11 or so minutes in length, ‘The Gibbet Elms’, marks the longest track, and unfortunately one where my only minor gripe with the album commences… the mixing. Sure, I understand that professional production and mixing may not be an option financially for many bands, or even one that is desired by a band, and in a sense, the minimalist production of the heavier parts of the album fits it perfectly, but the drums on this track effectively mar a particularly evocative track, with a dreadfully brash snare sound that cuts far too noticeably and loudly through everything, and in many ways take your attention away from the beautiful melodic tones of guitar and bass going on underneath. However, this is just my subjective opinion and, in a sense, perhaps without it I wouldn’t have maybe appreciated one of the first things that struck me on initially listening to the album, the unique and impassioned drumming style. That aside, ‘Of Wilderness and Ruin’ continues in a similar vein, with gentle melodic guitars building into a fervour of layers and intensity. The initially slow, dreamy and typically shoe-gaze aspects of ‘Half-light Eternal’ provides an especially hopeful and light mid-point to the album, and one at high volumes that is easy to “lose yourself” in, even in its more intense moments. ‘Carrier of Echoes’ and ‘A Waning Solace’ follow on, with less of an emotive effect than previous tracks, however concluding track ‘Ashbringer’ provides a fitting, intensely melodic and epic end to this musical journey, with its haunting distorted solo guitar fade out. Melodic throughout, with subtle ebbings of light and shade, and skilfully embracing raw, primal intensity and haunting delicate beauty, ‘Epoch’ provides a further benchmark for the future of black metal, with Fen (and their counterparts) leading the way through the quagmire of drivel that has emerged from the scene over recent years.
Code 666
Review by Hannah Sylvester
14th February 2011
1) Epoch
2) Ghost of the Flood
3) The Gibbet Elms
4) Of Wilderness and Ruin
5) Half-light Eternal
6) Carrier of Echoes
7) A Waning Solace
8) Ashbringer
"...‘Epoch’ provides a further benchmark for the future of black metal, with Fen (and their counterparts) leading the way through the quagmire of drivel that has emerged from the scene over recent years."