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Fen Interview; Colossal Voids
Sunday, March 15 2009 @ 01:00 AM PDT
Contributed by: Mark Howitt

Fen Interview

Heathen Harvest:  First off, I would like to say thank you for taking the time to do this interview as it must be quite a busy schedule you have going on at the moment. The new album is quite groundbreaking in my opinion so it is a great opportunity to do this interview and shed some light on Fen.  Seeing as this is the first full length release for the Fen catalogue, could you give fans a brief history of the band?

The Watcher:  Thanks very much for the kind words Mark and I’m glad to hear that our music has made an impact with upon you.

Fen started as a project between myself, Grungyn (bass, vocals) and Theutus (drums) at the very start of 2006. All three of us had worked together on various musical projects prior to this and during the preceding winter, I had found myself putting together some atmospheric, black metal-based music inspired by desolate landscapes and personal suffering. I was quite satisfied with this and asked the other two to join me to realize this material. When we started playing together, we felt a real chemistry and began to jam a lot in the rehearsal room, improvising a lot of passages and incorporating a lot of post rock/metal elements.

We recorded a three-track demo in the summer of that year which went on to become the Ancient Sorrow EP when Northern Silence Productions expressed an interest in the music we were making. In early 2007, we decided to expand our line-up to incorporate synths/keyboards and an old friend of ours Draugluin (synths, vocals) was asked to join. 2007 was a very productive year – we played numerous shows, Ancient Sorrow was officially released and the deal with Code666 was signed.

2008 saw more live performances, including a career highlight show in Belgium with Agalloch. We then recorded ‘The Malediction Fields’ during the autumn which was eventually released at the start of this year. We are now embarking on live shows to support this record.

HH:  With the release of The Malediction Fields, you seem to be heading in a more folk/rock influenced element within your music, using more clean vocals and slower tempos. Was this an intentional ingredient added, or was it a natural evolution of the band?

TW:  A combination of both. We never intended to restrict ourselves to a black metal template – indeed, having previously come from a more orthodox black metal background, we consciously wanted to move away from endless blastbeats, relentless aggression and speed. It was a deliberate intention to bring on board weightier, more reflective elements into the band and utilize fragile, shoegaze-influenced clean vocals. Nonetheless, while the intention was planned, much of the realization is improvised and has evolved organically through jam sessions.

For the newer material that we are working on to follow on from ‘The Malediction Fields’, we are going to be working more and more in this way. A lot of the material on the album was fairly meticulously planned whereas now, we are all far more comfortable as a band unity and have really gelled as musicians. Improvising songs in unity and feeling the music grow there and then as you are playing is an immensely satisfying – and natural – way to create.

HH:  How has the response been so far for the new album?

TW:  The responses we have had thus far have been almost overwhelmingly positive. I’ve been quite taken aback by some of the compliments we have received and it’s quite humbling that so many people have really enjoyed what to me is quite a personal expression. We have received some criticism but in this internet age, everyone with a broadband connection is a critic these days so some of the less-enlightened abuse is easily ignored. But as I say, the majority of listeners have reacted very favourably to the album which for something recorded more or less in my bedroom on a glorified 4-track gives a real validation to the quality of what we have written.

HH:  Do you feel the semi-raw production is fitting for the new album, or will you perhaps change the approach on the recording process for future releases?

TW:  The album was entirely self-recorded on our own equipment. It is a pretty primitive set-up by today’s standards but nonetheless has enabled us to retain complete control of the recording process and fully sculpt our own sound without external influence. The production certainly has a raw, rough side to it but I personally feel that this is an essential component of the soundscape – an over-polished, triggered, quantized, super-smooth sound would be at odds with the organic, natural and misty atmospheres we are trying to generate.

As for future recordings, I do not think we will move that far away from the sound achieved on ‘The Malediction Fields’. It is very important to me that we are able to control the recording process – Fen is a very personal band to me and as ‘control-freaky’ as it sounds, the prospect of bringing on board an external influence is a little worrying. Nevertheless, we may decide to record the drums at a proper studio as these are always the most challenging aspect of the recording to get right. We will see, no concrete plans have been made yet – all I will commit to is that we will never do anything to compromise the atmosphere or integrity of the band’s sound.

HH:  What are the themes and philosophies used in the lyrics for The Malediction Fields?

TW:  The general theme running throughout ‘The Malediction Fields’ is that of an existential, psychological and emotional journey through one’s own mind analogized through the use of landscape. The imagery of nature, landscape, desolation and so forth is very strong on this album, however much, if not all of it is a metaphor for personal experience. Depression, solitude, sorrow, regret and isolation are the fundamental concepts that are explored lyrically.

I find nature inspiring, do not get me wrong, but there are certain avenues of thinking and personal  reflection that are inspired by the bleakness of the fenland landscapes. Awe at landscape is the catalyst, the driver for further self-reflection. ‘Exile’s Journey’ is an account of isolation, of being shunned by those who were once close to you and drawing strength from this. ‘Lashed by Storm’ can be read as a very literal account of being at the eye of elemental fury yet can also be read as an analogy to enduring adversity. ‘Bereft’ meanwhile is a study of acknowledging and accepting one’s depression, a resolution to cope with an internal sense of desolation.

I think all of us struggle with negativity, all of us battle with a yawning internal chasm of darkness and it could be said that ‘The Malediction Fields’ as a whole is a representation of this entity within myself. This may alienate those who seek to disassociate ‘humanity’ from black metal but as I explained before, we are not a traditional black metal and musical expression without personal investment is empty.

