Metal Maniac

An Interview with Fen

01 – First of all, as usual, I’d like to thank you very much for taking your time to answer the MetalCast Show interview. It’s truly an honour for me to interview a band I highly admire. Please, introduce yourself to our readers/listeners.

 

Hi Marcus, thanks for the interview and it’s great to hear that you appreciate our music. Fen is a band born back in 2006 by myself on guitar/vocals, Grungyn on bass/vocals and Theutus playing drums. Our goal was simply to produce the type of extreme metal we wanted to hear ourselves – no boundaries, no preconceptions, just three friends working on music as a pure sense of expression. We’d been in bands before and felt a little burned out with the ‘rules’ of black metal – we wanted to create something more reflective and progressive, blending the fundaments of the genre with soundscapes from shoegaze, post-rock and ambient.

 

We’ve been through a lot over the last eight years – we’ve released three albums, toured and had a few line-up changes. Nevertheless, the core impulse to write this music is as powerful as it was when we started and with our newest member Derwydd (drums) on board, I think we are stronger than ever.

 

02 – It has been over a year since the release of “Dustwalker”. I believe you’ve had plenty of time to get to know what the fans thought about it as well as what you, yourself, thought about it. How do you personally feel about it? Do you feel that you managed to achieve your goals with this album?

 

Definitely. It has been interesting observing the reaction to the album since it has been released. Many people say it is our heaviest and most intense whilst others have claimed that the post-rock elements are more prominent than ever. In truth, that was the goal of the record – to enhance the diversity of the elements that make up the Fen ‘sound’, to intensify those two aspects of the sound.

 

I personally felt that our second album ‘Epoch’, whilst a record I am proud of, was guilty perhaps of a little homogeny in the sound, that the songs tended to run into each other. With ‘Dustwalker’, we wanted to make things more defined, to create songs with distinct character – this led to songs such as ‘Consequence’ (which is one of our ‘heaviest’ tracks with virtually no clean guitar) yet also ‘Spectre’ (which is almost entirely clean).

 

This was a very deliberate aspect of the compositional process and one that for me, I think we managed to make work in the context of the album. It ebbs and flows, acting as one whole, complete journey yet with distinct chapters represented by the individual songs.

 

03 – The lyrics on “Dustwalker” were shorter than on “Epoch” or “The Malediction Fields”, but, again in my humble opinion, they fit greatly the album and even I should say that I find them powerful. Please, enlighten us about the themes, philosophies or concepts behind “Dustwalker”. Actually, not only on “Dustwalker” but Fen’s music itself.

 

Well, we only released snippets of the lyrics to ‘Dustwalker’ in the inlay – the full lyric sets are probably the longest our of all of our albums. Again, this was to align with the theme of the album – spectral, half-formed, distant. Dustwalker is an album that speaks of a certain mentality, of a mindset detached from the present – both materially, emotionally and spiritually. In that, it is vaguely autobiographical and relates to a period of my life whereby I was feeling that I was ‘losing touch’ somewhat with my surroundings. In many ways, I was the ‘Dustwalker’, a spectral figure drifting between realities, unable to be accepted by them or accept them in return.

 

As with most Fen lyrics, there is an element of allegory. Much of our lyrical content relates to themes of the internal expressed via the metaphor of the external. Particularly landscape. Whilst landscape-themed lyrics can be very powerful when taken at face value, I always feel that in many ways (either consciously or subconsciously) landscape = mindscape. The bleakness of the fens is the perfect symbolism for a mind rooted in despair.

 

Let’s face it, we all carry sorrow within us – regret, loss, depression – it’s a central tenet of the human existence. Anger, rage and negativity also, as a species we are conditioned to suppress these feelings, drive them down or release/control them through accepted mediums (alcohol, prescription drugs, social media e.t.c.). In many ways, Fen is my way of channeling these thoughts, it is a vessel for catharsis and communication, exploring the darker sides of the human condition. A philosophy of reflective existentialism then, a consideration of what it is to be human and how our realities are shaped by the limitations of our perceptions, a striving/yearning to transcend and accept the self.

 

04 – Connected to the previous question, I’d like to ask you what does inspire you when it comes to creating your music and writing lyrics. What is the driving force that leads you to create music? And also, are there any mystical or mythical works of fame which the band members have found inspiring?

