Over the course of a few albums you begin to take the measure of a band by the steps they take on their musical path. Some bands are explorers, never content with where they were, always looking to try something else, move further. Some find their place and stick to it, content to tread the same rhythm over and over again (lest you think that’s always a bad thing, I’ll simply leave you with a “Hey! Ho! Let’s GO!). But between the balance of standing in place and grasping for something just out of reach is the band that refines, that chances upon something and digs deeper, finding the hidden corners and unexplored nuances of the terrain they commit to. And it’s this thin space that Twilight Fauna and Evergreen Refuge have been residing in over the course of multiple albums and side projects, and their latest split Procession of the Equinox demonstrates how subtle shifts and expansions of sound can reap huge rewards.
Since expanding his sonic palate with Josh Thieler of Slaves BC on drums, Paul Ravenwood has ushered in a new chapter with Twilight Fauna. I’ve already written twice about the impact his latest offering, The Year the Stars Fell, has had on me, but hearing the growth and openness on the three tracks presented here are a revelation. Starting with a tentative melody, opener “The Last Ember” slowly opens into a cold, black metal dirge that buries the melody in a wash of distortion for the first half, restates it as the theme halfway through (adding whistles and beautiful droning tones) before a scream opens like a cold wind to bring the whole thing crashing into the blasting second half. I don’t know if there’s a new found confidence but the production opens up as well: the shadows of melody and especially the drum work by Thieler is more pronounced and dynamic, making this the best Twilight Fauna have ever sounded.
Which is a good thing, because right now I’m of the mind that “Chained to the Stars” might be the best song they’ve ever recorded. Woodwinds and chimes evoke the natural world as a haunting piano acts as prelude to a crashing of drums and guitars that signal the start of a wicked black metal epic that shifts between brutality and pain, the quieter acoustic moments shattering the noise to act as memory to another time and place. Without a lyric guide I can only guess as what is being unburdened, but knowing Ravenwood’s love of the Appalachian region he grew up in I am prepared to uncover additional layers when Procession of the Equinox releases. There’s no such ambiguity in closing song “My Home in Tennessee,” which brings the bluegrass that has long been a part of Twilight Fauna’s arsenal and heritage. The reverb and washed sound brings a melancholic air to the reverie, and acts as a solid conclusion to a stunning suite of songs.
Hailing from Colorado, Dylan Rupe’s Evergreen Refuge takes a similar path as Twilight Fauna, using music to evoke the natural world and recall the sensations of solitude and safety in the mountainous and wooded region he calls home: literally an “evergreen refuge.” Over the course of numerous instrumental releases, Evergreen Refuge’s take on black metal perhaps hews a bit more closely to what passes for the kind of neo folk/Cascadian black metal (if you buy into that tag) made popular by Wolves in the Throne Room and Agalloch, but there’s a primal, almost primitive energy to the music.
Evergreen Refuge may only be contributing one track to the split, but the sprawling, 20 minute epic “Light Seeker, Dawn Bringer” covers about every base conceivable. You have your acoustic interludes, your roaring black metal tremolo picking and pounding drums, shifts in tempo and mood that give the track a narrative arc that ultimately doesn’t need words to tell its story. The transitions between electric and acoustic instruments, the repeated motifs and ethereal chanting are enough for us to find the characters and lose ourselves in unwinding the thread.
The equinox is the seasonal indicator of change: whether the onset of live or its inevitable retreat. On both sides Procession of the Equinox signals a change for its participants. For Twilight Fauna it’s a a new route to an old home, a confidence and freedom to change tactics and map new corners of a familiar landscape. For Dylan Rupe and Evergreen Refuge it appears to be a summation of life before piercing a veil into a new unknown.
For us it’s another chance to listen, dig deeper, and see.
Procession of the Equinox is available July 14 on The Fear and the Void Recordings. For more information on Twilight Fauna check out their Facebook page. For more information on Evergreen Refuge check out their Facebook page.