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Fen as Fenster: “The Dead Light” Forever Shines Through the Glass of Memory

the dead light

A few years ago, photographer Paul Hart released Farmed (2009-2015). The book documents the modern era of The Fens, a 400,000-acre stretch along the coastal plain of eastern England. The reclaimed marshland, which has been plundered going back to Roman times, is now barren arable soil punctuated with old monasteries, overhead telephone wires, and the odd wind turbine. Through his black and white landscapes, it’s easy to see how Fen took their name from the region with its natural beauty and footprints of humanity dotting the terrain.

For the past decade, Fen have done their best to replicate the odd serenity to be found in such a place, to be a soundtrack to an organic, agrarian territory with the human spirit subtly yet indelibly implanted. On their latest album The Dead Light, they may have finally succeeded.

The opening notes of “Witness” have a pronounced David Gilmour feel, which is refreshing in and of itself since most post-metal folk prefer Syd Barrett, if Pink Floyd they must. The track ramps up ever so slowly, building to but never quite reaching a crescendo. That would come later in an album that feels conceptual even if it’s not.

The title track is split into two parts. The first is reminiscent of Angel Rat-era Voivod when they took on psychedelic trappings while still retaining the metallic elements that they cut their teeth on. Whereas the second is more of what Fen is known for — Frank Allain’s cascading riffs and Pete Aplin’s drums, a little heavier and smarter than what might be expected.

Adam Allain provides nimble bass work on “Labyrinthine Echoes,” which along with the increasing aggression gives the song a NWOBM feel though the terse, downtuned atmosphere and his muffled vocals quickly bring Fen back to the present. Those qualities are ultimately what Fen does best, so it’s smart of them to always find their way back to that sound.

There is no shortage of bands straddling the lines between black metal’s atmosphere and post-rock’s rigid repetition. On The Dead Light, Fen does far more than take the best of two genres. Instead, like those great Paul Hart photos, they make the rugged seem picturesque.

The Dead Light released last Friday via Prophecy Productions.

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