Fen’s been one of the most consistent bands over the past ten years, with each of their six full-lengths emphasizing different elements of the black metal spectrum while continuing to move forward. This year’s The Dead Light is no exception, with the band turning their attention towards the stars and writing material that feels a bit more direct and reigned in than its immediate predecessor. It may not feel like as big of a leap at this point in the group’s career, but they’ve refined their take on the genre to a science and once again offer hooks that are up there with some of the best the genre has to offer.
Make no mistake, calling Fen reigned in doesn’t mean that they’ve lost their atmospheric build-ups or stunning climaxes. There’s still a lot to take in throughout The Dead Light’s fifty-seven-minute run-time but considering that 2017’s Winter ran for an hour and fifteen minutes it does feel as though the band made a conscious decision to be a bit more direct in their approach. Given the change in lyrical content it feels appropriate that the instrumentation skews towards the aggressive, with walls of blasting and soaring riffs leading the charge once again with plenty of tempo shifts to keep listeners on their toes. Fen builds up considerably faster and transitions quicker than before, as even when they mellow out completely and provide softer melodies that have that distinctive introspective flair it doesn’t take long before they’re firing on all cylinders again. Admittedly it’s not a giant leap forward in the same way some of their earlier albums were, and long-time fans are likely to hear elements from across the band’s discography on The Dead Light. But they still have the hooks that pull you in right from the beginning and will have you returning for one listen after another, which puts some of the other atmospherically oriented black metal bands to shame yet again.
Over the past decade the group’s vocal work has expanded outwards in a similar manner to their instrumentation, with singing taking a larger role over the years. This has always given Fen more of a dynamic feel than some of their peers and has invited some comparisons to later period Enslaved. The Watcher’s raspy screams still dominate much of The Dead Light but the album also features some of the most entrancing singing passages they’ve ever reached on the track “Labyrinthine Echoes”. No matter whether they’re heading into clean or harsh territory, the vocals always soar above the instrumentals and command your attention as the lyrics head outwards into new directions. It’s familiar, but the performances have been refined over the past decade to the point that they can send chills down your spine from one verse to the next.
The Dead Light reigns in some of the longer track lengths and progressive feel of Winter in favor of some tighter build-ups and instrumentation that favors the aggressive side of the spectrum a bit more often. It’s an approach that makes sense at this point in the band’s career, and with some new elements added into the mix there remains plenty for newcomers and established fans alike to discover. When it comes to atmospheric black metal, Fen is still up there with some of the best and their latest is another worthy contender in this crowded year. The Dead Light is available on Prophecy Productions.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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