August 17, 2020

Fen - The Malediction Fields (2009)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Black Metal
Style: Atmospheric Black Metal, Blackgaze
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© 2009 Code666
Reviewed by "Charles" for Metal Reviews.com
The Malediction Fields, the debut album from the UK’s Fen, is an impressive and varied exercise in light and dark, embracing both gloomy, misery-shrouded musical tunnels as well as the emotive pastoral gentility of prog and post rock forms. In terms of the emotional shades it conjures, the overall effect is less funereal depression a la Mourning Beloveth, and more grim sadness tempered by a sense of the beautiful, a la Primordial. In purely musical terms, however, its closest comparisons are probably those lurking on the outer reaches of the black, rather than doom, scene.Indeed, the basic style here takes the form that I suppose may be termed “post-black” metal; Fen’s staple is hoarse, Valfar-ish vocals that struggle to come to the fore against a slowly shifting wash of blackish guitars and string synths coloured heavily with melody, reminiscent of a more primitive Wolves in the Throne Room. As with much black metal, the blasting of the drums is at times by far the most kinetic musical element, generating an ethereal sound in which a percussive rage underpins a much murkier melodic heart. But throughout, a very heavy post-rock influence is also clear, as jangly clean guitar lines in the vein of Pelican compete for supremacy with the darker tones, frequently being given chances to breathe alone for longer periods. At times this can be truly uplifting, most notably with the very closing gasps of the album, the last few minutes of Bereft. After taking us to some very dark places, we are allowed to take in the light of day again in the record’s dying moments.
This type of music stands or falls on its ability to draw a melodic strength into the heart of its burning darkness, and in this respect Fen largely excels. A real standout is the opener, Exile’s Journey, in which the emotive steel of its slow-burning chord shifts is crystal clear in the midst of the surrounding metallic storm. The clean acoustic breakdowns in this track are extremely evocative, with simple, single note guitar lines repeating over nothing but silence, reminding me of the gentlest passages in Opeth’s Morningrise. At other points on the album, such as Colossal Voids, clean vocals and more conventional 4/4 strumming point heavily towards a more familiar proggy style close to recent Anathema or Green Carnation. This isn’t really the band’s element, however, and they sound more effective and comfortable when we return to the Wolves in the Throne Room meets Pelican concoction that they do so well. This isn’t to say that some of their eclecticism isn’t a welcome surprise, such as the almost Flamenco-style guitar solo emerging in When Buried Spirits Stir.
You get the feeling that this is a band that really has something up its sleeve that could electrify certain corners of the metal world in future. As it is, despite some possible instrumental or vocal weaknesses at times, this is an album that deserves a lot of attention. Recommended for admirers of the more depressive “post-rock” influenced corners of black metal, as well as those that more generally admire metal’s capacity to create mournful music with real emotion at its core.

tags: fen, the malediction fields, 2009, flac,