Twilight Fauna is a fine name for an atmospheric black metal band, but perhaps a bit misleading when it comes to the output of the project’s founder and driving force Paul Ravenwood. A band name which, for me at least, conjures up images of folky strumming and wood grouse chirping and is very far from where Twilight Fauna has found itself. Fire of the Spirit is a solemn journey into the bowels of the Appalachian region of the United States that also exists somewhere on the fringes of the music scene where pure noise meets black metal. Try to imagine a heavily-grained version of Earth, played through five distortion pedals in series, combined with the atmospheric ambience of Hank Williams III — and you’re walking a path close by.
Ravenwood uses acoustic guitars that bleed into post-rock, amplified chords and then onto pure distortion to create the base layer. What’s more, there is very little percussion. Weave into that vocal recordings of god-fearing residents from the area talking about their absolute faith through apparent first hand experiences with the Holy Trinity and you have a piece of work that’s combines undoubted warmth with something dark and which speaks of the all-encompassing awareness of a palpable spirituality that exists inside certain communities.
Not that this appears to be a critical social commentary in any way. More of a snap-shot study through the eyes of a metal head looking from the outside while at the same time consumed by compassion for his subject matter…. a tripped-out poetic and musical endeavour reflecting one man’s vision of his homeland.
Fire of the Spirit is one of those releases that requires the listener to do some work – the chords are flying free even though they’re hidden away within the embrace of distorted guitar plucking. The creeping tendrils of Ravenwood’s compositions begin to take hold as the tracks unfold. Faintly whispered black metal vocals drift through the rugged riffs like wind whistling through the rocks of a region famous, rightly or wrongly, for its cultural peculiarities and isolation. Acoustic guitars beat down on the pine forests while harmonicas provide their own emotional and sometimes eerie contribution. It’s a deeply personal experience – and by the final track, A Glass Dalia, it’s almost like you’re sitting next to Ravenwood himself.
I get the distinct feeling that a dose of something heavily (distilled or smoked) might smooth the passage into the otherworldliness of Fire of the Spirit. Ah, but you could say that about anything, I hear you say… But, even without illegal liquor or psychedelic narcotics, what at first is a little impenetrable gradually unfolds into a thought-provoking, ambient landscape of timeless tranquillity but all the while infused with a sense of vertigo – a slightly unsettling sense of something that might take a lifetime to fathom unless you were from the region itself.
A great hand at work perhaps. Or boundaries to keep you in line. Whatever it is, this is definitely worth checking out if boundary-pushing black metal or trippy dark ambience is your thing.
(7.5/10 Reverend Darkstanley)