By now you should all be aware of the band that is FEN. But in case you have missed out on this English band here is a chance to get to know them a bit better. Anders Ekdahl ©2017
Winter seems to fascinates everybody, from authors to scientist. What is it that is so fascinating with winter? Is “Winter” a concept album of sorts?
-Yes, it is very much is a concept piece – both musically and lyrically. The songs have been written to flow into one another so that the album can work as a full, singular entity with each piece flowing into the next. Lyrically meanwhile the record deals with the overearching narrative of a journey towards resolution or finality – a nebulous quest whereby the ‘seeker’ driving the narrative is aware only that they are seeking something, however the exact nature of what it is they are seeking is unclear.
So in this context, ‘Winter’ embodies very much a spiritual, figurative endpoint. Escape, enlightenment, ascension, transedcence, redemption, death – one, may or all of those things can be embodied within the metaphor of this most cruel of seasons. There is a symbolic finality to the very notion of winter – days of darkness and cold, of ending. In this, the fascinations with what winter IS and what it can REPRESENT are clear. This is particularly true within the context of heavy metal – especially extreme metal. Spring and summer months are traditionally associated with hope, growth, warmth and positivity – not particularly ‘metal’ notions if you ask me.
Winter meanwhile is redolent with more negative implications – death, cold, darkness, loss, loneliness and suffering. In this, it only seems appropriate that is something that has been woven into the fabric of inspiration for metal acts time and again since the genre’s inception. Having said that, I do believe that our approach on this record is a little different – certainly, we have taken the negative associations of winter but I would like to think we have weaved these into a narrative that is a little more ambiguous than might otherwise have been expected.
The folklore in the different countries that is the UK are rich and very vivid. How much of the folklore from the different parts of the UK do you incorporate in FEN?
-You know, this is never something that I have specifically looked to for inspiration. English folklore is a very varied beast and is often incredibly regional – yes, there are central myths and legends that seem to have their own local interpretations or ‘spin’ depending on where you are but by and large, each part of the UK can very much have it’s own folkloric traditions.
Whilst the history of the UK and the tales of folklore are of interest to me up to a certain point, my motivation for writing for Fen is derived from something more personal – first and foremost, I see this band as a vessel for me to channel something of myself into an expression that is meaningful in some way yet can also resonate with others. I’m not really interested in telling ‘stories’ – that works fine for some bands but that isn’t something that is relevant to my approach.
Conceptually, Fen utilises metaphorical representations of nature in order to describe elements of the internal – my own worldview, ruminations on the nature of my own humanity and the vagiaries of the human experience that plague us all. This may sound like a somewhat negative influence but it does not necessarily have to be the case – a lot of the inspiration surrounds not only a confrontation of the negativty but a striving to understand, to make sense of and to transcend. I hesitate to use the word ‘spiritual’ as it is so overused but it is hard to avoid sometimes!
Taking this into account, I guess inasmuch as folkloric myths, traditions and superstitions are rooted in allegory, one could argue that there is a tertiary influence there that might be bleeding into Fen in an almost subconscious fashion – but isn’t something I am consciously incorporating to a significant degree I am afraid.
Do you feel that you have created your own musical niche? Like Sabbat did and like Skyclad did.
-I’d like to think we are distinctive to some degree – I certainly would argue that when we started the band in 2006 and consciously decided to incorporate elements of shoegaze, post-rock and post-metal into a predominantly black metal sonic template that this was a somewhat unique approach at the time. We didn’t realise a number of other acts such as Alcest and Altar of Plagues were setting out to do similat things at the time so in that sense, I feel we were being ‘original’ to an extent.
As we have grown older, it is clear that a whole sub-genre of ‘post black metal’ has emerged over the last decade and in a sense, whilst this a ‘niche’ of sorts, it is one that is not purely our own. Of course, we could argue that it is a niche we contributed towards defining, though that’s not really for me to determine.
Nonetheless, I do think that there is an intrinsic, innate Fen ‘sound’ – all bands will say this but I do genuinely believe we have forged an individual identity within our genre. The way in which we balance instrumentation, our approach to songwriting, use of dynamics and textures, these things I think contribute to distinguish us from other acts who may on the surface, be treading a similar path.
Can we talk about a deep spiritual connection between FEN and Mother Earth? What is it that influences you to come up with new music today?
-Landscape and nature are hugely important to us in a number of ways, even if much of the use of landscape in our lyrical tracts are primarily metaphorically. There is a definite ‘connection’ as you put it – something deeply-rooted, primal and evocative stirs within oneself when exposed to the grandeur of the willderness. It is hard to pinpoint a specific motive, however it is undeniable that I feel more open to inspiration, that the creative part of my brain feels more alive when I am in surroundings attuned to nature.
Beauty, awe and creative inspiration are fundamentally entwined I suppose – in order to write music, one has to feel SOMETHING, one has to be moved to express, to give voice to something that has grown within you. Different artists use different sources for inspiration – some are moved by the brutality of urban life, others use their own personal experiences, others look towards film or literature – and some use natural surroundings as a way of setting alight their own creative flames.
