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Hunting and gathering - 85%

drengskap, February 28th, 2010

After the rain comes the hunt. Following the Aurora Borealis re-release of Fauna’s debut album Rain, Aurora Borealis have teamed up with the Greek ambient label Stellar Auditorium Productions to re-release Fauna’s sophomore outing The Hunt, which finds the reclusive Cascadian duo of Echtra and Vines refining and expanding on their distinctive aesthetic of 'apocalyptic atavism'. Homing in on the nostalgic, reactionary tendencies implicit in black metal which are evidenced in such titles as Burzum’s Det Som Engang Var (‘that which once was’), Fauna’s cultural excavation delves deeper than the heroic dark ages mythology of so much black metal, attempting instead to access the primordial, totemistic energies of the earliest hunter-gatherer manifestations of human society.

The re-release has been remastered by Mell Detmer, well-known for her work with Earth, Sunn O))), Wolves In The Throne Room and Boris among many others, and the original album’s programmed drums have been replaced with live drumming by Vines. The Hunt, like Rain, is essentially one long piece of music, and there seems to be some uncertainty about the actual duration. All the listings I can find for the original release give its running time as 79’ 51”, but the re-release clocks in at 71’ 48”, so I don’t know whether some sections have been trimmed for the re-release. Either way, it’s a very long piece. Unlike Rain, though, the new version of The Hunt is subdivided into seven separate named tracks, namely ‘The Door’, ‘Hunger’, ‘Setting Out’, ‘The Scent’, ‘Nocturne’, ‘Tracking’ and ‘The Kill... Fulfillment’, which certainly makes it more accessible and user-friendly, though the immersive nature of the piece is better appreciated by listening to the album as a whole rather than dipping in and out, as leisurely, minimal sections of ambient keyboard drone and slow strummed guitar are punctuated by explosive crescendos of fiercely energetic black metal. The sparse lyrics, delivered in anguished, shrieking outbursts, contrast modern deracination and alienation (‘Flung from our origins/Into an emptiness that consumes/We dwell within a void… This world offers no purchase’) with a deep, heartfelt longing for roots and reconnection to the earth and the elemental primacy of existence (‘…to seek the gift/That will stake me to the earth…I feast on glory/As two become one again’ – this last line is not a Spice Girls reference!).

The ambient intro track ‘The Door’ feels a little over-extended, but ‘Hunger’ is suffused with convulsive energy and bittersweet incantation, its surging, repetitive riffs recalling Burzum or Drudkh, and its wailing, chanted vocal sections evoking an eldritch pagan past. The animalistic background effects, deep, hollow drumbeats and tensely expectant drone of ‘Setting Out’ tend more towards the forest-shrouded eco-ambient of Fauna’s Cascadian comrades Ruhr Hunter and Blood Of The Black Owl, with the background drone carried over seamlessly into the album’s longest track, ‘The Scent’, where crisp, rattling beats and a simple picked guitar figure vividly evoke the hunting band patiently and remorselessly tracking their prey, the basic musical theme then being reprised as slow, depressive black metal, with soaring, unearthly choral keyboard tones adding a feeling of pathos and transcendence to the closing minutes of the track, before the guitar and drums die away, leaving only the furtive night-sounds and soothing ambient respirations of ‘Nocturne’ – does this represent the hunting band forced to bivouac overnight before resuming the hunt in the light of morning? ‘Tracking’ alternates between quiet strummed sections and emphatic black metal riffs whilst maintaining the melody, in a similar way to ‘The Scent’, with the transition to closing track ‘The Kill... Fulfillment’ marked by the introduction of a high keyboard tone that rises and falls woozily as the hunt approaches its bloody climax, the song riding a relentless blastbeat as the riff smears into a dense undifferentiated, blur of noise, the melody being carried by the keyboard. The second half of the song has a plaintive, elegiac tone, as the fury and frenzy of the hunt dissipate in the aftermath of the kill. The black metal guitar and drums fade away, leaving only a clean, picked guitar line, which finishes in its turn, leaving The Hunt to conclude with two minutes of birdsong, all human presence erased.

The Hunt is an impressively ambitious mood-piece, with more variation and dynamism than its predecessor Rain – which was fine if you were in the right mood, although having to wait 22 minutes for anything resembling black metal to happen was a deal-breaker for a lot of people. The Hunt is similar in overall feel to Wolves In The Throne Room’s acclaimed Two Hunters album, which, like The Hunt, was first released in 2007, and also features ambient and quiet guitar sections in between the black metal parts.

As with Rain, The Hunt comes in a black card arigato pack, with dark grey silkscreened artwork and a lyrics insert. With both re-releases now available, it’ll be interesting to hear what Fauna deliver on their third album, which has been promised for some time.

This review was originally written for Judas Kiss webzine:
www.judaskissmagazine.co.uk