Hmm, when something is described as prog in this day and age I immediately raise an eyebrow and suspicions are high. Don’t get me wrong, I do love a bit of old school eccentric prog…a nice bit of King Crimson, a good blast of Genesis’ “Foxtrot” album, hell, I’ll even go a little bit of Yes in the right circumstances but when I hear modern prog I struggle to get past the musical masturbation thing. Excessive rhythmic twists and turns and guitarists waving their cocks in everyone’s faces doesn’t really thrill me so when this fourth release by Vancouver veterans Fen came with the prog tag my cynical antennae went up immediately. As it turns out I needn’t have worried as far from being a hornet’s nest of half baked overtly complex ideas this is a rich and emotional ride into alternative heavy rock territories.
Fen have been plugging away for the best part of the last decade releasing three independent albums before hooking up with Ripple Music for this latest album of, in their own words, “lullabies and ballads”. Don’t run away screaming at the B word, this is still heavy stuff, but a different type of heavy, an emotional, dark, brooding heavy that evokes prime Alice in Chains and Tool with maybe a nod to bands such as Opeth and Anathema. One warning before embarking on this journey, maybe don’t put this on if you’re feeling emotionally fragile…this ain’t party rock and these guys ain’t happy!!! The opening title track sets the pace with fragile acoustic melodies and delicate vocals that create a melancholic beauty. Acoustic guitars pepper the whole album and add a beautiful counterpoint to the heavier moments such as tracks like “The World is Young” which switches from muscular despondency to delicate introspection. I can kind of understand the “lullabies and ballads” tag here to a certain extent but don’t be fooled into thinking this is an album for the soft hearted. For every soaring vocal melody and ethereal guitar passage there is an equally heavy wall of doom waiting to explode. If this is prog it’s prog in the classic sense where the song remains at the core of the sound over musical excess. “Queen of the Mountain” probably displays the most priggish tendencies in its quirky melodies but at the same time remains a stand out track on the album for it.
If I have one minor niggle it is that this album is a little too clean. The production is crisp and clear but given the emotional weight on show I would like to have heard a little more dirt. The guitars have that clear and processed kind of sound but I’d have liked to have heard the valves really burning and Doug Harrison’s intense vocals are remarkable and exemplary but occasionally he could let the voice really crack…a little less perfection and a little more guts to make the heart bleed more.
That said, this is a remarkable album should you wish to remove yourself from your comfort zone and experience a different kind of heavy. Lamb of God or Eyehategod fans may balk at this but listen once, absorb it then listen again as repeated listens reveal the true depth here.
Scribed by: Ollie Stygall