Back in the day, this Norwegian band was derogatorily referred to as a “life metal”-band by scenesters. Especially their sophomore effort Silence suffered a reputation of being an exceptionally weak, pretentious and – above all – boring release. Although recent years have given rise to sporadic reevaluations of the band’s work, Fester remains largely neglected to this day (and some would say deservedly so).
One possible explanation to Fester’s bad rep is the evident discrepancy between musical- and non-musical properties. A Norwegian metal band releasing an album in 1994, adorned with a wolf under a full moon and with song titles like “Voices from the Woods” and “Silent is the Raven” obviously signals black metal. On the other hand, the band name and logo are essentially that of a death metal band. Then you turn on the music and… let’s just say that it seems highly likely that more than a few Silence-CDs have met an untimely death after being purchased by an unknowing metalhead expecting just about anything but what is actually on the disc.
Firstly, the Silence isn’t particularly aggressive or powerful – at least not in a conventional sense. Secondly, the vocals are an acquired taste. The singer doesn’t screech, growl or scream; he employs a faint whisper consistently throughout the album. It’s not the voice of an evil entity or a dying person’s last grasp of air, it just sounds strangely subdued and at the same time a bit contrived. Thirdly – and perhaps most importantly – the musical form can hardly be categorized as either black- or death metal. Rather than adhering to the by-then staunchly declared rules of underground metal, Silence sounds like an oddball take on mid-1990s Metal Church performed by second generation Norwegian black metal-kids who also happens to like Rotting Christ’s Thy Mighty Contract. The closest match would probably be the Dutch band Creepmime, even if that comparison doesn’t really account for what’s going on here.
In true progressive fashion, Fester proceed with elegance through cycles of evolving riffs; adding, subtracting and then rearranging them to push towards a recapitulation of main themes. Songs are constructed around a thick marrow of down-tuned precision riffs interlaced with fits of angular melody and/or slightly dissonant chordings. There’s very little tremolo-picking to be found. Instead the guitars rely primarily on palm-muting and employ this technique in a variety of fashions, shifting between chunky speed metal-riffing and elegant, long-form phrases similar to that of classic Hellenic black metal. To avoid rhythmic centricity, snippets of alternatively ethereal or eerie melody are either incorporated internally in the riffs, or supplied by a second guitar, bass guitar or keyboards. Solos – performed with heavy metal-styled flamboyance – are located at crucial moments within songs, thus performing a vital function rather than working as an excuse for distractive self-indulgence. The coalescing between the blunt, rhythm-based riffing, bleak melodies and lyrical leads lends the music a morbid yet uplifting quality. Arguably the finest song on the album, “Elisabeta – In My World of Thoughts” represents the best aspects of the band’s style, atmospherics and mode of composition.
With Silence, Fester were brave enough to create a truly defiant release in a time when the majority of second- or third generation were busy cashing in on the rising popularity of Norwegian black metal. Interestingly, whereas the debut album Winter of Sin consisted of heavy metal/hard rock disguised as black metal, Silence takes the opposite approach. While this approach makes Silence a more difficult listen, it’s also the music’s main source of strength.