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Interview: FEN – A stirring counterpoint to ‘Winter’.

Posted by Morgan Ywain Evans on Thursday, March 14, 2019 at 12:57 PM (PST)

 

“This is very much a standalone release that has its own atmosphere and really works as one long song.” – The Watcher.

UK Black metal/post-rock hybrid FEN are far too good to really simplify with such limiting descriptors. Regardless if you feel the alleged freedom inherent in “black metal” as a concept (which some people think ought to actually be quite restrictive) covers their sound adequately and wether or not you feel the over-used assumption that all “post-rock” is slow tempo Mogwai aping without the innovation is grossly lacking accuracy when it comes to FEN’s moving dynamics and kinetic emotional resonance, there is just no way to capture the power of what the band does in simple short genre tags. They are a mind blowing experience.

When I first heard this band a few years ago I felt like they had the emotional power to connect that the best Agalloch or Ulver material had but with a much more savage side. Also, the music takes an even greater deep dive into the sort of nature respecting weary yet awed exploration of humanity and the wider Universe in a way that, doesn’t sound much like, but connected with me in a primal way as much as a legacy band like Neurosis. They even cover some of the melodic vocal ground you might hear these days in a more progressive leaning band like Enslaved, while still staying a bit more rooted in the black metal sound than that band has become (no shade, love it all). But yeah…to put it simply, FEN are just really fucking sick musicians who also don’t lose “the feel”.

It was an honor to interview The Watcher about the group’s astounding Eisenwald MLP Stone & Sea. 

Read our philosophical exchange BELOW.

So the Stone & Sea release, correct me if I am wrong…these songs were originally part of a split? What made you decide to release them again on their own?

That’s correct, these songs were originally recorded for a split release in 2015 that saw the light of day in 2016. We were originally asked to contribute to this release and the timing was quite good – we were absolutely knee-deep in writing the most elaborate album we had considered to date and it was becoming a little bit obsessive. The opportunity to take some time away from this compositional process and put together a few songs with a totally different approach/atmosphere was a bit of a welcome relief.

We were also looking at trying out a new recording set-up with a friend of mine also so these songs would have represented a good opportunity to try that scenario out. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons this did not happen, however the wonderful Greg Chandler at Priory Studios was on hand to help us track these and once again deliver a splendid level of sound quality to the material!

There are actually a number of reasons why we have now decided to release our material for this split as a separate physical release. The first is that the label behind the split did very little to promote the CD – the response to it was very muted, there was virtually no coverage of it anywhere and very few people even knew it was happening. The second is that despite it being composed and recorded quite quickly, we were very happy with the outcome – it presents a different take on the earlier Fen sound and actually acts as quite a nice counterpoint to the Winter album. It was a bit of a shame that it hadn’t received a wider audience.

The final point is that Nico from Eisenwald was so enthusiastic about the material – he was incredibly impressed when he heard it and really expressed an interest in helping bring a vinyl release to life that does the material justice. And so the idea of putting these tracks out as a MLP was born – and given the quality of the final piece, we’re really happy this happened!

The songs still satisfy as far as taking the listener somewhere else, though I am used to immersing myself in your albums for longer as they tend to have more tracks. But sometimes it is good to ponder a lot of energy in a smaller dose. “Tides Of Glass” gives me the feeling of chopping waves and inner tempests.

Well, this material was only ever intended to be a few songs over a relatively short running time – at that point in our career, we had just put out an album that was over an hour long and were working a follow-up record that was getting towards being 80 minutes long! – so the idea of putting something together that was concise and ‘to-the-point’ was a novel concept for us. I always enjoy working to some sort of creative ‘brief’ if you will so the idea of trying to say a lot in about 20 minutes of music was an interesting creative challenge.

Is this serving as a stop gap of sorts before you work on your next full length? Your albums always seem like so much energy -soul, psychic, spirit and otherwise – goes into them. I find that your albums hold my attention song to song more than a lot of bands because the music really creates an entire vast mood more than coming off as like singles for marketing. It’s a world. Perhaps the doom band November’s Doom also does this for me at times, but your band certainly. Listening often feels like the soundtrack to being inside a great book. The almost classical acoustic and spare percussion of the title track is breathtaking.

It’s not so much a ‘stop-gap’ as it were – this is very much a standalone release that has its own atmosphere and really works as one long song. Thanks for your observations on how our albums work – we always try to ensure that there is a consistent thematic ‘flow’ across our records, both conceptually and musically. Even though ‘Stone and Sea’ is a shorter piece, that level of engagement and absorption is still important – the listener needs to be drawn into our world, to a grey-skied, windswept coastline where the dark seas claw at the cliffs and souls dwell restless beneath the waves.

Of course, we are currently working on a new full-length album as well and hopefully this will see the light of day in the second half of 2019.

So I understand you have a different drummer at present than on these recordings? How is that working out?

