Fen- Carrion Skies

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fen first came to my attention with 2011’s Epoch, which was a stunning combination of harsh black metal and melodic post rock textures. It was an easy album of the year candidate, and less than two years later the band would follow it up with Dustwalker. In between the two releases the group had lost their keyboard player and transitioned over to creating melodic and harsh soundscapes with just guitar and bass. 2013’s Dustwalker was another stunning release, and placed even more emphasis on the post/progressive rock side of Fen’s sound. I wasn’t expecting another quick turnaround between albums, but here we are near the end of 2014 and Carrion Skies is just about to be released. While Epoch and Dustwalker took a little bit of time to sink in, Carrion Skies had an immediate impact me and I found myself hitting the repeat button as soon as the hour run time had come to an end. The soaring melodies and walls of harsher, chilling black metal have been further integrated than ever before, and the result is a must listen from a band that only gets better with every recording.

Dustwalker saw Fen offering some of their trademark coldness and harsher tonality, but the emphasis on the majority of the album seemed on exploring much warmer, earthier textures that had more of a progressive rock influence. On Carrion Skies this direction has been continued, but the harsher and mellower elements are even more intertwined than before. Rather than splitting up these two sides, each of the six songs moves seamlessly between them and provides plenty of twists and turns. Far too often black metal of this type is focused on a single climax, building up layers of melody and harsh distortion to achieve this. But on this album Fen often builds to multiple climaxes throughout each song, and it isn’t uncommon for the ending point to be completely different from its beginning. This is where the progressive elements seem to have been amplified, as the material feels like it is taking the listener on a journey and continually providing them with a cohesive narrative through its instrumentation. Carrion Skies also has even more hooks than before. That’s not to say that Fen’s previous work hasn’t had riffs that immediately drew me in, but the difference here is that every single song has a moment that instantly grabs my attention and makes my jaw drop. Sometimes this is a softer section that hints at calmer reflection, or the sudden chilling blast that starts off “Menhir- Supplicant”, but there’s always some element of the instrumental work that is truly stunning and reaches a level of atmosphere and sheer emotion that few bands are capable of.

The vocal work has been one of the elements that has drawn me further into each Fen album, and this continues to be the case on Carrion Skies. Previously the group had utilized a considerable amount of clean singing, which matched the shift towards post/progressive rock on Dustwalker. This time around there is a noticeable return to the harsher screams and shrieks, although the clean singing does reappear during some of the softer sections. It’s an appropriate move, as the screams seem even more intense than before and you can feel the emotion in each word during their peak level. The unpredictability of the clean/harsh sections also makes the vocals feel more dynamic than before and this makes a significant difference. In recent years Fen’s utilized clearer production values that have brought the screams out of the walls of sound and made them one of the most prominent elements, and this has continued to benefit them on this release.

Epoch and Dustwalker were both albums that I would consider to be some of the best out there in the years they released, but Carrion Skies is without a doubt my pick for the best full length to come out in 2014. Fen has taken the colder blasting black metal riffs and atmospheric melodies of their previous works and merged them together with even stronger songwriting, resulting in an effort that is truly engaging from beginning to end. With each album this band has taken another step forward towards their own identity within the black metal spectrum, and with this one they have broken through completely. It’s rare to find material that’s able to touch upon both black metal and post/progressive rock while creating their own distinctive sound, but Fen’s managed to do so and the fact that they’ve been able to release four incredible albums in the span of five years is a testament to their ability as songwriters. Whether you’re drawn in by their somber melodic passages or destructive blasting, Fen’s latest will likely maintain its hold on you for quite some time.

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