The more we approach the coldest period of the year, winter, a natural consequence is our psychology to adjust accordingly. Having in mind the moments that we experienced behind a window watching the rain drops or watching a frosty sunset…In this jumble of emotions and such weather everyone chooses the music accompaniment that comes as a balm. Personally I pick Fen, a band from the United kingdom for many and different reasons … but the main reason is that they give us a unique and unprecedented black metal/post rock sound.
As a band you have been active since 2006. Tell us how it happened, the acquaintance between you and the later creation of the band.
The first ideas of Fen started to swirl around in the winter of 2005. I had become a little disillusioned with the band I was playing in at the time (which was a more aggressive, discordant form of black metal) and felt a growing need to play something more atmospheric, more sweeping. That winter I spent some time in isolation working on three or four ideas which were rooted in more traditionally melodic, stirring sounds – these ideas actually became the foundation of what was to be our debut album a couple of years later.
At this point in time though, the prospect of creating an actual album seemed a LONG way off. In early 2006, I presented these ideas to the bassist and drummer of the main band we were playing in at the time and asked them if they wanted to get together to jam through some of these ideas – they were feeling a little disillusioned with the more aggressive material at that time also. The goal was to fuse elements of black metal with the pastoral ambiences of shoegaze and post-rock – to take both of these seemingly disparate influences and meld them into a coherent whole.
The chemistry worked very well indeed – we really all felt inspired by this approach and the bleak, fenland atmospheres we were attempting to channel with the music were palpable in the rehearsal room. We made our first demo recording only three of four months after our first rehearsal and despite the limitations of the home-recording, already we felt we were starting to forge a real identity with this music, that it was already taking on a life of its own.
And so now here we are, ten years later – what was originally intended to be a studio project with three friends jamming out some ideas, perhaps recording a demo or two has become something so far beyond these original ideas. I think it’s a testament to the inspiration all of us felt when working on the music, of all of us being completely aligned in the same direction. It felt so effortless and right at the time and continues to do so to this day.
What was it that prompted you to create music?
I’ve always had a vague fascination with music since I was younger. I took piano lessons when I was 10 years old and had always been intrigued by the idea and concept of the electric guitar. It was something a bit mysterious – I couldn’t quite get my head around how it all worked, I found the whole idea of it at once both confusing and alluring.
That changed when my father purchased me an electric guitar for my fifteenth birthday. That seems like a late time to start (Ivar from Enslaved had about two albums under his belt by the time he was that age!) but it gave me a real impetus. I threw myself into it with a passion, it lit fires of creativity within me that I really hadn’t expected. I’d always been drawn to the creative arts and had enjoyed drawing, painting and writing but this was something different – at once a more abstract form of expression yet at the same time more primal.
After finding my feet with the instrument, I really threw myself into it. I enjoyed playing for sure but the real thrill was from composition and song-construction, putting ideas together and forging an entity which told a story or took the listener on a journey.
Now, twenty-plus years on, it’s not possible to imagine an existence without having this outlet. It sounds like a melodramatic cliché but it really does define me, it’s a fundament of my being. Barely a day or two goes by without the impulse to work on a new idea, to refine an existing song, to bring a nebulous, half-formed musical notion into existence.
Tell us about your influences, you state: ”Twilight descending upon empty heathland and the cries of the crows that wheel in the bunching storm clouds ” What is your interpretation of this?
Ha, this is an old line from the very earliest days of the band but I still stand by it, as pretentious as it sounds. I guess this summarizes the very ‘essence’ of Fen – that is, to channel the uniquely bleak atmospheres of a solitary walk through the hidden depths of the fens through our songs. In that, music, artwork, imagery, aesthetics and language all combine to form something that is intended to evoke a deep sense of resonance within the listener.
If through our music we can inspire imagery of this nature within the minds of our listeners then our goal will have been achieved.
Your music creates a sound that is melodious and in addition scary. What do you want to convey to your audience?
As discussed above, it is the sense of taking a listener on a journey, to evoke a sense of place and to stir certain emotions. Many of the lyrics I write channel my own personal thoughts through landscape and metaphor. The focus is to take the listeners on this journey with us – a journey through the bleak depths of one’s own mind, reflected within the empty, ethereal wilderness of the fens and the thunderous rage of the elements.
