Fen - Dustwalker
Code666 Records
Atmospheric Black Metal
7 songs (62' 18")
Release year: 2013
Fen, Code666 Records
Reviewed by Andy

Somehow through some unfortunate accident I missed Fen's latest full-length, released back in January. The oversight is my loss; Fen's nature-inspired post-black metal has always been good, and Dustwalker is no exception. Slightly heavier but keeping the subtle admixture of black metal, post rock, and nature-inspired bleakness, Dustwalker makes for a great listen with very little to complain about.

As far as I can tell, this is their first LP without a separate keyboardist; this time it's original members The Watcher and Grungyn, with a new drummer -- and no keyboards. With blackened vocals and a slow, ringing chord introduction, we start with a more traditional black metal song on Consequences than Fen, which has in the past produced a lot of softer tunes, often delivers. But they still produce the haunted, forlorn atmosphere they did on their previous albums, and amid the hook-filled melody of The Watcher's guitars one can hear a separate melody from Grungyn's bassline, as he harmonizes with the guitars instead of just following along with the primary melody the whole time. Hands of Dust is the exact opposite -- it's soft and gentle, with a lot more of the clean-vocal moaning they've done in the past on top of quiet guitar arpeggios, but builds up halfway through to a harsher, buzzing distortion and black-metal shriek/whispers somewhat similar to those of tour-mate John Haughm of Agalloch, and only keeps getting heavier until the last few seconds of the track when everything quiets back down again. Spectre is more of a traditional Fen sound, clean vocals and a lot of clean guitar work throughout, just on the edge of overdrive and occasionally tremolo-picked, while Wolf Sun is a return to heaviness and has the fastest tempo on the album, with fiercely growling vocals on a palette of guitar that sounds even more echoing than usual.

All in all, even though there are still plenty of quiet and reflective moments on this album, the removal of keyboards from the Fen sound has made everything louder and heavier. The wistful atmosphere of loneliness and regret still permeates everything they do, especially on The Black Sound, in which The Watcher's guitar practically sobs and wails through most of the track, but unsurprisingly, with the quietness of the music left to the not-so-tender mercies of a metal guitarist, even the parts that probably would have been soft with a keyboardist in the band are still pretty fierce, if not absolutely blistering. This, however, doesn't hurt the essential nature of the music at all; in some ways it makes it better, as at the end of The Black Sound, where the echoing, chorused guitar riffs start quiet, but, accentuated by the drumming, get harder and faster until the end of the track. Walking the Crowpath makes for a pretty magnificent end to this one as well, containing all the elements in previous tracks as if summarizing the entire album; arpeggiated, dream-like melodies, almost dipping into major keys and accompanied by grating spoken word parts towards the end, give way to rough handling of the listener's ears by the drummer and vocalist until the end.

This one's a slight change in direction for Fen, but overall I think a good change. If one admired the band strictly for the melancholy nature of their sound, without caring too much for the heavy, blackened parts, this might be a turn-off; but most black metal fans will probably, as I did, greatly enjoy Dustwalker.

Killing Songs :
Hands of Dust, The Black Sound, Walking the Crowpath
Andy quoted 89 / 100
Other albums by Fen that we have reviewed:
Fen - Winter reviewed by Andy and quoted 89 / 100
Fen - Epoch reviewed by Charles and quoted 88 / 100
Fen - The Malediction Fields reviewed by Charles and quoted 80 / 100
Fen - Ancient Sorrow reviewed by Alex and quoted 83 / 100
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