Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Fen - Of Losing Interest: Old School Values, New School Sounds

Fen's  Of Losing Interest reveals that in the two years since their last release, 2010's Trails Out of the Gloom, the band haven't been standing still. This album is a significant leap forward in terms of songwriting, vocal adventure, and instrumental interplay. Everything hinted at in the band's three previous releases seems now realized.

The band's sound has metabolized from having prog-rock, metal, and funky folk leanings to being a seamless blend of styles and sophisticated structures. Where previously there may have been a bit too much effort in stylistic juxtaposition, the band now wears their near limitless diversity like a second skin.

From a whip start of tightly meshed metal, Riddled eases into a mid-tempo groove as frontman Doug Harrison sings smoothly melodic verses over a steady beat that has me fondly remembering the slightly off kilter drum work that made The Police such a winner. A great drummer can make a band great, and there's no doubt that Nando Polesel is a great drummer. Three minutes in and the band throw off convention and unleashes some mighty prog/metal fury. Most generally the fusion of metal and progressive rock makes me a bit seasick, but this is smooth sailing all the way. A great kickstart.

Extremely musical drummers can make bands, and I make no bones about the fact that everything on display here is top notch, and while there's no shortage of musical musculature to be found, the crafty drumming keeps this way above the din of today's rock. Of Losing Interest is a song that covers a tremendous amount of ground - it's a perfect example of the band's growth and maturity. This is wickedly complex, but it never loses the listener.

Nice For Three Days is a huge slab of powerful rock, and its bellicose crunch immense, but it stays solid and doesn't sound harsh, nor muddy. It sucks you in to a wind tunnel of molten metal and vocals that seem to evoke pleasant memories of the spirit of Freddie Mercury. Muscular and melodic - not an easy combination, and Fen are doing it quite well and making it sound very natural.

Slinky sophistication is found all across this disc, and on A Long Line everyone is on point playing their parts - the parts sit well together, but are quite distinct on their own. The band's longtime producer Mike Southworth pulls great performances out of Fen, and supplies an excellent job of engineering and mixing. No lock step repetition, endless unison parts that make such a mess of so much modern rock. The prog portion of this tune is a splendid example of the possibilities when mixed with metal.

Fen is a great example of what happens when a band is allowed to develop - this is their fifth long player, and it shows that the group now has a great sixth sense when it comes to instrumental interplay, and Harrison's vocals are never at odds with the music. In an age in which success is a do or die matter, it's a joy to hear what can happen to a band when it is allowed to mature naturally.

Light Up The End slows things down with a pastoral acoustic guitar intro that soon gives way to some great dynamic interplay that should have fans of bands like King Crimson, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest singing high praises for modern days. Modern metal that delivers hope and beauty instead of constant angst and anger is a breath of needed fresh air. Classic rock enthusiasts will have no trouble seeing the path from the previous generation to 2012 with this record.

Pilot Planet is a simmering stew that connects the dots of rock history perhaps more successfully than any band has yet accomplished. I hear sonic references that take me from hard rock, heavy metal, progressive rock, jazz fusion, and even some reminders that new wave music had some heavy hitters - this record sounds like today, but it doesn't alienate, or discourage connections to the past history of rock. So often, modern rock sounds so at arms with its past that one wonders, why the hostility? Fen is cutting edge, but when they break out an incredible rock riff like the one that rings in Snake Path you appreciate their nod to history - it's a cinematic masterpiece in the mold of the best of Judas Priest in the ways of majesty and imagination with all the dynamics of very sophisticated modern music.

Fen has finally come completely together as a band, and Of Losing Interest is their first major league record. Hopefully, this record allows the band to tour widely and to continue this stint of growth. The band is on fire - the guitar work of Harrison and Sam Levin is exciting, imaginative, and sonically satisfying. Harrison's vocals and melodies have improved significantly, bassist Jeff Caron is much, much more than a low end roar - his parts are great, his tone is awesome. However, as great as all the performances and performers are on this disc, drummer Nando Polesel takes this record from very good to near classic. Hats off to the whole band, and to Ripple Music, nice job fellows.

Fen - Of Losing Interest: Release Date - August 14th 

Thanks to Fen, and Ripple Music.

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