We have had the same drummer for nearly three years now – Havenless. Derwydd (our previous drummer) played on both Winter and Stone and Sea but had to leave the band almost immediately after the recordings for Winter were completed. We have played a large number of live shows with Havenless since and he has slotted in seamlessly – he is aligned with our vision as to where the music/concepts need to go and is also a big craft beer enthusiast as well which helps!

He has been on board for the whole creative process for our next record and we are really looking forward to finally entering the studio with him to forge the sixth Fen full-length opus. This will be the definitive statement for where Fen is in 2019.

I found out about you only fairly recently through a documentary on UK black metal bands and dove into your Bandcamp eagerly. And then was rewarded with a new album not very long after. And now this release. So it is very exciting, haha. You seem as a band more well spoken than some black metal bands, kind of more relatable as real people and less cartoony than some bands (no disrespect meant to many other bands)…just, Fen sort of have a mystique of being these real people who have tapped into a huge well of creativity. Agree? I mean, I love sociology. And why bands look or sound a certain way can be very interesting. Such as, you sort of were in the middle of nowhere and it shaped the style and presentation, correct?

Well, I guess we have always let the (rather well-worn) mantra of ‘letting the music speak for itself’ be our motto in many ways. Whilst we are absolutely focused on generating an atmosphere and striving to create as absorbing a soundscape as possible, we aren’t really interested in putting on personas or posturing. Of course, ‘larger than life’ personalities have been a big part of black metal since the early days – outlandish outfits, characters and rhetoric really feeding into the theatrics of the genre – but that’s not been for us and that was a conscious decision quite early on. We use pseudonyms, granted, but more from a desire to detach ourselves even further from characterization and emphasise that the focus should be on the music.

This is possibly born out of where we came from as you mention – myself and Grungyn (bass/vocals) are brothers and grew up in the fens in the 90s – it’s a bleak, windswept region laced with an underlying, simmering sense of sorrow. It’s not massively dramatic or hugely grim, there’s simply an understated aspect to it that seeps into the soul the longer one spends time there – until it becomes almost overwhelming in its all-encompassing sadness. I guess this is the kind of emotional response we’re trying to create in our listeners – we’re not about shouting in people’s faces or trying to ram a message down someone’s throat, it’s about something more gradual, understated but all the more affecting because of it.

Do you concern yourselves much with what other bands are doing? One thing I like about your band or in America we have Wolves In The Throne Room or, say, some other bands who feel more tied to natural cycles and rhythms like Twilight Fauna comes to mind…you have black metal traits but also seem to be on your own journey. Like watching a stream bed full of certain elements that still erodes and is reshaped or returns on parts of itself over time. You paint a picture but also seem to be in conversation with your muse.

I’d be lying if I said we didn’t look around ourselves periodically and take stock of where the wider genre is going. It’s 2019, with the proliferation of social media and scenes/people being more connected than ever before, in many ways it’s impossible NOT to be aware of what one’s peers are up to! It has been interesting to watch the ebb and flow of trends over the last dozen or so years of Fen’s existence – certainly, the creativity evident within this whole ‘post’, ‘shoegaze’ or whatever black metal movement has been interesting to observe and doesn’t seem to show much of a sign of creative stagnation just yet.

I mean, at our heart we’re a black metal band – that’s the bedrock to which the foundation of the band is anchored – but we’ve always wanted to put more into that. Since the first minute of the first jam of the band, we’ve had the desire to do ‘more’, to tell wider, more extensive stories and to paint with a bigger palette.

Your songs feel like they have room to expand, a sense of space and mood, darkness and light interplaying with an often lonely or determined individualism, it seems to me as a fan. And the post-rock side sort of grew with the band but there is a balance between that and the black metal. It doesn’t seem forced and more about what is right for the song or movement. I never feel like I am worried you are gonna cut a feeling off short before it is explored, but I am not trying to say you guys are just like a jam band that never knows when to shut the fuck up and end a song already either, hahaha. Know what I mean?

Achieving that balance between light and dark – knowing when to let riffs/passages ‘breathe’ and when to move on – these aspects are absolutely key. For a band like ourselves, perfecting this is the ‘holy grail’ as it were. It’s something that we are particularly conscious of as we commence the recording of our sixth album – we are our number one worst critics after all and there has been a lot of agonising over whether certain sections have been played for too long, too little or whether certain pieces are a little too stop-start.
I am always careful of being pigeon-holed and creatively repeating myself – after all, I don’t want us to be ‘that band that does all the quiet-loud-quiet’ songs and with this sort of material, that can be a danger. Particularly as for me, the clean sections are as important as the heavier, more intense moments (as opposed to mere throwaway decoration as can be the case for so many outfits).

Again, as ever the strive is to achieve balance that is in harmony with the theme/atmosphere of the album itself – delivering something with sincerity and integrity which is nonetheless part of a cohesive, coherent whole. Will we ever get there and perfect this approach? Who knows. Probably not – after all, an artist must always be working TOWARDS something, there must always be a drive to push further and succeed. Nevertheless, we will give it a damn good go!

Thanks so much for your time. Hails!

 

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