For me, the wilderness is at once both a lense through which to filter my own personal encounters and also fuel to the fires of expression. It invigorates and gives shape to nebulous thoughts/feelings, much as abstract paintings can give form to the emotions of the artist behind the paintbrush. There is indeed something spiritual about standing in the depths of the fens, sensing the soils almost ‘speak’ to you and resolving to channel this into an expression of both music and words. It is a continual source of influence – more than ever in fact – and was certainly a fundamental driving force being our most recent album.
How important is having a label to back you up today when you can just release your music on any sort of platform online? Are there any negative consequences to music being too readily available to fans?
-I get asked this a lot and you know, I still believe that labels are a hugely important part of the music scene. The DIY revolution that started back in the early 2000s was supposed to revolutionise the distribution process – putting bands directly in contact with listeners, unshackling art from the vagiaries of big business and essentially democraticisng everything into a big, social sharing platform with no heriarchy or barriers to entry.
Except it hasn’t quite played out like that. Yes, it is true that anyone can release their music on an online platform but that sense of accessbility has led to a saturation of bands having their music distributed online. This democraticisation of distribution makes it incredibly difficult to separate the ‘wheat from the chaff’ so to speak – when time is so precious and any fourteen year old with a guitar, microphone and a dial-up connection can disseminate their half-baked Burzum worshipping material at the drop of a hat, how on earth is one able to wade through the mire to discover art of worth?
This is where labels come in. It could be argued that now – more than ever before – labels act as beacons of quality control, of signifiers of material that is actually WORTH the listeners time. It may be a little over-the-top to describe them as gatekeepers of quality but I believe that the association with – even patronisation of – a well-regarded label can be invaluable for bands in this day and age. I simply don’t have the time to wade through endless Bandcamp pages (though I wish I did) and therefore, labels whom I trust – who have released excellent material in the past – become almost the ‘eyes and ears’ for me in some ways, filtering and sieving the deluge of available music.
Labels also assist with investment in recordings, physical pressings, tour support, all that sort of thing. By and large, making music at the end of the day costs money – equipment, storage., rehearsal spaces, studio time, all of this costs money. Fine, we all work day jobs to make ends meet but even so, there are certain one-shot, hefty costs that even we as working individuals (with all of the financial pressures this brings to bear) cannot shoulder ourselves such as studio time or tour costs for longer tours. Again, in such circumstances, the support of a reliable, reputable label becomes very worthwhile.
Though there are many who celebrate the hit that labels have taken and who despise the very concept, everything in this world is subject to the powers of free-market enterprise. Streaming sites like Spotify have effectively obliterated a lot of the ‘direct to listener’ marketing avenues available to bands and artists and provide pitiful levels of remuneration. They serve to foster and facilitate the ‘something for nothing’ mentality that a lot of younger listeners associate with music. Yes, they can pro
I get the feeling that fans that are true to a band, is a lost thing with the easy access to music these days. Do you feel that this is a bad thing or are there any positive aspects of it at all?
-There are some positives, certainly. Communication is one thing – access to music is all well and good but the ability of fans to communicate directly with bands via Facebook for example I think is a great thing. For a band of our relatively underground stature, it’s always a privilage to receive communications from people across the globe who have listened to our music and been affected by it in some small way.
In a more practical sense, it helps a lot with organising shows – especially overseas – and I don’t doubt that the exposure granted by unfettered online availability of our music has facilitated us playing a fair number of our gigs abroad. So for this, I guess I need to be grateful for the exposure that these avenues provide. As always, it is a double-edged sword, the balance between accessbility, awareness and familiarity being a fine line to walk!
What to you is a great front cover? What should a cover have to make it great?
-A great cover for me is usually something simple, stark and compelling. It should not only embody the music and concepts contained within an album but also draw the listener into ask questions – to engage the mind above and beyond a simple surface-level appreciation of aesthetics. Some of the most basic, raw album cover images can be most effective for this – take the cover of Darkthrone’s ‘Under a Funeral Moon’ for example. It’s such a lo-fi, ‘corpsepainted-man-hiding-in-the-hedge’ image but it works so well on so many levels – it completely embodies the low-fi, mysterious nature of the album. Who is this figure? So many sinister implications – in a similar vein, I always enjoyed the Arckanum covers.
A splendid painting is always a pleasure as well – increasingly rare in this day and age – and I would have to single out Necrolord’s work as being of a particularly affecting quality. The classic covers for Dark Funeral’s ‘Secrets of The Black Arts’, Emperor’s ‘In the Nightside Eclipse’ and more recently Blut Aus Nord’s ‘Saturnian Poetry’ are marvels of ambience, detail and technique. Each of them sets the imagination aflame which is so important in this genre. Paolo Girardi’s work is excellent as well, the covers of the last Bell Witch and Cth’e’list records are amazing.
I do think that aesthetics by and large are improving in the extreme music scene – of course, there is a proliferation of photoshop abominations being thrown out by useless bands but by and large, those artists that know what they are doing have tended to hone their artwork and really make an effort to ensure the visuals, sound and concepts tie together well.
