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Taking Flight - 85%

CrimsonFloyd, February 11th, 2013

Fauna is arguably the most intriguing act to emerge out of the budding Cascadian black metal movement. The group is “pagan black metal” in the purest sense of the term. Each Fauna album takes a simple naturalistic theme and explores it both literally and symbolically. The debut, Rain, explores the process of spiritual cleansing through a storm of riffs that wash over the listener like a parade of blackened clouds. The sophomore release, The Hunt offers a blend of chilly black metal, dark ambient and animalistic screams that summon images of a late-night hunt in a wild forest. Both albums are ambitious, consisting of a single song that lasts over an hour.

Fauna’s third album, Avifauna, sees the band providing more dynamic and varied sounds. Instead of creating a single monolithic composition, Avifauna consists of three songs, ranging from seventeen to thirty minutes, plus two brief ambient interludes. Close to half of Avifauna is depressive neofolk in the vein of Ulver’s Kveldssangerand Empyrium’s Weiland. Like a bird resting watchfully in its nest, Fauna slowly explore soft, solemn melodies on acoustic guitar and strings before suddenly soaring into glorious passages of epic, melancholic black metal. The album ebbs between these two dimensions with grace and coherence, resulting in dramatic compositions that pull the listener through a spectrum of emotions.

The most powerful composition is “Soaring into the Earth,” which begins with two minutes of birdsongs before entering an extensive passage of sorrowful, longing folk. When distortion and screams finally arrive, it feels like a long awaited catharsis. The riffs are mostly dark and haunting, but like rays of sun creeping between dense clouds, there are brief passages of sheer beauty. When the black metal fades some ten minutes later, the composition enters a series of creepy acoustic progressions accompanied by intermittent, muted distortion and jittery, primitive bass-drum. The melodies crawl up your spine like an ineffable muscle-memory. All the tension ignites in a slow, smoldering passage of black metal that loops until achieving total exhaustion.

Avifauna sees Fauna integrating a number of new elements into its sound. Acoustic bass and cello are prevalent throughout the acoustic passages, but also offer a few impressive solos during the black metal sections. There is also the presence of low, hollow clean vocals, similar to those found on Empyrium records, which accentuate the melancholic spirit of the record. A cameo by a female vocalist on the final three minutes of “Syrinx” result’s in the album’s most exquisite moment. Wordless wails of female and male vocals harmonize, actualizing the song’s final plea for the “womb of molten light” to “gestate my ascent to black stars.”

Fauna’s one major flaw remains the extreme vocals. They are direct, urban shouts, closer to what one would expect from a hardcore band. A more feral screech in the spirit of early Burzum would better suit Fauna’s music. Otherwise, there isn’t a lot to critique about Avifauna. The final track, “The Harpy” isn’t quite as powerful as the first two compositions but is nonetheless strong. More generally, there are a few riffs that are derivative of early Drudkh but ultimately, these are minor flaws in an otherwise beautiful and inspiring record. Considering the length of the songs and complexity of the song-structures, this is certainly not an easy record to break into (it will take at least four or five listens before you will recognize the architecture of the compositions), but for those who appreciate naturalistic black metal it will be well worth the effort.

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