At what point do “influences” turn into “slavish imitations”?
There’s something spectacularly irritating in FEN’s commitment to the early 90’s pastoral black metal aesthetic and sound; something galling in the spacious, open production, the crackle and hiss that offset each other in the jangling distortion and brittle cymbal work, the faux-naif appalling keyboard sound.
Perhaps the bile is summoned by the fact that, within the hero-worship and ships chartered for a return to the Isle of Men, there are audibly great ideas in “The Malediction Fields.” Portions of “A Witness to the Passing of Aeons” and “Lashed by Storm” blossom out into genuinely uplifting whorls, riffage of grand proportion and blasted heaths. Regardless of how synthetically crafted it may be, there are brief glimpses of exactly how these cyclical rhythms can convoke ideas of the naturally sublime.
The vocals are nigh on ideal from start to finish – possessive of a reverb-soaked rusted rasp, they’re equally impressive when clean, especially utilised in an immature homage to the Ulver / Empyrium form of loose choral used sparingly in the album’s second half. More often than not they’re well placed and demonstrate a burgeoning ability to actually write songs, replete with an understanding of the importance of subtlety and contrast.
Frankly this ability calls the demeaning Casio constructions into further question. The bafflement is entrenched by a magnificently out-of-place and unexpected Spanish guitar solo that kicks in the wet wattle of “As Buried Spirits Stir”. Had this kind of liberated invention continued throughout, then this record could well be spoken of in terms of a golden-mugged Earl Grey award.
The unfortunate counterpoint to all this is that tracks such as “Colossal Voids” and “Bereft” are wetter than an otter’s pocket. On an unrelated forum, some prescient scribe once dubbed this kind of muck “blemo”, and, as with Alcest before them, it appears that FEN have confused emotional weight and depth with musically effeminate cloud-fancying. “The Warren” leaps head first into ill-advised limp post-rock territory from which it never properly returns, and every song seems to proffer at least one moment of absolute, lip-curling scorn.
Paradoxically, these weaker moments are as attributable to FEN’s predecessors as their moments of triumph. Even the best passages of “The Malediction Fields” lack that crucial flicker of originality; they remind you of more essential bands, bands who FEN themselves undoubtedly loved.
There’s a great danger that a potentially very-good band will be lost under the weight of predecessors who were immeasurably superior – predecessors who did not go out of their way to very deliberately construct albums that over indulged in genre-specific nostalgic hallmarks. This record will sell, but it’s arguably a regression from the promise of FEN’s “Ancient Sorrow” EP, in which the influences were all too apparent but ultimately forgivable.
That fans of the aforementioned pastoral branch of Black Metal endlessly search to hear something as affecting as “Yearning the Seeds of a New Dimension” again is hardly a criticism, but it’s hard to shift the feeling that bands such as FEN are trying to recreate a scene and a mood that they themselves admired but did not participate in. Whilst it’s poor form to knock FEN and their ilk for humanistic attempts to reignite the fires of natural, pagan Black Metal, it’s clear that records like “The Malediction Fields” are simply not gifted with the raw spark.
3.4 / 5 – Kev Tracey ::: 05/01/09