Do you feel that you are part of a national scene? What is the climate for metal in your country?
-There is certainly a tangible sense of UK black metal scene and we do definitely feel like a part of this. It’s fairly small, granted, and most people tend to know one an other but this is not a problem – indeed, for arranging gigs and sharing ideas, it’s actually very helpful. The UK black metal scene is definitely something that feels far more unified and focussed than it did 10-15 years ago, I can say that. There is a far greater sense of community, of mutual support and of confidence than there has been at any time since I can remember back from the late 90s.
It has of course helped that we have produced a few bands that have finally cemented our place on the international stage – Winterfylleth are of course the obvious band here, probably the UK’s most successful black metal act since Cradle of Filth. There are of course others – A Forest of Stars, Ghast, Crom Dubh, Terra, Old Corpse Road, Ashenspire, Necromaniac, Craven Idol, Voices, all excellent bands with their own distinctive styles that are all starting to gain real recognition. So in terms of the climate for black metal here, it seems to be something that – if not thriving – is certainly very healthy. There seem to be more gigs than ever before and a dedicated set of promoters who put on excellent gigs/packages.
As for the climate for metal in general here in the UK, it’s not quite so easy for me to comment on this. I guess it’s pretty decent – the Download festival is as popular as ever for example – but quite honestly, it’s not something I could really comment on in any real detail. What I can say for certain is that metal continues to be ignored and/or ridiculed by just about every mainstream cultural outlet – it has ever thus been the case however.
I use Spotify and Deezer but only as compliment to buying CDS (it’s easier to just have your phone or pad when you’re out) but I fear that soon music as we know it will be dead and buried. What are your worries as a band?
-Going back to my earlier points on record labels, though there are many who celebrate the hit that labels have taken and who despise the very concept of labels, everything in this world is subject to the powers of free-market enterprise. Streaming sites like Spotify have effectively obliterated a lot of the ‘direct to listener’ marketing avenues available to bands and artists and provide pitiful levels of remuneration. They serve to foster and facilitate the ‘something for nothing’ mentality that a lot of younger listeners associate with music. Yes, they can provide exposure, promotion and there are some listeners who use these sites as avenues to ‘check out’ bands before purchasing physical releases – however, I’ll wager that there are far more who don’t, that there are whole tracts of the listening public who are plugged into these sites seven days a week who haven’t purchased a physical release in years.
That’s fine of course – as I stated earlier, none of us are in this business to make money – but the flip side is, don’t moan when one of your favourite bands calls it a day as they can no longer justify the expenses of rehearsing and recording. Don’t whine about the production of a band’s latest record not being as good as the last one because the label cannot afford to give them as much of an advance and the band themselves are not in a position to stump up studio costs. Don’t cry when your town or country is left off of a tour route because there isn’t enough tour support available to justify it being included. These are the real-world costs of the music business that a lot of entitled ‘internet listeners’ perhaps don’t understand – and they’ll be the first to cry ‘foul’ when bands scale things back and/or pack it all in.
You see, the purity of music being made for music’s sake is all well and good and most artists will happily forge away on their music for nothing as it is a passion. Nevertheless, audiences cannot have it both ways – if they want access to live shows in a town near them, decent recordings and motivated bands putting out well-presented, quality releases, then this requires money. Full-stop.
You ask about my worrries as a band – it’s albums being relegated to other income-stream facilitating ‘product’. In many ways, it’s already happening. Look at some of the old workhorses from the 80s, churning out half-baked, flat albums every two-three years as an excuse to play gigs, sell merch and rake in guarantees. Bands are having to chase income from other means which means we are guaranteed to see a gradual dilution in the quality of recorded material – when a new album means little more than an excuse to tour, we will have a problem. The flip-side is that the only bands who will be able to afford to do this whole thing will be those bands who are independently wealthy (rich parents e.t.c.) which completely flies in the face of the principles of the ‘democraticisation’ the halcyon horizons of the internet age of music promised us all.
What lies in the future?
-For Fen, who dares guess? In the short-term future, we have a number of exciting things lined up – of course the official release of ‘Winter’ is something we are still building up to and we are all looking forward to the album finally being unleashed. We have some excellent live shows lined up to promote the new album – a mini-tour with Taake, support slots with Primordial and Akercocke – as well as some other exciting European opportunities lining up for the second half of the year. We should also be releasing our side of the ‘Stone & Sea’ split CD on vinyl as well.
Beyond this, it is hard to tell. As long as the flames of inspiration and creative passion continue to burn then we will continue to create. I can assure you that whatever we do, it will remain true to the essence of Fen and we will always seek to drive ourselves further forward. Already my mind is slowly but surely turning its attention to the next record, the first tentative tendrils of creative exploration have begun. Ideas are forming – coalescing and taking shape – which is in some ways the most exciting part of the creative process, the initial steps on a journey to bringing a new record to life.
Ultimately, whilst very few of us can guarantee what will happen in the future, I can guarantee that Fen will always stand for genuine creativity and a striving to express something sincere.