PROG!!! For most rock music fans if you utter this word to them it will make them recoil in horror…like shouting “BACON” in a synagogue!!! If you’re still reading this after that initial outburst the chances are you’re probably partial to some tricksy time changes, obscure lyrics and noodly instrumentation. Read on my friend.
“Of Losing Interest” is the follow up to Fen’s 2010 release “Trails Out Of Gloom”. Having never heard the band’s previous albums prior to “Trails Out Of Gloom” I understand that album was something of a departure showcasing the band’s quieter, darker side with judicious use of acoustic guitars and delicate melodies. For this follow up the band are casting no doubt on the fact that they are, first and foremost, a heavy rock band. I found that previous album to be an engaging, heartfelt and emotional listen so was intrigued to see how I would react to Fen when they’re ripping it up.
Fen go for the throat from the off on “Riddled” which kicks off with a biting, thrash fuelled riff before taking the pace down for the verses and allowing Doug Harrison’s uber clean vocals to take charge. Initial impressions are that Fen are the natural successors to the joint thrones of Rush and Tool. Naturally the track is sufficiently laden with tempo and mood shifts…and plenty of notes but the transitions never feel forced and the song writing flows organically. The title track is up next and allows a little more groove to enter the mix and a catchy melody from Harrison that shows that strong song writing lies at the core of Fen’s sound over and above technical trickery. Far from jumping all over the place the song places a central riff at the heart of the song and works around it with shifts in mood.
“Nice For Three Days” adopts a heavier, almost stoner like loping groove and riff but the real sting is when the chorus kicks in with an avant garde melody that brings to mind 70’s prog popsters Sparks. Despite its jarring melody the chorus does deliver a killer, memorable hook that stands out from the album like a pair of bulldog’s balls. If this was the only few bars of music Fen had ever penned they would have reason to be justifiably proud!!! The band dip their toes into alternative grunge territory on the next track “A Long Line” which is far more straight forward and suitably angst ridden to hold its own with some of Seattle’s finest. It shows that Fen are able to ease back on the excesses and keep things simple…in relative terms at least.
Things go distinctly odder on “The Glove” with its twisting, weaving riff, neurotic vocals and Michael Jackson referencing lyrics. Even amongst the maelstrom of weirdness however Fen are capable of pulling a strong chorus out of the bag…overt notiness is fine but the band know you still need a hook, something people will remember after the album is done and dusted.
“Drunken Relief” doesn’t quite capture the imagination in the same way as its predecessors. It’s a decent enough song but so far is the weakest element that they have delivered and offers nothing new to the formula they have now established and by the mid point I kind of find myself waiting to see what will come up next. I am, however, being overly picky and most albums do have inconsistencies.
Fen return to the sound of their previous album on “Light Up The End” which drifts along with a much cleaner sound and a more sedate and sombre melody. In amongst the relative craziness of the rest of the album this track represents a welcome change of pace and showcases the band’s true song writing skills. Even when Fen crank the amps half way through they pull back from the brink of excess to allow the song to shine through. “Pilot Plant” kicks off with a similar vibe before amping up in epic style with Doug Harrison showcasing an almost Peter Gabriel-esque vocal. In fact there is a distinct whiff of early Genesis about this track (when they were good and Phil Collins knew his place was behind the kit!!!), albeit instilled with a modern metal sensibility. Had this track been driven by Melotron instead of guitars it may have sat happily on “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”.
The albums comes to a conclusion on the tight and riffy “Snake Path” that once again features a stellar chorus ad has an undeniable energy and flow to end on a high note though I can’t help feeling swapping the last two tracks on this album around would have given a greater flow and allowed the album to finish on a more emotional note.
The question is, which version of Fen do I prefer? Do I prefer the pastoral prog troubadours of the previous album or the tightly coiled prog metal titans of their current guise? It’s a tough call, both albums are extremely strong but there is something about the emotional depth of “Trails Out Of Gloom” that kind of pips this album to the post for me. Despite the undeniable strength of this album its clinical and concise nature just falls short in grabbing me by the heart and appeals more to my head…and I prefer my music to elicit an emotional response. That said, this is still an album full of strong songs and exceptional musicianship and worthy of investigation by anyone who is keen to investigate music beyond the first twelve bars!!!
[wp_bandcamp_player type=”album” id=”1087826357″ size=”venti” bg_color=”#FFFFFF” link_color=”#970026″]
Scribed by: Ollie Stygall