Wed Jul 13 2011
Fen ’s first full-length, 2009’s The Malediction Fields, gave no indication that the band would be capable of greatness; it seemed like an early bandwagon-jump into atmospheric black metal, a scene that’s getting close to its saturation point.  But these Brits have come a long way in two years; Epoch mixes things up while taking a more melodic approach, layering clean rock and crushing extreme elements in a natural synthesis and using unique percussive techniques to distinguish themselves in this overcrowded movement.

Perhaps the most refreshing thing about Epoch is that Fen rarely feels the need to bludgeon the listener; the music is disturbing, haunting, punishing at times, but not exactly brutal.  The title track gets heavy so gradually, you don’t even notice how black it is until The Watcher starts screaming.  And that tremeloed guitar is so clean and beautiful, it’s still just barely metal.  But then “Ghosts Of The Flood” abruptly kicks your ass.  The crisp production, subdued strumming and patient, cymbal-heavy drumming are enough to make this music sound almost exotic in the black metal realm.  The middle section of the tune could be mistaken for Sunny Day Real Estate, an unlikely influence that pops up a few times.

Harmony vocals and strings on “The Gibbet Elms” are a really nice touch, but not even as nice as the economic chugging build that leads up to the climax.  This is epic songcraft at its best regardless of genre, and The Watcher’s tortured screams at the end of the song are shattering.  He is still finding his style vocally, occasionally resorting to faceless growls and muttering, and his clean singing is unremarkable, but on occasion he really shines.

“Ashbringer” is the most overtly Krallice-esque song from the get-go; apparently they wanted to drive the stake home with the most balls-out number, although it’s still got a lot of that rich, watery guitar going on and some orchestration that’s barely there, exactly where it should be.  The song ends with a killer Neil Young-sounding mournful guitar solo that could’ve gone on for a lot longer, but as it fades out it tugs at your soul, drawing you back in.  This is no classic, but it suggests Fen might have one in ‘em.
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