It is this that we are fundamentally attempting to convey to our audience through a balance of cleaner ambiences and raging blastbeats (and everything in between). I’ve always said this but atmosphere is absolutely the key for this music and it can be created/delivered in a number of ways – the juxtaposition of light and shade, crescendos, themes and above all RIFFS – as long as it serves to propagate the essence of Fen and serve the song, it will be used.
You have released four studio albums and 2 EP’s. Especially, your second one, ‘Epoch’ has received wonderful reviews. Not that your other ones lack in something. Do you think that this is a vindication of what you do?
Receiving positive reviews in the press is a nice aside but it isn’t something we rely on to feel good about ourselves or to somehow feel creatively justified. We would be creating this material even if it was just the three of us alone in the rehearsal room. Nevertheless, the support of listeners across the globe I feel definitely does vindicate the energy, effort and sacrifices we have all put into this band and I thank each and every individual who has purchased one of our records or come to one of our shows.
As I suggested earlier, the band has reached a point whereby in many ways it has taken on a life of its own. Let there be no doubt that this music is the number one driver in my life and it is something that I am more committed to than ever before – the level of self-investment I have put into this very personal expression is huge – yet it has now become more than that.
We have been going for ten years and many of those who listen to and appreciate our work have been there since those early days. In some ways, they ‘own’ the band as much as we do. When asked about whether they write with their fans expectations/considerations in mind, many bands/artists respond in the negative – usually some old chestnut like ‘we just write what we want to write, if people like it, fine, if people hate it, that’s also fine’ – but I don’t think this is entirely fair to a loyal and considered audience.
Whilst we always write with sincerity and strive to push ourselves ever further with each release, we feel a lot of affinity with our listeners. It is important to me that we don’t let our supporters down, that we continue to exact high standards on the art that we create, both for our own satisfaction and the satisfaction of those who follow our music. I am always humbled when we play live – be it in Germany, Ukraine, Russia, the US, or even at home in the UK – and people seem genuinely moved by the music we have made. Such opportunities – and such encounters – are an honour for me, that material that was originally conceived in a gloomy North London bedroom over a decade ago has reached out to people and affected them positively in some way. In this, I do feel vindicated.
Tell us something about your logo. Is there any symbolism behind it?
I am afraid not. It was designed by our bassist (Grungyn) who is also responsible for our artwork and aesthetics. It incorporates a spiral which is obviously an important symbol in a number of cultures and philosophical concepts but in terms of any direct and specific symbolism, there isn’t any. Nevertheless, it looks cool and certainly conveys the atmosphere of the band! It almost looks like a mysterious glyph one might encounter having been carved into a piece of ancient bog oak whilst wandering lost through the sedge banks east of Ely as the skies darken…
Since 2006 you started the band until nowadays, which are the most noteworthy experiences?
There have been quite a few it must be said – generally live events on overseas soil that completely transcended any expectations! Our first European gig as main support to Agalloch in 2008 was a very memorable experience – it was only our third ever show and we didn’t even have an album out! We were asked on the strength of our demo EP which was mindblowing really. Being invited to Belgium to play with such an established act in front of 4 or 5 hundred people so early in our career was incredible. People really seemed to be into it as well, the guys from Agalloch were actually quite stoked to be playing with us. I remember thinking ‘what the hell is going on here???’, the whole thing didn’t seem real – that was the point when I started to feel as if the band was really starting to mean something.
Getting the first shipment of ‘Ancient Sorrow’ vinyls soon after was also a really important moment for me – I’ve been a vinyl enthusiast since forever and finally having a release in this format felt like a real achievement. I was buzzing for days afterwards!
Headlining the Summer Sonnewald Festival in Austria in 2011 was also a deeply moving experience. Playing one’s music across the rearing mountainous landscape of Austria and watching a torchlit procession ascend the hillside to light the beacon-fire on the summit with your own band’s music as a live soundtrack – well, few things in life come close to that level of experience. It was transcendental.
Playing in Russia was incredible as well – we were a little nervous if I’m honest and didn’t really know what to expect or how the show was likely to unfold. As it turns out the venue was amazing and the reception of the crowd phenomenal – I don’t think we’ve ever had a response like it, it was humbling to have so many people come up to us afterwards to express their interest in the band.
Your opinion on the British black metal scene? How do you see the fan’s reciprocation?
