Following hot on the heels of their acclaimed debut album “The Malediction Fields”, UK-based Black Metal act FEN's second work “Epoch” promises to deliver the same powerful blend of raw atmosphere and beauty that has made the band among the most promising of the up-and-coming Metal bands. Combining Post-Rock, Folk and Black Metal in much the same way as established bands like AGALLOCH and DRUDKH have done, these young Englishmen may have released the best album I have heard so far this year.
The style Fen plays is not largely unfamiliar for a fan of atmospheric Black Metal, but the way that FEN does it deserves all possible praise. Although a raw album at first glance, several deeply engaging, almost spiritual listens of “Epoch” really lift the veil to show the grace and dynamic of the music here. As can be heard on the album's first truly brilliant song “Ghosts Of The Flood”, FEN have quickly established themselves as masters of the dark/light contrast. Heavy and blistering guitars will erupt under the powerful rasps of The Watcher, before lowering into a smooth, equally melancholic but more melodic and beautiful quieter moment. Then, the Black Metal elements return once again, creating an absolutely enchanting wave of sound. While this formula has been made famous by such acts as OPETH a good twenty years before this, FEN's adoption of Shoegaze and overtly atmospheric mellow sections makes the dynamic really work for them, feeling much more than a mere gimmick to sound artistic.
From a largely instrumental and slowly building title track, “Epoch” eases the listener into their magical world through a title track that works more like an introduction to the rest of the album, moreso than a legitimate song of its own. Building intentionally to “Ghosts Of The Flood”, the title track makes the second song hit the listener like a slug from a railgun, but all in all, “Epoch” does drag on a bit longer than an introduction should. The fact that the album is a tad slow to get going is this masterpiece's only real weakness. While the use of clean vocals here is generally used beautifully in the context of FEN's Shoegazer elements, they do sound a bit weak and amateurish when compared to the epic growls the band displays on the heavier front.
While this is an atmospheric Black Metal album first and foremost, the album is made only more powerful and more evocative through its mesh of less aggressive sound. With such absolutely gorgeous depressive epics as “Half Light Eternal” and “Carrier Of Echoes” to grace my ears, I can only say that “Epoch” is a masterpiece, despite its small blemishes. Although the beginning of a new year usually feels void of truly excellent albums, I would not be surprised if FEN’s “Epoch” is seen near the top of the best Metal albums released in 2011.
(Online January 18, 2012)