When it comes to unsung bands in any genre, there will always be more than we can keep track of, much less have the time to write about. Fen is one such group that deserves the spotlight and I’m doing my part to highlight a band that has been consistently putting out great music for quite some time now. Monuments to Absence, their latest effort, finds them in some new territory and with sharper weapons that have been in their arsenal since the beginning. Post-black metal tends – very intentionally – to spread itself into a lot of sonic crevices and the balance that artists in this space strike is one of the most interesting parts about the genre. Will they lean into the black metal tropes or will they throw any semblance of tradition to the wind and embrace the atmospheric side of things more fully?
The joy of listening to an album like Monuments to Absence is the ride. Fen have the tools in their black metal shed to build just about any kind of edifice to despair. From layered clean vocals to crackling wretched screams and borderline death metal growls, all are used when they deem necessary. The flexibility of their vocals allows them to pair these varied approaches to different ideas when it comes to instrumentation to create tension and dynamics through either harmonizing with the vocals or creating a contrast. This works best when weaved seamlessly throughout a song like on the title track. This nine-minute song is a bit of a showroom for what the band can bring to bear and the song itself is an emotive journey that can tug you back and forth from one emotive range to another without batting an eye.
Given the title of the album and the structure of it, this record feels like more of a collection of short stories than one longer narrative. Each of the eight songs are usually between seven to almost ten minutes in length and have their own amplitude and tonal palette to play with. The intensity of “To Silence and Abyss We Reach” contrasts strongly to the follow-up “Truth is Futility”, which takes a much more somber approach with more of a focus on groove and cleaner vocals taking the stage far more often in the beginning. But as Fen is often want to do, things continuously are moving and shaking and it doesn’t take long for that intensity to return. I have said many times that what can make an album great is how dynamic a record is. Giving the listener a moment to breathe, to build anticipation, and to be left wanting more are all attributes that I think can take a good album into ‘great’ territory. Fen are masters of this.
When it comes to complaints with the record, there are a few small ones. I’d love to hear the drums pop a little bit more through the mix as they feel a little muffled to me throughout my many listens. Also, clocking in at around 68 minutes, this is a whale of an album that, while not too long, can be a lot to get through and on some days could be a little bit much to chew. If you’re up for it, however, this is an album that is indeed rewarding to listen to from start to finish as the finals tracks, “Wrecked” and “All Is Lost”, are some of the best on the record.
Fen have a knack for weaving together great albums using their unique skill sets and that trend has continued on Monuments to Absence. This is a lush album that, while it may stray into being a little too lengthy, is well worth the time if you have it. This year has a been a little quiet on the post-black metal front and it’s nice to have one of the stalwarts of the genre come forward with a fantastic offering that will rank among their best releases.