 

As explained above, the human condition is one of the most powerful drivers. It all relates to purpose, fundamentally. Why? What are we doing here? What is the purpose for enduring these long years walking the earth? I live in the big city and I am surrounded by legions of adult humans whose sole purpose or drive seems to be the acquirement of material goods and chasing that next big promotion. I find it at once abhorrent and deeply saddening – a whole generation bereft of any real purpose, spiritually stunted. THAT is the main driving force and one that’s only becoming more focused as I get older. Youthful idealism and reckless enthusiasm has given way to cold purpose, as intense as ever. I find it ever harder to fathom the mind of someone content to take their life at a materialistic face-value – it’s like some form of mass mental illness.

 

In terms of ‘mystical’ or ‘mythical’ documents, it’s a little hard to identify specific influences on Fen itself. Nevertheless, I have spent some time exploring more esoteric/philosophical works on a personal basis which may have in turn subconsciously influenced the direction that Fen has taken. Manly P Hall, David Hume, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Bertrand Russell, a wide variety of writers/thinkers have had an effect on my approach to life.

 

Derwydd has a very deep interest in mysticism also. It is not for me to speak for him on the specifics of this but suffice to say, he is well versed in esoteric thinking, Enochian magic and alchemy. So yes, while this is not something directly referenced within our lyrics, it is certainly something that influences us.

 

05 – Looking back at Fen’s previous releases, all groundbreaking full-length albums, how do you compare “The Malediction Fields” to “Epoch” and also “Dustwalker”?

 

‘The Malediction Fields’ is our debut full-length and despite its naivety and youthful exuberance, I am proud of the record. It was recorded pretty primitively – the whole thing was recorded, mixed and mastered on an old digital portastudio – but on reflection, it lends the record a certain foggy, rustic charm which is perfectly in keeping with the autumnal hues were trying to paint with. I still think a lot of the material stands up to day – one can criticize elements of the execution (the playing isn’t the tightest at times and some of the clean vocals have taken stick) but the songs and the atmosphere stand and that is what will always be the most important thing for me. ‘Epoch’ meanwhile is a darker, denser, more layered record. We had more technology to play with on this album and I was also in a darker place myself – I think that is reflected in the material. It takes time to unfurl, the songs are longer and less immediate although some of them contain some of our most powerful moments. Again, I’m personally happy with it but I do appreciate that it’s a difficult album and one that requires work – it’s also challenging to replicate some of that material live.

 

And as for ‘Dustwalker’ for me, it’s where we have distilled all of the elements of the previous releases and combined them with our growing experience as musicians and writers. We felt reinvigorated going into the process of composing/writing the album – the line-up was slimmed down but more focused. All three of us had a clear vision as to where we wanted the material to go and how we wanted it to sound. It’s the perfect culmination of our career to date.

 

06 – Overlooking the whole “Dustwalker” composition process, do you believe that the band members felt pressure to outdo themselves after, again, having released two amazing full-length albums?

 

There is always a sense of pressure – always. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. Even if you are recording purely for your own sense of satisfaction, as an ‘artist’ you are striving to bring to life songs/ideas/themes that have only really existed as temporal ideas/concepts in the rehearsal room or live. To immortalize that on tape is a pressurizing situation, regardless of the eventual audience.

 

For us, the first two albums were generally fairly well received so of course there was a sense of pressure. We didn’t want to let ourselves down and perhaps more importantly, we didn’t want to let our audience down by producing something that was not up to the required standard. I am a bit of a perfectionist, granted, but I also acknowledge the importance of stepping back when required. The Dustwalker compositional process was actually quite smooth – as I alluded to earlier, we were all very focused when composing this album and I think it is born out in the final product.

 

07 – We can safely say that “The Malediction Fields” is the “most black metal Fen album” and “Dustwalker” features more post-rock influences that the previous release (Epoch). Do you feel that this is the path that Fen will follow from now on or do you feel like we can expect anything from Fen, a totally black metal album or more post-rock oriented?

 

I actually think Epoch is our most ‘post-rock’ album. Dustwalker contains our ‘lightest’ song in the form of Spectre but other than that, I think is generally a pretty ‘heavy’ record. Given that we have almost completed writing the next Fen album, I can give you a fairly relevant summary of where we are heading in the next question!

