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Heavy rain is falling in the wood as the sun sets and the sky grows dark. Looks like the wet's settling in for the next hour or so. What a night to be out checking up on some strange tip about local pagans carrying out a ritual. Hope it'll be worth writing up. In the distance, traffic noises, already faint, die away. Five minutes gone already and still waiting ... hang on, the bad weather has suddenly stopped. Swept aside by doleful acoustic guitar melodies. That's weird. Must be the ritual has started? ... the tunes are repetitive and the mood is pretty downbeat so the guys must be at it already ... but there are only two of them?! Thought there was supposed to be a whole tribe! There's gotta be a sacrifice somewhere too, that's what the ed's looking for, he only gets interested if there's a teenage virgin gonna get stripped and killed. What a pervert. The music keeps building up meanwhile, it goes a bit flamenco-y. The mood doesn't improve much. Someone starts singing or moaning. He's looking my way, I'll hide behind this tree. The words are strange - is he chanting a spell?
Change of key and the guitar's mood brightens up, falters a bit ... and then rays of scathing aggressive electric guitar zing past the tree I'm hiding behind and into the bushes. Impossibly speedy drumming as well. There's a scaly, acid kind of feel to the music. Lots of repetition as well, along with a background vibrato melody. All very urgent stuff. Is there gonna be a sacrifice? I peek out from behind but there's just two guys playing. No victim anywhere. Music keeps on building up and up. There's gotta be a climax soon. How can you have a climax to a ritual and no blood spilt? Thirty minutes now gone and the guitars go slow, like they're heralding the arrival of someone important. Percussion crashes, there's a lot of screaming. A sudden stop. I peek out again. I'm afraid this time I'll see a body being cut up. But no - the guys just keep on playing around their camp-fire. No foul play that I can see. What the hell is going on? A ritual for sure, what kind it is, I don't know. The guys sure do concentrate a lot on their playing. They seem to be in some kind of trance to be able to slow down together, keep the pace steady, keep in time. The looks on their faces, kind of peaceful and serene. They speed up and go hell for leather at once, like they're an hour behind and they have twenty minutes left to do what they have to do before the police car comes past this wood on its regular patrol.
The mood is urgent, almost desperate. I still don't see anybody else, it's just these two musicians on guitar and drums. Now the guys are slowing right down and they seem to be finishing off what they're doing. Music has gone all emphatic as if every drumbeat, every chord is a sentence, a final judgement in itself. There's a loud clash and suddenly it's all dark. I pluck up courage to turn on my mini-torch, shine a light out to where the camp-fire was ... I see vibrating trails of smoky stuff, I can hear rough, raw guitar tones bouncing off trees ... but the ground is completely bare!
Sudden silence. Where did those guys go? I hear a distant rumble. Thin rays of light glide past the trees ahead as the police car travels past them. The car slows down a little, then picks up speed. The cops didn't see anything. I think over what I've seen and heard. Nothing that would interest the cops or the eds at the office. What am I gonna tell those guys? Can't write a story if there was no captive or a sacrifice. They're not gonna be interested in the music even if it was for some nature ritual. That's what it must've been for. It was very long and drawn-out for ritual music and now that I think of it, there weren't a lot of rain sounds throughout, only at the start. There weren't even any other kind of weather noises, animal noises or insect noises. I'm pretty sure now it was some kind of nature ritual to call up something that would take the guys away - but you'd think there would be crickets around to add forest atmosphere. For all the effort the guys put into the music - and they did put in a lot as it was pretty well co-ordinated, there was no sloppy playing - there wasn't a definite nature-oriented atmosphere.
And how can I just write about the music? This kind of music isn't for everyone to hear, it must be only for nature-worshippers. That's it. The guys at the office aren't gonna like this. I'll just have to say I staked out the place as ordered but it was just me, the rain, the forest and the fauna. Nothing more. No cheesy sacrifice.
Thinking about this some more, maybe I'm meant to be a witness to this ritual whose meaning will be come clear in the future, when we've gone through Peak Oil, social collapse and governments being overthrown. Then perhaps I'll understand.
Fauna are a two-piece black metal band based in Cascadia, the temperate rainforest belt of the Pacific Northwest which surrounds Portland and Seattle, and Rain is a CD re-release of 2007’s self-released demo, with remastered sound by Mell Dettmer. Fauna, who describe their music as 'apocalyptic atavism', are as shy and reclusive as furry little woodland critters, shunning publicity, with no MySpace page and a very minimal website, and information about the band is hard to come by. Nevertheless, I’ve managed to track down a few facts.
The two members of Fauna go by the names Echtra and Vines, and they are both also members of the acoustic folk project Fearthainne. Echtra was part of the one-off funeral doom project Alethes, alongside Exile of Sacrificial Totem, and he belongs to another band called (confusingly enough) rain. (with a small 'r' and a full stop). Scandinavian black metal bands make endless references to snow and ice, but rain is evidently the meteorological phenomenon of choice for Echtra, which is understandable, given that the Pacific Northwest is as notoriously soggy and waterlogged as dear old England. Not only is there an album called Rain, and the band called Rain, but it turns out that Fearthainne is the Irish Gaelic verb meaning ‘to rain’. Maybe Fauna could do a cover of ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ on their next album? Fauna enjoy a considerable cult following on their Cascadian home soil, partly due to live performances by firelight in forest clearings, which sound like a lot of fun, but are hard to appreciate from several thousand miles away, so I'll turn my attention to the music on this disc.
