Though latecomers to the fascinating and melodic imagination of Canadian rock band Fen, coming in with the release of their fifth album Of Losing Interest two years ago, the band has been a regular contributor to our weekly soundtrack since. So it was with intrigue and keen appetite that we dived into the self-titled album from Slug Comparison. The band is the solo project of Fen vocalist/guitarist Doug Harrison, and the album a two year in the making embrace of melodic and emotive beauty. It is a release which further explores the majestic and inventive soundscapes which mark out his day job as one of the more compelling propositions around today, but equally ventures into new avenues of enterprise and creative intimacy. As Fen’s last album, it is a grower which from an initial impressive persuasion evolves into something which simply engulfs the imagination and emotions, though dare we say with even stronger, riveting potency. It is a stunning proposition and one of the major moments of the year.
The Vancouver musician has called on the likes of Mike Young from The Devin Townsend Band and Randall Stoll from Congenital Fixation to provide bass and drums respectively to tracks within the Mike Southworth produced album. Ultimately though it is a solo release blossomed from the ingenuity and craft of Harrison, and takes little time to enthral ears and thoughts. Opener Bringer of Doom instantly sparks attention as a guitar chips away at ears to intriguingly bring the song into view, a brewing ambience of emotive keys soon moving in with the instantly potent voice of Harrison. The song emerges and grows with every second and breath passed, bass and guitars adding shadowed and melodic colour to the thickening atmosphere of keys. There are no avoiding thoughts of Fen but also there are essences of Poets Of The Fall and Johnny Wore Black making suggestions as the track caresses and immerses the imagination, its reflective elegance over rugged scenery only increasing the magnetic presence of the song.
It is an impacting start swiftly matched by You’ve Seen Me, a track which from the off smoulders and resonates with radiant charm and resourcefulness, though it is the bewitching spread of variety to Harrison’s vocals which steals the honours. The song sways and soars with passion and sultry temptation, as well as a seemingly personal emotion which only accentuates its charm and autumn like warmth, before the hotter climes of Summer ’99 take over. Again there is an intimate air to the song which brings richer provocative hues to the melodic flames which ignite its already inventive canvas. Unpredictable yet controlled in its invention, the track simmers and boils from start to finish, switching and merging both heats for an increasingly tenacious encounter.
It has been a gripping and thrilling passage of songs to this point but everything kicks up a gear from hereon in. Short of Hell is next and as soon as the first pulsating beat of skin and electro resonance permeates bone and psyche, there is no escaping its extraordinary lure. Harrison is soon offering his darker tones to the bait, his voice as ever excelling in the clarity given. The track soon relaxes into a restrained stroll yet still there is a sinister and dark element to its presence which in turn incites the return of that opening temptation. As if it is exploring inner demons, the song pours out angst and menace throughout its sensational drama, setting a major pinnacle of the album which is right away emulated by the just as haunted and incendiary Evil Walks. The heaviest track on the release, and one again with an appetite to infest the senses with resonating intimidation, it expands its narrative and presence through contagious vocal and sonic hooks whilst the darker side of its temperament increases its snarl and imposing persistence. The track is glorious keeping the release at the highest peak, though it is too short for personal tastes for as soon as the teeth are really into its might it moves over for Long Live the Night.
Featuring Tatyana Dobrowolski from Tatter’s and Ravens, the eight minute song is a folk bred anti-war flight of emotion and provocative textures, lyrically and melodically. It is a mesmeric piece which incites and transfixes with raw expression, Harrison’s songwriting explored with melodic poetry and sonic luminance for a song which you can argue would make far more impacting persuasion than any propaganda. Managing to make every second of its long length a vital and vivacious ingredient to its potent narrative, the song’s dramatic beauty is echoed In the Dark with Divinity. The song soothes the senses with its warm crystalline light and flirts with thoughts through elevated strikes of passion and rhythmic tempting, to again leave a lingering glow.
The final two songs on the album stretch the emotional and creative depths of the album again. Something to Bear veined by a classical guitar enticing, is a melodic croon with sinew carrying rhythms and throaty bass shadows all wrapped in a reflection of again mesmeric keys. With Harrison embracing the senses and thoughts through every aspect of the song, it is a scintillating provocative waltz. The final song Common Room also gently cradles ears and imagination, its elegant melodies and personal reflection a last enchanting kiss.
It was easy to expect big things from Slug Comparison, band and album because of Fen but even those hopes were left weak by the brilliance of Harrison’s solo album.
Slug Comparison is available now on iTunes, CDBaby, and at https://slugcomparison.bandcamp.com/
Doug Harrison is donating half of all proceeds raised by the Slug Comparison album to War Child (www.warchild.org)
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