 

08 – And in addition to the previous question, I know it’s quite early, but as Fen has released albums every two years, could you tell us if the band has started working on new material? And if so, could you tell us a bit how it sounds like or should sound like?

 

Writing for the next album commenced the minute the last one was completed – that’s just how we work. Creativity and new material is the lifeblood for any band – the minute that dries up, the band will wither and die. So yes, album number four has been more or less written now.

 

At this stage, it’s hard to take a big step back and soberly summarize where this album is heading. We definitely wanted to make this record more intense – not so much in the form of a ‘pure’ black metal album but we’re definitely emphasizing the metal elements on this album, perhaps even more so than on ‘Dustwalker’. This is reflected in the lyrics – darker again, more violent, more ‘vivid’ in terms of imagery. Musically, there’s less straight-up ‘post-rock’ I guess but more in the way of progressive elements and diversity within the metal side of things. Doomier moments, more technical sections, more repetition/mantric/hypnotic elements also. We want to let the songs breathe more here, to evolve in an almost organic fashion as they progress.

 

As I say, it’s more or less written and we should be entering the studio in a couple of months to commence recording. We’ve really worked hard on this material – the tour with Agalloch was a real ‘kick in the backside’ for us and once that had finished, we went back to what we’d originally written to pull it apart and really hone it to deliver the message we wanted to convey. As much as it’s been flattering to be bracketed with Agalloch, Alcest and bands of that ilk, our aim with this album is to firmly cement the ‘Fen’ sound. No bands really want to be viewed as a facsimile of someone else’s art and this next record will hopefully cement ourselves as a distinct entity in our own right.

 

09 – The UK always had a very solid metal scene, influencing bands all around the world. I do feel that the Extreme Metal British scene is getting more recognized and regarded as a very influential one. How do you feel about the UK underground scene nowadays, with bands such as A Forest of Stars and The Meads of Asphodel still going strong and releasing albums, do you feel that the British metal underground is strong and united or…?

 

Generally, the UK underground is a much better place to be than it was 10-12 years ago. Not only in terms of the quality of bands that are emerging but also in the sense of unity that seems to be prevalent now. When the scene was struggling back in 2002-2003 there wasn’t really a lot by way of mutual support between bands but now it’s much healthier. What’s excellent is to finally see UK extreme metal making a deserved impact on a global scale – A Forest of Stars for one have signed to Prophecy and have made a real impact in Europe. Winterfylleth too seem to have a big following outside of England and Grave Miasma are currently making waves in the death metal scene.

 

This is to name but two bands, there are plenty of others that are up-and-coming or fairly established who are garnering a lot of attention. Ghast, Wodensthrone, Code, The One and Old Corpse Road are bands we have good relationships with in the UK black metal scene and they are all great acts. Each has a very different approach to black metal but all are united in how well they deliver this. The UK doom scene is as strong as ever – Esoteric, Pantheist, Indesinence. All excellent internationally-recognised bands and all have shown us a lot of support. And the UK death metal scene continues to gain momentum – Grave Miasma, Cruciamentum and The King is Blind to name just three off of the top of my head.

 

10 – I like to ask some questions to musicians to get to know what are their opinions and general feelings over some subjects and situations. One of them is this one: Music is truly important for many people, it’s a way to scape the every day situation, that to say the least. Music helps us to go on through hard times as well as simply to “go on”, to “gain more strength”. What are your feelings and thoughts when you get to know that your music has helped and still helps people to forget about their problems, to go through a tough phase?

 

If someone told me that the music of Fen had helped them get through a challenging period in their lives then I would of course be enormously flattered. Whilst it has certainly helped ME get through some tough times, I am not so divorced from reality that I have not lost sight of the fact that what we primarily produce is a form of entertainment. This is not to belittle the power of music but one must acknowledge it is first and foremost an entertainment art-form – nevertheless, pretentious as it may sound, music/art that really connects with the observer/listener can have a much deeper affect than mere superficial appreciation. We all know what it is like to listen to an album that speaks to us, that connects with something primal and undefinable. It’s a powerful moment for sure and something I feel most listeners are chasing with each new album they obtain. If we have had that effect on anyone out there then I will feel even more validated by what we have created.

 

Ultimately, this music means a LOT to me – if it means even 10% of what it does to me to one of our listeners then, as I stated earlier, I would be deeply flattered.

