- Year 2017
- Genre Black Metal
- Country United Kingdom
- Label Eisenwald Tonschmiede
- Rating Excellent
It’s hard to believe that only a few months after Fen’s ‘Winter’, guitarist/vocalist The Watcher has released a solo album that encompasses similar textures and tonality but ultimately heads in its own direction. Alongside Fen drummer Havenless, Fellwarden’s debut ‘Oathbearer’ takes the windswept textures and sprawling atmosphere that The Watcher explored in his main band and adds haunting synths that up the atmosphere considerably. ‘Oathbearer’ may come off as a bit more singularly focused compared to where Fen has gone in recent years, but it’s just as stunning and the nuances of the album will have you coming back to experience it over and over again.
The emphasis here is on creating a shimmering atmosphere that brings vast landscapes to mind, and then letting them expand outwards naturally…
Where Fen has gone off on a more progressively skewed path, writing songs that provide plenty of twists and turns as they move from soft melodies to soaring climaxes, Fellwarden feels a bit more stripped down from a songwriting perspective. The emphasis here is on creating a shimmering atmosphere that brings vast landscapes to mind, and then letting them expand outwards naturally. It’s an approach that The Watcher is certainly not a stranger to, especially considering that earlier Fen albums showcased some similar textures. But this feels more like a complement to those works than a retread, as all it will take is a song or two for the layers of guitar and synth melodies to overtake you and put you under their spell. ‘Oathbearer’ keeps things fairly dense the whole way through, as even when the guitars head into cleaner tonality and soften things up there are still multiple layers of sound washing over you. That’s not to say that this album is missing any bite though, as similar to some of the best black metal of this type the instrumentals attack just as often as they lull you into a calm state. Though the songs may spread outwards in a more linear fashion, they’re capable of holding your attention for their entirety and it never feels as though The Watcher has pushed any of these ideas to the point of repetition.
Since I’ve reviewed four Fen releases previously, I’ve become very familiar with The Watcher’s raspy screams that often end up being one of the focal points of the recordings. This is once again the case here, and given that Fellwarden’s approach is closer to traditional atmospheric black metal without some of the additional genre influences seen in Fen that makes sense. With this project skewing a bit more towards the roots of atmospheric black metal, you might be wondering if the vocals stick with the harsh ranges for the entire album but some singing does make an appearance during key moments. In particular, the somber singing on In Death, Valiant stands out as it gives a very contemplative and sorrowful tone to the song. The Watcher’s clean ranges have gotten better and better over the year, and they’re well implemented alongside the harsher pitches throughout ‘Oathbearer’.
In the scheme of things Fellwarden doesn’t drastically deviate from the sound Fen had established early on, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Where the latter has moved towards sprawling progressive arrangements that feel like they could encompass an entire album’s worth of ideas in a single song, the former returns to a singular focus where the atmosphere spreads outwards through stretched out melodies. The addition of the synth on ‘Oathbearer’ is what gives this project a true identity of its own, and if this ends up being more than just a one-off I’m excited to see if it becomes even more prominent next time around. Fans of epic/atmospheric black metal like Summoning or Winterfylleth will find plenty to like about this album, and it’s another 2017 highlight. There’s definitely room for both Fen and Fellwarden to co-exist, and only time will tell how far they will diverge from each other.