Twilight Fauna tackles snake handling rituals, subjects of faith on ashy ‘Fire of the Spirit’

Twilight FaunaEvery faith has its bizarre rituals that, if they arrived today, at this very moment, we’d write these people off as insane. Like, hey, I grew up Catholic, and we believe in actually devouring the flesh and blood of Jesus. That’s not weird? That’s not something that if, say, the Scientologists enacted today, most people wouldn’t be running to the social media machine to mock them?

With that in mind, one of the strangest and most dangerous rituals of modern times comes from our Pentecostal friends, who have embraced snake handling as a part of their faith. The practice isn’t widespread by any means, but for those congregations that observe it, these actions are seen as sacred and another step toward being that much closer to God (it is derived from myriad Biblical passages digested literally). Being that this practice hits close to home (regionally speaking) for Twilight Fauna’s Paul Ravenwood, he decided to make his entire new album “Fire of the Spirit” about the snake-handling ritual. He is quick to point out that he isn’t aligned with their faith, but this record isn’t done in criticism or mockery of their practice. In fact, there’s a level of respect in Ravenwood’s approach, examining what faith means to a person, no matter what that is, and investing yourself so deeply into something that you’re willing to risk death to express what you feel.

Twilight Fauna coverThis also is one of Ravenwood’s strangest, sootiest releases to date under the Twilight Fauna banner. Yes, the melding of coal-smeared black metal and rustic-flavored folk remains, but the insertion of clips from services and believers, and the way the music is both emotional and marred by sound easily can impact your psyche. Ravenwood always has reached from his Appalachian Mountains surroundings for inspiration, and this time, he has honed in on one of the most dangerous and bafflingly weird (at least to outsiders) practices in any of the Christian faiths, which does make for some great subject matter for a metal record. We’re pretty wrapped up in serpent imagery, are we not?

“Walking With the Ghost” opens the record, the sixth Twilight Fauna full-length, as chatter from a congregation spills over, and acoustic fires are lit up, with whispers sliding underneath the melodies. Clean guitars join the mix, with the body of the song hypnotizing, and ghosts floating over the top. Harshness then arrives, with the growls buried in the dirt, as the cut hisses its last and fades away. “A Green Moth in the Mist” has guitars striking and flooding the scene with power, while hushed growls push through the wall of sound. Noise rises up and smears, with a static wall dragged before things turn grim. The fury spirals and surrounds you, with the music trickling away. “Laying out the Fleece” lets acoustics ring out, while more professions of faith arrive, and a bluegrass-style aura opens itself and brings you further into the picture. The track then bubbles up and flows, spreading serenity but also a weird sense of foreboding doom.

“Anointing Oil” has a woman talking about dying, while acoustics lift up the atmosphere, and chant-like singing emerges. Electric drone pulses take over, while melodies churn and scar, and the guitars that catch fire scrape away. Clean singing arrives on the back of softer guitars, leading the way into “Tongues of Knowledge.” There, a woman professes her faith, sounding like a true devotee, while the guitars drip black metal tar that coats the floor. The sounds wash over you, while the growls lurk beneath the din, and once the dark clouds finally begin the subside, quiet guitars chime away and hint at calm settles before the ugliness re-emerges and growls mar the surface. Closer “A Glass Dalia” opens with lonesome harmonica and acoustic guitars assuming the lead. Hushed singing is accompanied by the sounds of a preacher in the midst, with rattling and hissing noises make their mark (quite appropriately, might I add), and a Western psyche ambiance takes over and lets the song drain into the Earth.

Twilight Fauna’s catalog is one that truly stands by itself among the black metal community. Yes, Ravenwood uses common elements employed by many other artists, but he turns inward and exposes himself and the world he has grown to know as his primary inspirations. “Fire of the Spirit” is another journey into a world that may be foreign to many, and a practice that can send chills down your spine.

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