 

11 – This is another question that I feel obliged to ask bands when interviewing them: Nowadays we have many websites that helps promoting music, such as Bandcamp, Spotify and many others. There are some labels (even bigger ones) that uploads entire albums on Youtube for a limited period of time, but, no matter all those actions, the amount of illegal downloads is always increasing. What are your views concerning this matter?

 

Illegal downloading is here to stay and as an artist or label, it is simply a question of deciding how you adapt to this new era. Sites like Bandcamp are a great step forward – that site in particular feels like a real way to connect artists with their audience – and labels are certainly using this as a portal to not only offer music but merchandise, limited-edition packaging and other ‘tempters’. For us, illegal downloading/streaming (I include streaming as the revenue for artists via this route may as well not exist) has certainly increased our audience – and this, ultimately is a good thing – but it does present problems for bands/labels in respect of actually funding themselves.

 

I guess it’s just a question of adapting revenue streams and ‘monetizing’ other avenues. Making music costs money, basically – even if you are just bashing something out on a 4-track with a pawn-shop guitar, you still need to invest in that do a degree. Seeing as 90% of people are unwilling to readily part with cash for simply the music or ‘buy without hearing’, bands/labels HAVE to be cleverer. Tangibles – t-shirts, patches, posters, packaging – now these cannot be downloaded and can inspire listeners to reach for their wallets. Releasing preview tracks, teasers, bonus material, all of this can help in convincing people to invest in something they value.

 

Ultimately, there are two sides to this – in the past, labels have been guilty of churning out mediocre bollocks on CD with flimsy, 2-side inlays. The game has to be raised now – people will only spend money on stuff that they value. It’s a good thing ultimately I feel – standards have to be raised in terms of music AND presentation. Given the quality of releases within the underground over the last 12-18 months, I think we are seeing the effects of that.

 

12 – What were the best experiences you had live (such as playing with a band you also admire, a great crowd, etc.) as well, please, tell us which band or bands would you like to share a tour with, but still haven’t?

 

The tour with Agalloch we did in April/May last year was definitely the highlight. Such great guys to spend time with – laid-back, friendly and supportive, it was a really good month for us. We played some great shows on that tour, too. Playing Moscow was also a real highlight, the crowd there was phenomenal. We also did a set at the Sommer Sonnwend festival in Austria a few years ago on the side of a mountain – now that was a very special atmosphere indeed.

 

Personally speaking, I’d love to play a show (or shows) with Enslaved, I’ve been an admirer of their music for a long time now. I also think it would be great to play with (the now reformed) Slowdive or the Chameleons but I’m not really sure what they’d make of our racket!

 

13 – Again a personal questions, which authors/ books and/ or movies have helped, in a way, shape the person that you are today and how they’ve “helped” you?

 

A tough question. I referenced some more philosophical authors earlier – I’d add to that ‘Atheism – The Case Against God’ by George H Smith as also having a profound effect on some of my thinking, Hume’s ‘Dialogues of Natural Religion’ and ‘An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding’ as also being powerful works assisting in shaping a more coherent world-view. As to fiction, I read a lot of fantasy works – Tolkien of course, David Gemmell, Steven Erikson, Michael Moorcock and Robin Hobb being key authors here. Gemmell in particular was a key influence of mine when a young teenager – it’s fairly rugged, simple stuff from an adult perspective but paints in surprisingly nuanced hues when it comes to human nature.

 

Films are a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine I’m afraid! I’ve never been much of a ‘movie-buff’ or filmgoer, preferring to just slump in front of some images/sound when falling asleep. I really like Alien/Aliens (NOT the sequels though… foul rubbish), they had a big impact on me as a youngster. Blade Runner also, Conan the Barbarian, Platoon, that sort of thing. Quite honestly though, I’m equally happy to dig into whatever nonsense Steven Segal, Jean-Claude Van Damme or Dolph Lundgren have churned out recently also. My standards are… variable to say the least!

 

14 – One more time, thank you very much for this interview. I hope that you and our readers/ listeners have enjoyed it as much as I have. Good luck with the new album and the future plans. Do you have any last words for our readers/ listeners?

 

Thanks for the interview and I hope people have enjoyed reading it. Keep an eye out for the new album which should be landing towards the end of this year – we also have some other interesting stuff in the pipeline so watch this space…

April 14, 2014

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