Album Review: Twilight Fauna — “Foundations”

twilight fauna - foundations

The thing I keep coming back to listening to the latest from Twilight Fauna is that title.  I’ve found over the past few weeks of isolation that when I reach for music I’m looking for different things than I used to.  I want connection, I want an experience that reassures me that we’re here, that we’re together.  The music Paul Ravenwood has created over the years always provided that connection, but nowhere is that intent, that essence, as crystalized as it is on Foundations.  More than being a new apex in the band’s catalog, it feels like the true foundation upon which Ravenwood will build moving forward.

That’s not to say this is a new mission statement.  I’ve been writing about the band since 2017, but the work of injecting the spirit and fire of Ravenwood’s community in Tennessee has been in play since 2012.  While many bands are content to incorporate vague shapes of their heritage or upbringing into their music, Twilight Fauna has always been about the specificity, the small personal details that paint a world in a lyric, a sense of place in a strummed chord across a banjo, even as it dissolves (as it does on the exquisite “Tavern Hill”) into a shimmering gauze of black metal.  With each release there’s a distinct impression of getting closer to an ideal.  The progression of musical ideas from 2016’s Fire of the Spirit through The Year the Stars Fell and previous full length Where Birds Sing My Name show a growing confidence in being open.  Acoustic passages expand to entire songs, and vocals begin to reveal themselves amidst the chaos of the metal tracks.

But that growth takes a stunning turn on Foundations.  If there was a true indicator to where Ravenwood (accompanied by Josh Thieler on drums, doing some of the best work of his career here) was heading, it’s best found on his smaller releases, particularly last year’s That Old Time Way which focuses on Ravenwood stripping his music down to the essentials.  There’s a sense that by laying himself so bare on those recordings, particularly on “These Empty Fields,” Ravenwood exposed the ground floor of his own music to build back upon with Foundations.

From the first beautiful, mournful note uttered by Kendal Fox on acapella opener “Am I Born to Die” there’s an immediate confidence to explore new ways to communicate via music.  While there’s always been a beauty to Twilight Fauna’s music, nothing compares to how gracefully “Am I Born to Die” merges into the acoustic intro of “Tavern Hill” before exploding into the atmospheric black metal that encompasses the majority of the track’s 13 minutes.  It’s worth noting the mix, as this is the best the band have ever sounded.  The music is more open: even in its most chaotic moments you can hear how nuanced and dynamic the drums are.  This is easily Josh Thieler’s defining moment in Twilight Fauna, and the way he explores different cadences and rhythms with Ravenwood opens up so many potential avenues for musical expression.

Far from being an interlude, instrumental “The Silence Between the Trees” feels like a journey from one signpost to another, where the distance between the two is the point of it all.  “Into the Hands of Night” demonstrates in its first few seconds just how far Ravenwood’s come compositionally when it comes to utilizing the banjo.  As played on by J.P. Mathes II it’s tragic in its beauty, and just one more indicator as to how beautiful the playing is throughout Foundations.  The clean passages are stunning, evoking a world of living space, remote and reactive to our presence as a part of its history.  Lyrically this sense of place and history is tinged with regret and loss, as Ravenwood cries out lines like “I remember dust in the air, but not your voice.”  That regret permeates so much of the album but never overwhelms it; see the gentle movement of “The Breeze Through Willows” or the folk reminisce of “Fires Carry You Home” to see how even in the darkness there are moments of light and hope in history.

twilight fauna band 2020
Twilight Fauna

If you want the raging fire of Twilight Fauna unleashed you’ll find it in the epic tracks – we didn’t even talk about “A Voice in the Wilderness” and “Under the Falling Snow” and how they seamlessly blend their unique brand of black metal in ways few bands are doing nowadays.  If that’s where your head’s at don’t worry: Foundations is the best Twilight Fauna album for your needs.

But I keep finding myself drawn to the quieter moments, the songs that express themselves with the same passion and fire but without the histrionics of metal to frame it. I come to the closer “West Virginia Mine Disaster” written by Jean Ritchie and sung by Kelsey Maye and I immediately come ouroboros-like back to the beginning to travel the circle again.  If that sense of place, that journey is what you’re looking for then don’t worry: Foundations is the best Twilight Fauna for your needs.

Either way, Foundations serves as a place I need in my life right now.  May it bring you to the place you seek as well.

– Chris

Foundations is available May 11 independently through Bandcamp.  For more information onTwilight Fauna, check out the band’s Facebook page.

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