Examples can be found in the annals of metal and rock of unusually long albums that either seemed to be calculated displays of pretentiousness or were simply the result of laziness, with a lack of care and focus producing an experience destined to defeat its listeners through an attack of tedium. In the same ways, some books have been written that were so rambling, self-indulgent, and bloated that only students forced to read them in a class could claim the dubious distinction of reaching the end.
But some long works of music and literature earn the demands they place on our time; the length feels necessary, not only because the inspirations of the artists genuinely demanded it, but also because the pleasure of the experience for listeners and readers would have been materially diminished with anything less.
And that brings us to the music of Winter, the new album by FEN that it’s our pleasure to bring you today in advance of its March 10 release by Aural Music/Code666.
Winter is more than 75 minutes long, divided into six sections. Its inspiration has been described in this way by FEN’s frontman, The Watcher:
“With Winter, we wanted to ‘return to the roots’ of the band so to speak but not in the clichéd, nostalgic way many bands do. Instead, we wanted this record to represent the ‘essence’ of FEN in terms of tone, atmosphere, and above all, concept. This album therefore very much describes a journey towards sanctity and redemption across a landscape steeped in mystery, hints of forgotten darkness, and sorrows long since drowned in the distant past. It represents the culmination of over eighteen months of writing and rehearsing, pushing ourselves harder and harder as musicians –- it is a lengthy and self-indulgent record for which we make no apology. Indeed, it is a fitting tribute to mark ten years of the existence of FEN.”
We can appreciate The Watcher’s humility, but this really isn’t a self-indulgent album, at least not in the way that term is usually understood. It doesn’t come across as selfish excess. If it’s “self-indulgent”, it is so only in the sense that it indulges deeply felt emotions, memories, and creative impulses of the selves who made it. It’s ambitious in its reach, of course, seeking to capture the sensations of ancient landscapes and near-mystical revelations, but FEN’s ambitions haven’t exceeded their grasp.
Every song is its own journey, every one of them drawing the listener not only through musical reflections of changing landscapes but also through a labyrinth of changing moods, and of course a spectrum of sounds.
While the spine of the music is atmospheric black metal, in its fully fleshed-out form it’s very much a prog album, intricate and rich in its textures and elaborate in its ever-changing instrumental variations. The drums will blast, the guitars will swarm, and the vocals will claw at your throat in abrasive snarls and impassioned cries. But the harsh, savage energy in the music is more than counterbalanced by other elements that become kaleidoscopic in the cascade of their sonic colors.
Soft and mystical reveries made of crystalline arpeggios and the shimmer of reverberation rise like mist across a cold moor. Enormously compelling drum rhythms strengthened by the deep pulsing thrum of the bass cause the blood to rush, like veins of life deep under an ancient ground. Twisting and turning instrumental escapades, veering and vaulting flights of fretwork extravagance, and complex percussive interchanges spin your mind in a swirl. The music will hammer your head and jolt you all the way down to your feet, but it can just as effectively send your imagination off into a daydream about a place you’ve never visited and may only be visualizing for the first time.
There is tension and collapse in the music, dread and delight, the coil of fear and the comfort of faith, if only perhaps the faith that the magic of the land will outlive us. Cold doom and old hauntings shroud segments of these songs; a deep chill seeps into the bones at times. At other times, the music catches fire, blazes like a bonfire, blinds like the the glare of the sun parting the clouds and striking a plain of winter frost. It is somber and self-reflective, boisterous and brawling, thundering with power, and mystical in a way that casts spells.
Trying to map all the ways in which the music changes over the course of these journeys wouldn’t serve much point. What might matter more is to say that despite the considerable distance the music travels both in time and in the range of its emotional resonances and instrumental and vocal variations, the songs are cohesive, and that might be the album’s crowning achievement. Everything seems to belong, and to integrate and unfold in ways that are fascinating, natural, and wholly immersive. Many minutes will pass, but if you’re like me, you won’t be counting them. By the end, you’ll wonder where the time went, and be glad for the time you spent with Winter.
Winter was produced by Jaime Gomez Arellano at the Orgone Studios in London (Ulver, Altar Of Plagues, Grave Miasma, Primordial, Solstafir). The cover art was created by FEN bassist/vocalist Grungyn. The album will be released on March 10 in a variety of formats: standard CD, double black vinyl limited to 300 copies, and digital. To acquire the album, visit this location:
I hope you enjoy Winter as much as I have. In addition to the full album stream, we’re also including the video for “II (Penance)” created by Grungyn, which combines scenes filmed during the winter in the fens of Eastern England, interspersed with both live and rehearsal footage of the band.