Written by: MST on 06/06/2013 22:41:01

As I write this, the British atmospheric black metallers in Fen have recently returned from a long European tour supporting the mighty Agalloch. Fen no doubt deserved this supporting slot, having released two great albums in 2011's "Epoch" and the brilliant debut, "The Malediction Fields" from 2009. This year, the band returned with their third album entitled "Dustwalker", which continues in the vein of the previous albums with Agalloch-worship, atmospheric black metal and post rock being the obvious descriptors that spring to mind.

Right off the bat, Fen aim to impress with opening track "Consequence", a song that may as well have been featured on "The Malediction Fields"; intense riffs and blasting drums accompany the melancholically screamed vocals courtesy of vocalist/guitarist Frank "The Watcher" Allain in the majority of the 8 minute long track. Fans of the band's earlier works will find themselves right at home here. Mellow post rock tunes take over the soundscape in short interludes in some of the songs, or fill larger parts of certain songs like the delightfully lulling second track "Hands of Dust" or the magnificent third track, "Spectre". The biggest complaint I've ever had with Fen are The Watcher's clean vocals, which were absolutely awful at times especially on "The Malediction Fields". Allain is no Pavarotti on "Dustwalker", but it is clear that he has improved especially on "Spectre", a 10-minute epic that starts out sounding like a mixture of post-rock and classic rock. The soothing guitar melodies and cleanly sung vocals in both the verses and the almost 60's classic rock sounding choruses differ greatly to the rest of the record. When the vocals vanish about halfway through, the song gradually rises in intensity until it reaches a glorious climax with fantastic riffs and an atmosphere that many bands in the genre can only dream of creating.

You may have noticed that the three songs mentioned so far, the first three tracks, are the three tracks found in the Download-section below. Sadly, it seems as if the band's best ideas for this album have been put at the very front, because following those three songs we encounter half an hour's worth of meandering, forgettable songs that lull the listener in a very different way than "Hands of Dust" did earlier. The album had progressed naturally until this point, with every bend in the musical landscape leading into an equally fitting valley of melancholic greatness, but I'm having a hard time describing this second part of the album in any sort of colourful manner. "Wolf Sun" tries to follow "Spectre" with some easy on the ears, trying-to-be-catchy melodies that never quite feel right on the album, while closing track (before the epilogue) "Walking the Crowpath" almost returns to the "Malediction"-feel of the opening track. But it fails in that the atmosphere is inconsistent, as if the song doesn't feel like it belongs on the album. It also showcases the biggest annoying factor on the album: way too often, Allain utters lyricless screams that one could imagine should sound like painful screams, but most of them are terribly overdone, and because they keep popping up in almost every song it feels like Allain doesn't want the music on "Dustwalker" to stand by itself.

I approached this album hoping that it would be consistently good, like both of the band's previous outings. Listening to the album I immediately fell for the first few tracks, but after repeated listens I grew tired of the album as a whole as half of it sounds like a meandering band dissatisfied with the fact that they couldn't write more songs that were as good as the opening three. "Dustwalker" is not a bad album, but on the whole it disappoints compared to the consistently satisfying discography that came before it. On the other hand, Fen prove that they can write captivating songs incorporating more than one genre in the album's standout tracks. "Dustwalker" is far from completely useless, but for new listeners I suggest listening to the band's albums chronologically, because sadly the quality of Fen's albums have been on a slow but steady decline ever since that splendid debut of theirs.


Download: Consequence, Hands of Dust, Spectre
For The Fans Of: Agalloch, Alcest, Wodensthrone, Lantlôs
Listen: Facebook

Release date: 21.01.2013

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