Label: Ravenwood Recordings / Fragile Branch Recordings
There’s no point getting hung up on genres. As useful as they can be, they’re really just arbitrary tags, with very little agreement on what actually defines a particular genre. This is especially true of the broad church that is black metal. As such, whether we class Twilight Fauna as black metal or not really shouldn’t matter. There are arguments to be made either way; the music of the one-man act is certainly heavy on haunting, lonely atmospheres which are a key part of black metal. But at the same time, the folk influence on Twilight Fauna’s music is readily apparent, and never more so than on Fire Of The Spirit. The six tracks on the album are ethereal constructs, built more on atmosphere than anything solid, and anyone who associates black metal with violence and noise may well be left disappointed. But those of us who look to the genre to provide something deeper, something that goes beyond mere music, will not be left wanting. This is an album where atmosphere is king; and what a powerful atmosphere it creates.
Even though Fire Of The Spirit contains six tracks, I don’t find myself thinking of them as separate songs. Instead, this is an album where one track flows in to the next, the whole album a cohesive body of work rather than a collection of songs. There often feels to only be the loosest of structures here holding the album together, and the songs are not so much approached in typical ways – as some combination of an introduction, verse, chorus, and ending – but as ways of putting across the autumnal spirit that is at the heart of Twilight Fauna. The use of folk instruments, and sparsity of percussion, makes this an album to lose yourself in, wandering through its forests and mountains, breathing in its rain-soaked ambiance as you drift away from your current physical environment to some place better.
This may suggest that it’s an album without teeth or bite, and to some extent, I would agree – this is not an exercise in black metal as a means of aggression. There are no blastbeats, no razor-sharp riffs and leads designed for headbanging and raised fists. But, to approach Fire Of The Spirit – or any of Twilight Fauna’s work – in that context is to fundamentally misunderstand what the music is about; it would be like listening to Blasphemy and complaining that the songs lack subtlety and ambiance. To some extent, to ask if Fire Of The Spirit is a black metal album at all is a perfectly valid question. After all, the folk instruments do not act as an accompaniment to the more aggressive sounds on offer, but are at the very heart of what the album is. There is still black metal there, though, as evidenced by – for example – the whispered, tortured vocals, and the bleeding, raw tone of the electric guitars. This is most notable on “Annointing Oil”, the most aggressive track on here, and also the song which best melds Twilight Fauna’s styles of folk and black metal in to a cohesive, stirring whole.
In truth though, worrying about whether Fire Of The Spirit is black metal or not is an utterly academic discussion. Unless you are an absolute genre purist, it does not matter in the slightest. What does matter is the end result, which is an album of such wonderfully strong atmosphere that it is hard to argue against. It is music for solitude, for wandering, and for spiritual catharsis. Its (overall) relatively sparse sound belies its incredibly deep nature: this is an album to keep coming back to, finding new avenues and sounds to explore, new details to hold the attention and paths to follow. And this is all without mentioning the inspiration and thematic grounding of the album, being based upon snake handling rituals native to Appalachia. It’s one further detail, adding depth to an already deep record. It can be very difficult to make music of this nature without it becoming too sparse, or for the volume-heavy sections to overpower the more subdued moments, but Fire Of The Spirit absolutely gets it right. Sit back, and let your mind wander. This is something special.