Maintaining a level of prolificity that never feels rushed, Fen are named for the low-lying agricultural marshlands of East Anglia from whence they originally came and subsequently draw influence for their unique brand of progressive post-black metal. Forming in 2006 and releasing debut album “The Malediction Fields” to critical acclaim in 2009, they now unfurl their sixth album in barely a decade.
Though previous albums have sourced lyrical inspiration from a more earthly domains, “The Dead Light” looks further afield, and according to the press release “revolves around the search for knowledge, symbolised by our upward look to the stars”. The songs too appear more streamlined in construction, getting to the point quicker without sacrificing any of the considered organic reflection that the band are renowned for. It’s too early to say whether this a sharper focus on “the riff” is a plus or a minus point, but fair to observe that melody and atmosphere are still in abundance regardless.
Opener “Witness” has a gentle, melancholy introduction to ease the listener in. This slowly gives way to tremolo picked chords, harmonised chorus and restrained percussion building up to a crescendo, changing key at the last moment to segue into the more urgent sounding “The Dead Light (Pt1)”. This jolts the listener with a jagged riffing and rhythm changes more akin to Akercocke and Voivod, though with considerably less dissonance.
“Nebula” is more in the traditional vein of what we’ve heard previously from Fen, customary melodic introspection juxtaposed with faster savage passages, all pinned together by an undercurrent of optimism. “Labyrinthine Echoes” most evidently embodies Fens new embrace of “the riff”, with traditional heavy rock passages nestling themselves nicely amongst progressive structures. Those craving a more abrasive black metal sound will delight in “Breath Of Void”, which opens with blasting percussion, pausing for breath midway before tearing off faces once again with considered riffage and double-kick bass drums.
Never a band to rest on their laurels, “The Dead Light” does see Fen marginally evolve their sound in a more experimental yet simultaneously tighter direction, managing to introduce more spacious atmospherics and trickier rhythm chops. My only real criticism is that the vocals appear slightly too low in the mix, not achieving enough “punchiness” for my liking. Nonetheless, “The Dead Light” is another quality addition to an impressive aural compendium, illustrating once more why Fen are so highly revered in the progressive black metal community and beyond.