Fen // Dustwalker
Rating: 2.5/5.0 — “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
Label: Code666 Records
Websites: Facebook | MySpace
Release Dates: EU: 2013.01.21 | NA: 01.29.2013

I can’t help thinking that parts of Dustwalker would make a half-way decent soundtrack to Dante’s journey through the underworld. Maybe that’s because I’ve been stuck fighting the same damn beast for longer than I care to admit [it’s tough typing up reviews with one hand and operating my PSP with the other – cut a girl some slack] he’s freaking enormous (the beast, not Dante) and I’m so over listening to the actual game’s soundtrack – desperate times call for desperate measures – mute game – queue Fen’s apocalyptic offering, the oppressively dark, stripped down and desolate Dustwalker! Hailing from England, Fen have a mini CD and 2 well-received full lengths, all released within two years of each other beginning in 2007. With an established following and appetites whetted by earlier offerings, that tells me there’s quite a level of anticipation as to what 2013 will bring for fans of Fen’s brand of experimental, atmospheric, prog, post-rock flavored post-black metal. That’s a mouthful and a half! And at best, Fen’s brand of sound is closest to that of the broodiness of Agalloch and to some extent Ireland’s Alter of Plagues, Netherlands An Autumn for Crippled Children, Wolves in the Throneroom, Heretoir and a more recent favorite, the steam-punk infused A Forest of Stars.

Using my super-sleuthing skills, I discovered, Fen draw most, if not all their inspiration from the desolate, windswept, otherworldly landscape of England’s Fen region which is described as being “bathed in the cries of crows that wheel in the bunching storm clouds…” (this is sounding more and more like a journey into the underworld to me) and it’s this dark and ravaged image, one of detachment, isolation and of an abandoned hellish landscape that Grungyn (bassist) has managed to successfully depict in Dustwalker’s beautiful album art – by far my favorite part of the album [that’s never a good sign — Steel Druhm].

Dustwalker explodes with a whopper of a track, titled “Consequence.” This number held much promise for me, encapsulating the aforementioned elements of Agalloch and A Forest of Stars with complete success and it showcases both The Watcher’s versatility and skill on the strings (layers of sludgy, murky thick riffing one minute and pleasantly simple, stripped-down bare, naked acoustic passages the next) as well as his ability to convey woe and misfortune with choking shrieks followed by blackened whispers similar to those of John Haughm (Agalloch) that positively drip with spades of emotion.

It’s such a pity that the remainder of the album doesn’t continue in this vein. The tracks that follow “Spectre”, “Wolf Sun”, “The Black Sound” and “Walking the Crow Path” range in length from between 10 to 13 tediously long, drawn out minutes. The tracks are packed with Agalloch-ish guitar work and they flow from one to the next in a textured, dream-like state with long instrumental interludes and mostly melodic, harmonious clean vocals that do absolutely nothing to hold my attention – a bit like Opeth’s wrong turn with Heritage [that comment will trigger some serious nerdrageSteel Druhm].

Despite playing this album probably around half a dozen times or more, I must concede that it’s not growing on me and I see it as an inessential buy. Fen have made some interesting tweaks to their moody and mournful sound between this release and their previous offerings and I did find Dustwalker more interesting than its predecessors (mostly for The Watchers grim shriek, his particularly decent John Haughm rendition and his talent on the strings) but despite all that, there’s just nothing particularly “earwormy” (to quote Steel Druhm) or out of the ordinary on the album that begs one to sit up and take notice and hand over wads of cash in exchange for said album.

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  • Wit’s End

    I had the same initial impression as you, but on subsequent spins this album grew on me significantly. I’m a fan of most of the referenced bands as well; I have to respectfully disagree with you on this one.

    • Madam__X

      I hope it ends up growing on me also. Thanks for your feedback Wit’s End :)

  • Tanuki

    Fen is something I feel I should like but never have been able to. Sounds like this wont convert me. Also not to start the nerd rage, but heritage was an interesting album. Better than watershed at least :p

  • Mikell Czermendy

    It’s taken me a lot of listens too, but there is a very tight and and powerful aesthetic/over-arching theme going on here, and the progression of sound and mood over the course of the album is really something special. Also, the real last track, Epilogue, makes a big difference in terms of said progression; it ties all the sounds and moods of the album together and lays them on your ears beautiful, and I was able to understand and appreciate the journey of this album much better.

  • http://twitter.com/JackAsterson Jack Asterson

    I don’t expect pop-levels of polish in a genre like this, but the recording quality was terrible on this album.

    I get that they probably wanted a “harsher” sound, but Dustwalker sounds less “harsh” or “raw” and more “poorly recorded in a cheap sound studio.” It sounds like what you’d expect from an underground band that’s just starting out and can only afford to rent some cheap, low-quality local studio or a a basic setup in their basement/garage.

    So sad, because otherwise it’s a really great album.