The Malediction Fields

Fen – the British word for swamp – suggests a band with a sludgy, crawling sound, but that’s not the case with this UK-based act. Instead, this combines dry, murky black metal with buoyant melodies and expansive moodscapes to create a dynamic and often mesmerizing experience. Essentially, Fen comes off like the British version of Agalloch, and I’d go as far to say that The Malediction Fields is better than that band’s recent efforts.

Opener “Exile’s Journey” is aptly named, as it – and then rest of the lengthy album that follows – takes you on an extended trek that frequently blends and shifts between cacophony and contemplation. You’ll catch the obvious nods to Agalloch‘s Pale Folklore with the first barren notes of Exile. Then the song explodes into a clatter of frenetic black metal, as if rushing through a dense, choking tangle of thorns that tear at the skin. Soon after, it emerges into a quiet glade, joined by soaring, tasteful synths and slowing to a more stately pace. By the time warm acoustics and somber clean vocals join in, you should be ready and centered for the long journey ahead.

“A Witness to the Passing of Aeons” balances these moods just as ably, starting off in cramped, whispery gloom before ascending to a more gorgeous and stirring vista. Songwriting is wonderfully fluid and surprising, even crescendoing to a lovely melodic lead in its closing minutes. Unlike other dual-natured bands, Fen doesn’t just limit the rasped vocals to the harsher moments and keep the clean vocals to the more solemn ones – both are interchangeable, with the black vocals adding gravity and danger even as the melodies brighten and blossom.

In many ways, this starts to come off like black metal shoegazer, somewhere between Drudkh and Cocteau Twins. “Colossal Voids,” with its predominant clean vocals and shimmering guitars, makes this comparison even more apparent, as it comes off like countrymates Slowdive. By song’s end, though, the pounding drums and black metal have come crashing back in, and it seems that the song starts to pull itself apart. The clean vocals here start to suffer as well, coming off as tremulous and not confident enough, but that’s really the only spot on the album where this stood out.

The rest of The Malediction Fields offers one excellent track after another, with “The Warren’s” Isis-like opening minutes and the whole of “Lashed by Storm” being two standouts. The closing minutes of “Bereft” are also memorable in that Fen starts flirting with overtly bright, sunny-sounding notes that still fall shy of being ‘happy.’ They’re more hopeful, like shafts of light penetrating to the murk below, and if this sounds like blasphemy to you black metal purists, you might have to get used to it. I’ve been hearing this sort of willingness to push the light-and-shade dynamic more and more these days, showing up in recent efforts from Alcest, Svarti Loghin and Dekadent. Of course, even Burzum had its lovely moments way back when (parts of “Tomhet” and “Dunkelheit”), so perhaps this renaissance of lighter melody in black soil is just those seeds taking root.

The Malediction Fields will certainly take a few listens to sink into, but it’s well worth the time. Highly recommended for fans of the above-mentioned bands as well as Wolves in the Throne Room and the new Blut Aus Nord.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
March 28th, 2009


  1. Commented by: axiom

    Cool, this sounds like it will be really, really good.

  2. Commented by: T-bone

    Great review, Jordan! Well described, on target sound-wise and with comparisons, and an excellent intro to someone who has not heard the album before.

    Also think it’s a very good album except for the clean vocals on Colossal Voids really had me wondering!!!

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