A League Of Its Own
Composed, performed and produced all by Twilight Fauna, Fire of the Spirit is the product of one man with the power of a full band. The album itself should be considered his masterpiece and the crowning achievement of Fauna’s career thus far. On the album’s webpage, Paul Ravenwood, the sole member of Twilight Fauna, writes that this album is a combination of his own experiences, took a long time to craft and is well-researched and significant in subject matter. It is an intensely personal album and pushes the idea of “Black Metal” and music in general as a means of personal expression. It is definitely an unconventional album; two-thirds of the tracks are over 6 minutes long. The development of many of these songs is slow and gradual, yet, the pace of this album is one of the elements that should be most appreciated. Repetition of simple phrases both musically and lyrically are a staple of Fauna’s compositional aesthetic, and ultimately produces the characteristic sound of this album. Unlike other black metal bands that might appeal to the confines of their respective niches, Twilight Fauna seeks to infuse various types of music in Fire of the Spirit, and the listener will discover a prevalent influence of folk in this album as well. As a result, one might be left to wonder where to place Fire of the Spirit in terms of black metal.
The first track of the album, “Walking with the Ghost” is a prime example of Twilight Fauna’s compositional aesthetic in this album. Fauna is not afraid to let his songs really breathe. Like Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” the introduction of the song is repeated often, or remains ostinato, and these recurring rhythms and harmonic ideas are allowed to develop slowly and emotionally for extended periods of time. The track begins also with a sample of ambient crowd noise becoming the first step towards the song’s unique soundscape. “Walking” then proceeds into a steady strumming of Ravenwood’s acoustic guitar, with the low strings humming an ominous melody as the cornerstone of the song thus far. Halfway through the song, the vocal sample returns with indistinguishable words, but the feeding back melodic guitar plays with the percussiveness of these words and creates a texture that leaves the listener immersed in the established character of the song. Towards the end, a heavily distorted guitar with melodic twinklings in the background appear. The tone of the distortion is extremely thick, and in terms of melodic structure, the chords seem neither to progress nor regress, but simply remain as a question to the audience. This nature of Fauna’s melodic structure in part defines his unique style. We are unsure as to “where” the songs are actually going, and it becomes the responsibility of the listener to simply go along for the ride.
The second track of the album, “Cold Lips” is very different from the song that precedes it. “Cold Lips” departs from the “black metal” soundscape to a more traditionally rock ‘n roll atmosphere. The song itself hints at garage rock and even ‘60s rock. Perhaps paying homage to the Rolling Stones with the “lips” reference, it is a unique fusion of Ravenwood’s own metal influence and the traditional influence of the music that came before him. “Lips” also boasts an array of instrumentation: saxophone riffs to emphasize certain points in the song, crunchy clean guitars, a rocking, slightly funky bass, background oos and aahs and tambourines shaking making the audience even want to dance. In the background, the listener can look out for the nuances that define the space of the song: the bongo drums, clean guitars and different percussive elements.
Just as Twilight Fauna experiments with the technique of ostinato throughout the album, Fauna also experiments with the interplay between music and language in “Lips.” In the only instance of intelligible lyrics in the song, he repeats, “You could live how you want, if you talk and leave me alone.” Flanged guitars end the track, and the listener is left with an eclectic representation of Twilight Fauna as an artist. One has to believe that this is his intention.
The next two tracks on the album highlight Twilight Fauna’s ability to captivate listeners with the acoustic guitar. “Laying Out the Fleece” begins with acoustic guitar strumming to add color. The acoustic guitar continues to build with a faster guitar strumming which is played with a little more power and forces the listener’s engagement. Within the song, Fauna creates interesting textures; high guitar notes ringing in the back while a lower melody drives to the end of the song. Ultimately, these songs contain that metal pathos that is truly at the heart of this album. With each strum, Fauna wishes to convey the fire in his spirit; something the audience can hear if they truly listen.
“Anointing the Oil” begins with a vocal sample, and is the most overtly religious song on the album. It also happens to be the most traditionally “black metal” song, beginning ominously with guitar strums heavy in the low register. Occasional cymbals crash to add emphasis while electric guitar strums come in and become the frontispiece of the track. The interplay between low melody and electric guitar is a really exciting part of this track, and as an extension, the mixing of it all together shows a precise yet auto-didactic approach to the mixing and mastering process. The ending contains a slow ritardando, with an occasional cymbal hit, fading out the electric guitar and climaxing with a distorted, eerie, scream-like sound. But before we are able to figure out exactly what it is, the electric guitar fades into the acoustic guitar and presumably Fauna’s voice. Again, the listener is left in wonderment, and another realization that this album is not limited by the confines of the traditional genre of black metal.
The last two tracks especially highlight Fauna’s folk-inspiration in this album. Both feature a harmonica, which transforms these songs into something entirely different than the preceding four tracks. Each song features vocal sounds that add a unique space throughout the entire song. In “Tongues of Knowledge,” Fauna switches from strumming the strings to picking notes of the electric guitar that are ambient and not necessarily melodic. The space continues to fill out with piano and twinkling bells notes in the background, and then it is incredibly jarring once the distorted guitar comes back in, with a seething distorted vocal sound. The final track, “Glass Dalia,” is similarly inspired by the folk tradition, ending with a harmonica solo which was foreshadowed in the previous track, and in true Twilight Fauna fashion, comes back with that vocal sample. And, just as it began, the album ends with the murmurings of religious zeal, only for the fire to be unfortunately ousted by the end of the album’s allotted time.