British Black metal is undeniably in good health right now and with Winterfylleth, we have a band that has really begun to cement its place on the international stage. There are a number of excellent acts from these isles that have emerged in the last ten years or so – A Forest Of Stars, Terra, Dragged Into Sunlight, Ghast, Wodensthrone (RIP), Crom Dubh, Saor, Old Corpse Road, the list goes on. This ‘late blooming’ of the UK scene has been great to see and I think at last, the British black metal fan has something to be proud of.
There does now seem to be a genuine sense of camaraderie from fans towards bands now – in the past, British black metal fans traditionally eschewed acts from their own country but there is now a much greater sense of loyalty and support for home-grown bands. I think the rise in quality of black metal from the UK has helped in this – it’s undeniable that British black metal for a long time had a fairly poor reputation internationally – and with this in mind, can hold its head up now as being a genuine force on the international scene.
Of course, there are those who believe UK black metal starts and ends with Cradle Of Filth and sneer at the concept of their being anything of value from this country – and this is their loss.
Do you believe in the qualitative evolution of black metal?
I’m not quite sure what you mean by this? If you’re asking whether I believe that black metal is a genre that can continue to evolve in a measured, observable fashion, I think that it is difficult to be sure how things will develop in the future. Like any genre, black metal is beholden to trends and fashions and in the increasing proliferation of the digital age, trend cycles are shorter than ever. Not only this, but some trends seem to have more ‘staying power’ than others, some are more intrinsic to the music than others and so on.
For us, we became lumped in with this whole ‘post’ black metal movement that seems to have gained considerable traction now (for good or for ill) – after all, Deafheaven and Alcest are bigger than ever. Has this movement really brought anything new to the table at all or evolved the genre beyond what Fleurety or Ved Beuns Ende did in the 90s? That is debatable. Nevertheless, for something that we felt might be a perceived as a trend and thus quickly lose people’s attention, it still seems to be a popular development.
On the flip side, the whole electronic/industrial black metal thing seemed to fade out pretty quickly after a brief period of popularity so it’s hard to know where things will go next. Again, whether such movements ACTUALLY evolve the genre are points for debate – for me, evolution isn’t just superficial aesthetic/stylistic dabblings, it is more about maturity from a fundamental musical approach. Composition, aesthetics, creativity AND sincerity being synthesized completely. Taking something with a genuine and purely-driven creative impulse and applying it to the genre to give it a distinctive (and hitherto unexplored) stamp. Blut Aus Nord managed this, as did Deathspell Omega and the UK’s own Lychgate are exploring very unusual compositional avenues as we speak. These are the approaches that truly evolve a genre, not wearing some silly robes and playing third-hand Dissection riffs or sticking some stock gabba beats over your black metal.
On your Facebook profile you have uploaded two photos from your upcoming album due out in 2017. Could you share some information about it?
Well, we actually recorded the album earlier this year – back in March and April. It was literally the last thing we did with our previous drummer Derwydd who left the band practically the minute he put his sticks down from the recording session! We knew he was leaving as he was moving away so we wanted to get the material we’d spent 18 months or so writing with him recorded as a swansong as there was no animosity whatsoever.
It’s hard to describe as I’m still fairly close to it. The drive for this record was to try and distill, summarize and deliver the very essence of Fen. The whole album is utterly steeped in fenland imagery and concepts, pushing harder than ever before to pull the listener into a foggy, bleak and alien world. There is a running concept across the whole album and I guess if pushed, the central theme is one of death.
Musically, it’s far and away the most progressive record we have made – we make no apologies for this, we wanted to push ourselves musically as much as we possibly could. The songs are long, intricate and indulgent, each of the pieces is linked so there is an ongoing consistent flow between them. Indeed, it really is just one long song and we very nearly released the album as a single track. This may have been an indulgent step too far however so we stepped back from it!
We’ve injected a touch of abstraction in parts, elements of discordance, ambience and even doom at points – it was very important for us to try and get some full-on riffs into the record as well. Whilst this sounds disparate, I’d like to think that there is a consistent and coherent atmosphere across the whole thing.
Anything else to add? Thank you very much for your time! Last words from you…
That’s it from me. Many thanks for the interview and keep an eye out for the new album which will hopefully be released in early 2017.
Photo credits: Dayal Patterson