Fen - Monuments To Absence review
|Album:||Monuments To Absence|
|Release date:||July 2023|
01. Scouring Ignorance
02. Monuments To Absence
04. To Silence And Abyss We Reach
05. Truth Is Futility
06. Eschaton's Gift
08. All Is Lost
Fen have had a fairly explorative musical journey thus far, one that I’ve resonated strongly with very specific sections of. I don’t know whether my enthusiasm towards Carrion Skies above all their other records is representative of the wider Fen fanbase, but those that share my view may be encouraged to hear that I feel this is the band’s strongest album since Carrion Skies.
For those that are unfamiliar with the British trio, they built their initial reputation through an at-the-time novel combination of atmospheric/melodic black metal with post-rock; that might sound like blackgaze to the uninitiated, but The Malediction Fields came out back in 2009, before Alcest had dropped Écailles De Lune and before Deafheaven had begun to even exist. Since then, Fen have meandered within the broad confines of what one might potentially label ‘post-black’; some albums have veered more towards post-rock (Dustwalker particularly so), while others have found themselves rooted more in atmospheric black metal (see the 75-minute extravaganza that is Winter). Carrion Skies, and now Monuments To Absence, are albums that I feel find a bit more of a happy medium between the extremes to which the group have ventured before, but each has their own signature vibe as well.
The blood-red colour in the album artwork is indicative of the aggression that has been infused into this new release, both thematically (with anger at the futility of humanity’s rush towards self-destruction at the heard of the record) and musically. “Scouring Ignorance” kicks off the album with an onslaught of full-blooded black metal aggression, one that initially goes towards the lo-fi blasting heart of earlier music in the genre, but which eventually brings in group clean vocals, subtle melody and an increasing spaciousness to align with some of Fen’s established musical features. The second half of the song sees an increasing departure from that initial aggression towards a more melancholic atmospheric backdrop, albeit with a sudden surge of violence right at the end, and it’s those cleaner atmospheric hints that begin to make their presence in the fabric of the album’s composition clearer as the tracklist progresses.
The title track is quintessentially Fen; the group know how to write effective black metal riffs and pack plenty into this song, but there’s also dreamier passages featuring a compelling combination of melancholic instrumentation with touching vocal choirs. The other highlight of Monuments To Madness, “To Silence And Abyss We Reach”, also contrasts blackened attacks with stirring melancholia, but parts of this song perhaps owe more to blackgaze and post-rock; there’s some delightful soaring tremolo guitars that feature across the song in amongst onslaughts of blast beats. The conclusion of this song is particularly potent in its fusion of tender emotion and rapid black metal tremolo riffing.
Now, this is a Fen album, so obviously it’s not going to be a brief listen. While not quite at Winter levels, the 68 minutes of Monuments To Absence are not the most accessible, particularly with all songs (bar the positively bitesize “Scouring Ignorance”, which only lasts 6:30) running for between 7 and 10 minutes. As one might expect, there are sections of this album that suffer in memorability and fade into the background; I feel like “Thrall” is probably the worst casualty in terms of getting lost amidst its surroundings, even if the pagan-esque moments add a slight something different to it. The other section where my attention begins to wonder is the extended clean guitar atmospheric introduction to the closing track “All Is Lost”; this song does eventually make its presence felt during the ominous, layered closing minutes, but it’s a bit of a wait to reach that point.
Aside from that, this is a solid album overall. It has some semblance of variety to help distinguish these long songs; “Truth Is Futility” dabbles with slightly more esoteric ambience in parts, while “Wracked” has an immediacy to its melodic hooks. Monuments To Absence does lack the memorability of Fen at their very best, but it’s an accomplished release with a strong atmosphere to it, and a good balance of restrained extremity alongside more spiritually resonant passages.
||Written on 08.07.2023 by Hey chief let's talk why not|
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