Monuments To Absence

Prophecy / Lupus Lounge
rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. Scouring Ignorance
02. Monuments to Absence
03. Thrall
04. To Silence and Abyss We Reach
05. Truth Is Futility
06. Eschaton's Gift
07. Wracked
08. All Is Lost

The steady evolution of black metal has produced plenty of fascinating music in recent times, much of it within the realms of so-called post-BM: an inventive but occasionally underpowered metallic extremity, dominated by atmospheric layering and melodic haziness. UK stalwarts FEN have consistently been one of the most engaging bands tarred with the post-everything brush. From debut album 2009's "The Malediction Fields" onwards, these waders through hissing English marshes have remained singular in their approach, and a strong advert for original thinking in an otherwise restrictive subgenre. By the time they reached 2019's splendid "The Dead Light", FEN were still identifiably metallic, but bound by a slow drift away from blackened first principles.

A partial return to the widescreen hostility that defines the UK black metal sound, via the revered likes of WINTERFYLLETH and WODENSTHRONE, "Monuments To Absence" aims to redress the textural balance. It succeeds, too, because this band have always retained the vitriolic undercurrents that have been so essential to black metal over the years. Their seventh and arguably most venomous full-length to date, "Monuments…"does feel like a restating of core values, but it's also a vastly more nuanced and carefully crafted work than anything FEN released in their first few years.

Largely bereft of the noirish detours that typified more recent works, these songs embrace hugeness and bombast, rather than the intimate shimmerings of the post-BM set. Rooted in scabrous riffing, brutish melancholy and insidious, frost-covered melodies, each of these eight tracks strikes a refined balance between old-school intensity and FEN's sophisticated songwriting. At times, it's beautiful. At others, it overwhelms with hostile momentum.

Songs like marauding opener "Scouring Ignorance" and the expansive blitz of the title track are studies in hypnotic repetition, as their creators' melodic urges are indulged, woven around a core of excoriating blasts and elegantly left to hang in the air, like the aftermath of a vicious storm. Elsewhere, "Wracked" takes an audacious but entirely fitting stride towards something more accessible, with frosty hooks bursting out from a pulsing core of crestfallen grandeur; while the closing "All Is Lost" employs delicate restraint and night-sky sparkle to lull listeners into a false state of calm, before seamlessly morphing into a slow-motion, windswept cry for help, on behalf of nature itself. Few bands evoke the monumental power of the elements with such skill, and while "Monuments To Absence" might occasionally sound like a traditional black metal record with grim, autumnal trimmings, the sheer force of FEN's musical personality elevates it all to a higher level of rain-drenched and emotionally bereft grandiloquence. The post-post-black metal movement starts here. Possibly.

Author: Dom Lawson
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