HH:  Would you say that Fen is a Pagan orientated band?

TW:  Not really. We all have a fundamental disregard for monotheism in all of its forms and a deeper reverence for the ancient pre-Christian religions that flourished on these isles. If a respect and an interest in such matters deems us ‘pagan’ in the eyes of some observers then so be it but none of us in the band hold religious beliefs of any kind. We respect nature. We respect – and admire – a reverence for the ‘old gods’ (as Lord Summerisle would describe them). We despair at many elements of modern society. Nevertheless, though we may have embraced certain elements of paganism, we are not specifically pagan-orientated.

HH:  This is your first release through Code666 Records. How has the experience been thus far, and is there any tours planned in the near future to support the album?

TW:  The label have been very supportive of us thus far and have shown a genuine interest in and appreciation of our music. We are in regular communication with them and often discuss various aspects of the band and how best to promote what we are doing. They have publicized  the album very well and seem to understand the atmospheres we are striving to create – indeed, the digipack versions of the album they have produced for us are very impressive.

Of course, with the album now on the shelves, one of our main priorities is to play live to raise awareness of the band and the release. We have a number of shows lined up in the next few months in which the material from the album will be showcased and we are hoping to get on board some of the European festivals over the summer in order to really spread our message further afield. In September, we have a two week tour of Germany arranged with Dornenreich which we are all really looking forward too – this will be our first extended visit to Europe and our first trip to German soil so we are very keen to share our music with our German listeners.

HH:  What is your opinion on the current state of black metal today, and perhaps its history and uprise?

TW:  Of all the forms of extreme metal, black metal since its inception has always been the most captivating. No other genre has attracted the controversy, the hostility and the sheer absurdity of the metal scene quite like this one. I’ve been listening to it since about 1994-95 and my perceptions of black metal have changed in many ways yet still remain rooted in the same sensations as when I first came across it. Back then, there was no internet to answer your questions and as I lived in a pretty remote part of the country, there were very few like-minded people to discuss the music with – no gigs, no clubs, no scene whatsoever save the odd copy of Terrorizer I managed to track down.

So black metal for me was a very solitary, individualistic thing – it felt (and still does feel in many ways) very far from the group-mentality tribalism that typifies a number of metal subcultures. It is a genre that has always managed to attract true creatives and individuals, something which the sheer number of one-man projects will attest to. Today, the genre is as populated as it ever has been and as is always the case, the majority of bands/acts are truly worthless. However, there is some excellent material being created and the mentality that certain characters adhere too – that no black metal of worth has been made post-1995 – is cringe-makingly nostalgic and is rooted in the kind of rose-tinted romanticism that this genre claims to defy. While the adolescent thrill of encountering this music has, inevitably, diminished over time, it has been replaced by a deep appreciation. As I said, my drive to create is as strong as ever and I am continually inspired by new works being released by worthwhile artists from around the globe.

HH:  How is black metal regarded in the UK? Is Cradle of Filth still considered the hometown heroes?

TW:  Black metal is very popular here, however our own acts do not receive much attention from their own countrymen. By and large, this has been because the majority of them have been very poor but we are starting to see an emergence of genuine quality on these isles now which, slowly but surely, are gaining support. The genre is receiving considerable attention and touring bands are visiting here with increasing regularity. Whereas 5-6 years ago, we would only really see gigs from Marduk and Dark Funeral, now we are seeing headlining shows from Shining, Taake, Agalloch, Negura Bunget, all of which are receiving healthy audiences. People are tired with the sterile posturing and song-free workouts of death metal and mainstream extreme metal – listeners here are starting to yearn for something that embodies a bit of spirit, possesses an element of artistic creativity – and they are finding this with black metal.

As for Cradle of Filth as hometown heroes? Not at all. A mainstream metal collective, a wildly successful business venture, a merchandising juggernaut? Certainly. But as a valid musical entity? No way. No-one I know gives a fuck about them – then again, I don’t really hang out with teenagers so who knows? In certain circles, they may be regarded as metal Gods but I suspect these circles are probably in school dining halls across the country…

HH:  Musically, which genres are most influential to you? Do you have any favourite artists?

TW:  Aside from black metal, I appreciate the works of a number of post-rock, shoegaze and goth bands – The Cure, Mogwai, Fields of the Nephilim, Slowdive, anything in which the band weaves a soundscape, using instrumentation as a means to transporting the listener. I also listen to a lot of progressive rock such as Yes, King Crimson, Rush, Genesis e.t.c. I admire these bands sense of vision and ability to weave material that is at once technical and atmospheric. The more ambient, abstract side of electronica I have also been digging into as well – anything that creates a sense of place, can take you elsewhere and deliver an atmosphere.

HH:  Is Fen your only musical creation, or do you have other bands or projects you are a part of? What about the other members of the band?

TW:  Several of us are involved in other projects – myself and Grungyn play in Skaldic Curse, a black metal band that reflects violence, anger and nihilism. The music is more discordant, more aggressive with jagged time-signatures and plenty of blastbeats. It is a real catharsis. Draugluin meanwhile maintains his ‘Grendel’ project, a one-man endeavour that blends fantasy themes with old English mythology using epic black metal to deliver his message.

HH:  A bit off topic perhaps, but if there was only one day left on earth what do you think you would find yourself doing?

TW:  An interesting question. I would probably head to the wilderness with my girlfriend and drink single malt whisky until the apocalypse arrived.

HH:  Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with Heathen Harvest. If you have any last comments, please post below to be included with the interview.

TW:  Thanks Mark, keep things bleak.


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