Fen dig up roots while pushing universe of black metal with riveting mammoth opus ‘Winter’

At first, this week seemed like a terribly unfitting time to have a visit with winter. February was unseasonably warm around here, so much so that trees and plants started to bloom. But before we knew it, the coldness returned with a vengeance, and winter has us in its sights this week as it prepares to lay waste to the East Coast of the United States.

So, it turns out the timing was perfect to visit with “Winter,” the stunning new record from English black metal band Fen, who are one of the most ambitious and thought-provoking bands in the sub-genre. Seeing that this is the English three piece’s fifth record, the band—bassist/vocalist Grungyn, guitarist/vocalist The Watcher, drummer Havenless—decided to go back and dig up their roots that initially fed this great machine. At the same time, they also have branched out their sound even more, incorporating prog, doom, and atmospheric shoegaze into their sound, creating a greater, fuller Fen. That transformation backward and forward is very apparent on these five songs and generous 75 minutes in run time, easily their beefiest release to date. If you’ve been along for the ride since 2009’s “The Malediction Fields” or just caught on with 2014’s “Carrion Skies,” you’re bound to enjoy and overindulge in this journey that just bursts at the seams with goodness.

The mammoth “I (Pathway)” starts the record, a 17:08 epic that begins in the midst of cold guitars, gazey melodies, and the call of, “All will fall,” sung almost solemnly. From there, the pace picks up, as roars explode, and the band heads into grisly, yet proggy, terrain. Later, strains of elegant playing stream down, while black metal chaos rips from that, with wrenching growls scathing before the song trickles out in a dose of calm. “II (Penance)” jars you right away as it tears away at the senses. Harsh growls and compelling playing light the way, while a prog-fueled bassline bubbles, and a dose of crunch ends up in watery strangeness. Out of that, the cut explodes again, with odd voices warbling, the rhythms pulsating, and the track burning away with intensity. “III (Fear)” has the bass flowing into a hazy atmosphere, letting the song set its temperature and slowly build itself. Once the track unloads, harsh wails and constantly changing tempos greet you and push you in multiple directions. As the cut progresses, the band crushes hard, the song washes over what it destroyed, and a hugely melodic ending sends final sparks flying.

“IV (Interment)” runs a hefty 14:52, and it starts cleanly, almost beautifully, as if serenity is about to stretch itself. Hulking charging then emerges, with vocals that soar over the din, and then growls and punishment meet and tear things apart. The track has times where it’s both airy and vicious, with the call of, “I have nothing left to give,” hitting home and swelling your chest. From there, the drums decimate, destruction explodes, and the cut comes to a calculated finish. “V (Death)” is another monster at 12:41, and it’s flooded into from “IV,” leaving it simmering in a sound bath before all is blown to bits. The playing is as strong as anything else on the record, as a tidal wave of emotion surges and becomes the dominant trait. Some gothy parts are mixed into the stew, while melodic steam, further adventures into prog, and a conversion from savagery into beauty is smeared over the song’s back end. Closer “VI (Sight)” has a soothing beginning, with a synth cloud hovering overhead, sax notes drifting, and the song fully blooming about halfway through. Clean singing and thorny growling mix together, as strains of death metal rear their ugly head. The final moments of the song do nothing to soothe any wounds, as the intensity and barbaric fury leave a litany of gashes and blood streaks.

Winter may be ready to loosen its grip on us at some point, but Fen are making sure that frigidity lasts a little longer with this massive record. “Winter” is recommended to be a full-album experience, which asks a sacrifice of your time, but that journey’s ultimately worth it. Fen’s world keeps expanding by leaps and bounds, resulting in a spoil of riches for anyone who consumes their music.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/fenofficial

To buy the album, go here: http://www.auralwebstore.com/shop/index.php

For more on the label, go here: http://www.code666.net/

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