It’s hard not to be a little excited when an album is compared to artists such as Tool and Porcupine Tree, but then Fen are on their fourth album now and have attracted a fair amount of attention over the course of the previous three discs.
Opening with the title track, an acoustic, folk-inflected lament, there are elements of Opeth in the stunning guitar playing, while the lush, warm tones recall latter-day Anathema although vocalist Doug Harrison has a wider vocal range than most, ranging from a stunning falsetto to the sombre tones more traditionally associated with this type of music. The production is top notch too, with the guitars kicking in with surprising depth and clarity, although they are used sparingly rather than allowed to ride roughshod over the track destroying the mood. ‘Through the night’ has a much darker feel, a sinister minor key vocal that stands in stark contrast to the opening track and offers up hints of Porcupine Tree as well as Soundgarden’s epic, psychedelic rock. It’s quite a ride, with the band showcasing a remarkable grip of dynamics, allowing the songs to grab you and draw you into their mighty ebb and flow. ‘The world is young’ is an epic, eight minute track that draws upon the funereal aspects of doom metal for a downbeat intro that suddenly breaks into synthesised drums and piano – a twist that is as unexpected as it is welcome. ‘Miracle’ certainly does more to justify straight-up Porcupine Tree comparisons, with a gently picked guitar and vocal line that is somewhere between ‘lazarus’ and the ‘Stupid dream’ album – with biting melodies and taut instrumental work that slowly coalesces into an altogether heavier, darker grind than the opening would suggest.
‘Find that one’ is a beautiful track with a memorable vocal hook and stunning harmonies. It’s part progressive rock, part mid-nineties grunge and would make a fantastic single. ‘A clearing’ offers a brief instrumental prelude to the softly-softly approach of ‘Queen of the mountain’ which has a hint of vintage Foo fighters about it before side-stepping into more pastoral progressive climes. While it’s an attractive song it stands as nothing next to the epic, Tool-esque ‘End of the dream’ which couples the heavy instrumental drama of that band with vocals that are reminiscent, strangely, of Supertramp more than anything else. It’s a track which is astonishing for the sheer range of influences and ideas that Fen invest in it. Echoes of progressive, pop, indie, ambient and metal all take a bow over the eight minute run time and you’re never quite sure what to expect next in this most unpredictable of tracks. The beautiful soundscapes of ‘in your arms’ finishes the album on an emotional high that runs through all of the strengths that this amazing band display over the course of the album, veering between Anathema’s progressive beauty and Porcupine Tree’s darker moments while all the time offering something new into the mix. It’s a stunning, memorable closer to a stunning, memorable album and deserves to be heard by anyone as yet unconvinced as it will undoubtedly help to convince of the prodigious talent that this band possess.
Ultimately ‘Trails out of gloom’ is a ride through the many different moods and inspirations of a band possessed of great talent. While many reference points abound, they are so many and so varied as to only offer brief glimpses of the wonders contained within the album and any fan of progressive music will be utterly captivated by Fen. Give it a try, you undoubtedly will not regret it.