Rain consists of a single 63-minute track, which has been done before in black metal, though not very often, with other notable one-long-track releases including Wyrd’s 2001 debut album Heathen and Bergthron’s releases Uralte Gedanken and Verborgen In Den Tiefen Der Wälder. The song opens, naturally enough, with several minutes of the soft hissing of falling rain mingled with muffled footfalls, a seductive induction onto Fauna’s realm of sylvan mysticism.
At five and a half minutes, the music begins, with a solitary strummed guitar, soon joined by another guitar picking out a sinuous melody over the strummed chords. The sound is very close and intimate, suggestive of secrets being confided, and the melody is plangent and world-weary, suffused with grief and nostalgia for a lost oneness with nature. This guitar work becomes more emphatic and rhythmic at the 13-minute mark, with a resumption of the folk strumming, gradually gaining in urgency and stridency as low, clear vocals join the guitars after 15 minutes. At this point, there has still been no drums, nor anything which could reasonably be described as black metal – this is more akin to dreamy psychedelic folk along the lines of In Gowan Ring or The Incredible String Band – but Fauna’s music unfurls its mysteries as slowly and relentlessly as the budding of flowers in spring, and impatience is completely counterproductive.
You can sense that an explosion of violence is coming, but it won’t be forced, all you can do it await its inevitable coming. This eventually arrives at 22’41”, with a disorienting transition into a massive blizzard of blastbeats and downtuned guitar which is both triumphal and devastating. The basic melody is retained, and by black metal standards the production is quite clear and crisp, but this is still a hugely aggressive onslaught, which doesn’t let up until the half-hour point is reached, when the tempo downshifts into a doom-laden trudge, recalling the doom metal tendencies of the Alethes album which was an earlier product of Fauna’s Echtra. A hypnotically repeated three-note progression signals the way out of this thick, sludgy morass, something like Burzum’s ‘Gebrechlichkeit’, and then there’s a sudden anguished outcry of screamed vocals, with an abrupt and total caesura at 34’42”. The track recommences its slow and tortuous threnody, with another breakdown at 42 minutes, before the blastbeat surges back like a sudden riptide into fast, raw black metal, the vocals surprisingly clear and intelligible at this point, more like protest punk than black metal:
Nature’s hands enfold
Listen: wind inside
During the 48th minute, the drums fade into the background as the guitars spiral into a crescendo of frenzied notes, before hurtling into a very fast riff for the closing section, with a final extended doom metal breakdown at 53 minutes, ‘Rain’ fading out amidst a warm post-orgasmic glow of guitar feedback and circuit hum, as the song’s Manichean struggle between the forces of creation and destruction subsides.
There are a couple of obvious touchstones for comparison with Fauna, the first being Wolves In The Throne Room, who come from the same geographical area as Fauna, and whose deep engagement with ecological themes is said to have been influenced by Fauna. Wolves In The Throne Room have found a greater degree of commercial success than Fauna, which is partly due to Wolves In The Throne Room displaying a greater willingness to play the music industry game and give interviews, go on tour, etc., and also, of course, Wolves In The Throne Room have two official releases available, whereas this re-release of Rain is Fauna’s first foray into commercial availability.
The second band I’d compare to Fauna is Drudkh, the spin-off project of Ukrainian black metal band Hate Forest. Admittedly, Drudkh have an interest in ethnic identity and nationalism which isn’t apparent in Fauna, but apart from that the similarities are striking. The two bands both display a studied anonymity and avoidance of publicity. The music of both Fauna and Drudkh is suffused with righteous anger on behalf of the despoiled and degraded ecosphere, as well as a fierce, ambiguous lamentation and joy. Whilst there are melancholic passages in Rain, this definitely isn’t depressive black metal like say, Striborg, Leviathan or Xasthur. And for both Fauna and Drudkh, the impulse towards an ego-transcending embrace of nature and a misanthropic rejection of human culture stems from a darkly romantic conception of nature, a paradigm which has deep roots in western culture. Lord Byron expressed this attitude far better than I ever could:
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more.
I must confess that I don’t find Rain as compelling as Drudkh at their finest, on tracks like ‘Forests In Fire And Gold’ , ‘When The Flame Turns To Ashes’ or ‘Sunwheel’. The single-track approach of Rain offers fewer opportunities to come up with a memorable riff or great intro, and an hour-long piece of music is unlikely to get played repeatedly, since it demands that much more attention and commitment than something lasting only eight or ten minutes. Having said all that, Rain is still a lot more interesting than 90% of the standard suburban-Satanic dreck which passes for black metal these days, and it handsomely repays the effort that listening to it demands. There’s an undeniable authenticity and purity of intent about Fauna which is inspiring.
Rain is a 1000-copy limited-edition release, and it comes beautifully packaged in a black card ‘arigato pack’ with black-on-black silk-screened artwork depicting a feral child, and a lyric sheet insert. Aurora Borealis have already announced plans to re-release Rain’s successor, another one-track demo entitled The Hunt, and a third Fauna album is promised some time during 2009.
This review was originally written for Judas Kiss webzine: