When the time for decade-spanning retrospectives come in lieu of more typical Album of the Year considerations, is it all to easy to shun many albums on the basis of merely existing in excellence as opposed to redefining genre. Gatekeeper may be very good at recreating classic Swedish death metal, but what is that next to the boundary-pushing quality of Blood Incantation’s work when it becomes (unfortunately) necessary to choose between the two?
This is where Fen’s Winter comes in.
What Deafheaven did for blackgaze, that bright and blissful statement that shook the metal world to its core, British band Fen matched in a far more subtle way. Whereas Sunbather adopted a blindly saccharine take on black metal, Fen approach black metal through a more measured post-rock framework – think Godspeed You! Black Emperor rather than Explosions In The Sky. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that they approached post-rock from the perspective of black metal. That the difference between the two is so narrow speaks to how effectively Fen managed to blend these two sounds on Winter. It’s very easy to pass it off as the usual post-black metal sound, but in many ways Winter feels like post-rock executed through a blackened lens rather than vice versa.
What Fen did with Winter is a seamless blending of disparate sounds, the line between caustic metal and elegant post-rock movements so magnificently blurred that it becomes difficult to determine from which field the song originated. Furthermore, it is patient with the chops to justify such patience. Winter is not the first album to stretch past the hour mark, but it is one of the few to do it with so much grace and fundamentally powerful songwriting to back up that runtime. There is no weak moment across the record, each of its six acts stand up as entertaining, affecting, moving individual pieces whilst also being more than compatible as one continuous, gargantuan recording.
Ultimately though, while Winter has achieved a lot of recognition in the metal community, it has not touched the global craze that albums like Sunbather did. This isn’t all that surprising. Its quieter, more subtle nature doesn’t ignite the same kind of reaction, but make no mistake – if the world is just, Fen’s Winter will one day be spoken of with the same reverence.
Words: Brett Tharp