Black metal and post-rock have become such a common combination lately, it makes sense that two bands who focus on these genres would do a split release. And so we arrive at Call of Ashes II/Stone and Sea.
Sleepwalker begins the album, which seems a bit strange as they are not nearly as well known, with an instrumental and somewhat minimal stripped down sound. Beginning with a fairly catchy guitar melody, each successive note hangs in the air before it goes a bit more into the abstract, focusing more on atmosphere than creating a typical song structure. The melody keeps repeating, in between a few moments of ambient noises. At first, I found the track boring, but in time, listening to this while driving helped me clear my head, and I grew quite fond of it, despite its limitations.
The second (title) track of the Sleepwalker side all but passed me by; an ambient piece that failed to captivate. However the third song “Oblivion” has a good thing going on, that easily could have been an unforgettable track. The guitars swell into a memorable song, which kicks in with a distorted guitar and teases the idea of something more about to happen.
While key elements of Sleepwalker’s contributions resonated with me long after they were over, this largely sounds like a demo of songs that have yet to be completed, which is too bad, as the riff and guitar melody in the final track are excellent. There is simply something missing here, and that something else is Fen, whose first track flows well into the last one from Sleepwalker. At this point, it is obvious that they made a big mistake by not alternating the tracks.
Fen is the kind of band that exists on the border between rock and alternative. “Tides of Glass” starts out more similar to modern shoegaze acts such as Nothing, before the harsh vocals enter the picture. It alternates between these two things, doing both styles incredibly well, but always hinting that, at any moment, they could drop all the metal aspects and become a more streamlined rock band. This fluidity has always worked well for them, and I am glad that the earlier Agalloch influence is not as strong as I recall from when they first began. A riff near the end even hints at some DSBM, showing the next album could just as easily be more akin to Lifelover as it is to My Bloody Valentine.
“Stone and Sea” is an instrumental track that is strong enough, being that Sleepwalker is all instrumental as well. I really don’t get that approach, though, as it seems they could have just done an all instrumental album together. However, the instrumental track flows perfectly into “The Last Gravestone”, which has a seriously strong jam going, showing a fluidity with the members, before erupting into Alda-esque passion. The repeated clean vocal section is excellent, a line that goes on for awhile and changes form, demanding the listener become completely entrenched within the sound of these crashing waves. With each iteration, the vocals shift, utilizing the principle of “less as more”. While this does not put them on the level of the legends, it certainly shows Fen has the ability to write an album that we will all be talking about a decade from now. This could possibly be even more so if they collaborated with Sleepwalker, who has a lot of memorable elements and good ideas but that never quite come to fruition.
Overall, there is a lot here that is deserving of attention, but seeing that it could have been a bit more makes it a bit disappointing. At the very least, switching up the tracks would have offered way more to each band, both of whom are worthy of attention in their respective genres.
1. Somnambulistic Trance
2. Call of Ashes II
4. Tides of Glass
5. Stone and Sea
6. The Last Gravestone