Sweet Release: Fen – Winter (3/10/17)

I feel like I’ll start slobbering at the mere mention of anything black metal these days. It’s only when I actually listen to what’s on offer that I find the blackened bits too charred — or worse, not blackened enough. For me, a lot of atmospheric black metal tends to underwhelm by falling into the former (although there are recent exceptions), where I feel like there’s simply too much ground being retread. It’s enough to make me dizzy from seeing all the same footsteps.

And that’s when I found myself up to the knees in Fen.

Album art for Fen's 2017 release, Winter.

I’ll admit I felt apprehensive about the 17-minute duration of “I (Pathway),” the premiere song; if it were a mucky, grimy mire of a track, I knew I’d be stuck. But from its first opening notes, I felt heartened that this wasn’t going to be a weary, colossal blast-fest like I was expecting.

For one, Fen’s familiar territory seems to lie in other genres, with phlegmy, swamp witch vocals stewing together with bright prog-rock riffs. For a whopper of a song, there’s very little in it that’s traditionally black metal (which, if you’ll recall from my intro, is something I should be worried about), but the standout parts that are there work together and sound so fresh to me that I’m willing to allow myself to be entranced. Now I’m just following will-o-wisps deeper and deeper into the muck.

I’ll admit I’m still a little doubtful. I don’t know how long the other tracks are on Winter, but if “I (Pathway)” is any indication, I can expect to ensure my stay with Fen to be a lengthy one. Long songs are a hard sell for me, even for bands I know I can count on, so I’m taking a leap of faith here. But then again, I’ve been wrong there too. But believe me — I predict Winter will be a swamp I’m going to dip my toes into, get settled, and then become completely submerged.

Sweet Release: Sunless – Urraca (2/24)

Technical death metal rarely grabs me the way other genres do. Maybe I just feel like bands are only capable of following two trajectories: One, where every song devolves into an incomprehensibly obnoxious shred-fest, and… okay, one trajectory.

But apparently tech death has a lesser known route, at least among the roads I travel. It’s one that leads me into a bright and glorious future where tech death and I ride off into the sunset together… except this is where the metaphor turns to shit because I’m talking about a band named Sunless.

Album art for Urraca by Sunless.

I think this Twin Cities tech death trio appeals to me because they have little of the typical razzle-dazzle charm I’m used to hearing. The two tracks I’ve heard off the upcoming Urraca sound dirty, like they’ve just been pulled up from the vegetable garden, and goddamn they’re good enough to eat, as is. They have this organic, jammy nature to them, but they’re pulled off with what seems to be a skyscraping amount of premeditated skill. Winging it, Sunless ain’t.

Where most tech death bands seem to want to blow me away with notes or bend my mind with odd-time signatures, Sunless has an opportunity to make a real impression here. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but I feel like they’re in this weird middle ground in tech death between “you can’t even dream of playing these notes, you little shit” and “try to wrap your mind around this one, you neanderthal.” But Sunless only seems hard to follow until they all start playing, and then they make a special sort of sense? I don’t like that either, but that’s the only way I can explain how much I’m eagerly anticipating the 24th of February release of Urraca.

Who knows — maybe the whole thing’ll be techy gobbledygook after all, and I’ll feel justified in my ignorance. But I want to believe, Scully. And I’ve heard too much discordant grooving in these songs to convince myself otherwise.

Sweet Release: Mors Principium Est – Embers of a Dying World (2/10)

Yeah, yeah, I know Embers of a Dying World came out last Friday. But I’m not going to listen to it until after I talk about how excited I am for it, dammit!

At some point, I don’t know when, Mors Principium Est became one of those bands for me. You know the ones — class acts like Amon Amarth, who consistently put out quality tunes without ever messing with their formula. For MPE specifically, not even a major roster change in 2011 did much to steer them off course the familiar Finnish waters of melodic death metal. In fact, with their new multi-national lineup, they’re at their Mors Principium Best. For reference, I’ve been spinning …And Death Said Live on my Zune (what the fuck year is this again?) since it came out.

But since this Sweet Release column invariably becomes about what I want most from new releases, I’ll throw my lot in for this: I want MPE’s heaviness back.

Album art for Mors Principium Est's 2017 release, Embers of a Dying World.

Don’t get me wrong — MPE, in all their forms, always handle their sense of melody with the skill of veteran songmanship. Like, that’s never a thing I have to worry about with them. I know they’ll treat their skeedle-dees and their chugga-wuggs with equal importance. But!! I can’t help but listen to songs off The Unborn and wish the band’s new blood would throw my subwoofer a frickin’ bone. Gimme some of that bottom end, knowwhatimsayin?

In the grand scheme of things, this is a minor nitpick. After all, what other nits can I pick? For years now, MPE only ever does what they do best, and that usually lines right up with what I want to hear from them: catchy, kick-ass melodic death metal. Regardless of whether they don’t give me what I want or not, I’m sure Embers of a Dying World will have some of the year’s most memorable tunes.