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Fen - "Carrion Skies" (CD)

Fen - "Carrion Skies" CD cover image

"Carrion Skies" track listing:

1. Our Names Written in Embers part 1 (Beacons of War)
2. Our Names Written in Embers Part 2 (Beacons of Sorrow)
3. The Dying Stars
4. Sentinels
5. Menhir – Supplicant
6. Gathering the Stones

Reviewed by on November 14, 2014

"...'Carrion Skies' succeeds on multiple fronts and gives some much-needed innovation and variation to the black metal scene."

Taking the ideas of previous albums and progressing them towards a different conclusion, Fen (the U.K. black metal one, not the Canadian prog rock one) showcases a mastery of more than one genre on “Carrion Skies.” Advancing from previous full-length “Dustwalker,” which placed black metal next to post-rock and occasionally blended the two together, this release features better transitions, a smoother blend of styles, and higher sound quality.

The track lengths (most around 11 or 12 minutes) should give a good idea that there's quite a sonic journey going on with “Carrion Skies.” Unlike many bands that do these extended song lengths, there's very little in the way of repetition and almost nothing sounds drawn out. Rather than repeating segments over and over, Fen switches between differing styles multiple times per song without skipping a beat.

Blast beat-laden U.S. black metal is of course present, but that can easily morph into melodic post-metal meandering, then into atmospheric instrumental segments that suddenly slow down into jazzy, lounge style compositions. The tracks freely switch between guitar-driven soloing and bass-heavy segments, with everyone in the band taking turns at leading the music.

There's a melodic, ethereal opening to the ten minute “Sentinels,” but you can't in any way judge any of these tracks by the first two minutes, because there's guaranteed to be multiple shifts in style along the way. In between the black metal segments, this track in particular keeps going back to trippy, almost psychedelic clips that are heavy on the atmosphere. “The Dying Stars,” meanwhile, switches gears halfway through into an epic and poignant guitar solo, creating a feeling of importance, like something with a grand cosmic meaning is about to go down. The strumming at the end of the track then has a mid-era Katatonia feel that's gloomy and understated.

That may all sound like a recipe for a chaotic mess, but all the differing segments are held together by absolutely seamless transitioning. You may find yourself digging the slow moving funeral doom and suddenly thinking, “wait a minute, where did that black metal go I was just listening to?” Seeing this live must be pretty spectacular if Fen can actually pull off these massive transitions between styles on stage without a hitch. As an in-home audio experience, however, “Carrion Skies” succeeds on multiple fronts and gives some much-needed innovation and variation to the black metal scene.

Highs: Amazingly smooth transitions between a giant range of sounds - from U.S. black metal to proggy lounge music that equally showcases all the instruments.

Lows: The massive track lengths won't work for everyone, and it seems likely with the giant range of sounds there will eventually be something that's not your preferred style.

Bottom line: Fen continues to play with differing genres, moving smoothly between fuzzy U.S. black metal to slow moving funeral doom to atmospheric and psychedelic instrumental passages.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)