Twilight Fauna’s combo of folk, black metal never richer than on stunning opus ‘Foundations’

The idea of home has taken on an entirely different meaning the past few months considering many of us are stuck in ours. That’s been a good thing for some, a little bit of a trap for others, and no matter how it hits you, home probably feels a little different than it did before all of us were in some form of lockdown in order to keep ourselves and others safe.

But that home doesn’t necessarily mean the dwelling in which you send your time and where your stuff is stored. Our neighborhoods and communities also can be counted in that concept, and Paul Ravenwood, mastermind before folk-flushed black metal band Twilight Fauna has poured plenty of himself into his Appalachian surroundings. He has shared those emotions and ties with his audience for years, but perhaps never more so than on “Foundations,” the banner’s excellent new record and ninth overall. Ravenwood is joined by drummer Josh Thieler (Slaves BC, Arête) on a 10-track, nearly 63-minute excursion that combines the best of all Twilight Fauna worlds, with guests Kendal Fox and Kelsey Maye adding their incredible voices to the mix. You’re sent into the heart of Ravenwood’s surroundings, his experiences within, and some of the area’s history on an album that enraptures and quakes.

“Am I Born to Die” is an unassuming but jarring open with Fox singing a capella, with her voice echoing off the walls. “Soon as from this earth I go, what will become of me,” she wonders as the track ends in frigidity. “Tavern Hill” starts with banjo being plucked as acoustic guitars meet up, and then it blasts open, as a heavy dose of warmth mixes in with freezing terrain. The pace teeters back and forth from volatile to calm, with strong melodies woven within, and Thieler’s drumming pounding away. The final moments drill hard before disappearing into the atmosphere. “The Silence Between the Trees” is a quick instrumental piece with acoustics strummed, light chants and stomps beneath the din, and the track moving into solemn lushness. “Into the Hands of Night” also starts in a bed of banjo play before slowly opening and scalding as Ravenwood’s vocals scrape open wounds. Cool slide guitar works into this, giving it a nice Americana feel (an element that reappears at other moments on the record), while the growls utterly rain down. Harshness spreads before cooling off a bit, allowing some breath before the next slice as we end the track in destructive swirls and drums that loosen teeth. “A Voice in the Wilderness” has guitars rumbling right away as the drums join, and the howls penetrate. As is commonplace here, calmer waters take over for a stretch before the seams burst again, and the playing overwhelms. Elegant melodies reign within the chaos as a huge deluge in riffs floods, making it feel like a storm that isn’t going to relent until all the ground is covered.

“Under the Falling Snow” has chimes blowing in the breeze as Ravenwood duets with Fox for the first four minutes as the track stretches its arms deep into folk territory. After that, the top is torn off as the track melts into lava, though with a calm speaking voice behind stating, “I want my life to really stand for something.” Emotion caterwauls as sheets of sound crush, and the final minutes go back to echoey cleanliness. “The Breeze Through Willows” is the final dose of heaviness on the record, at least from a volume standpoint, as guitars wash you in gazey magic before the punishment arrives in spades. It’s a bruising path that’s stomped as the guitars go for broke, and Theiler lays waste to his kit. Finally, the track retreats to quieter sounds, a hint toward what’s to come on the remainder of the album. The final three tracks all are folk based, starting with “Fires Carry You Home” that has banjo, whistles, and Ravenwood’s gruff singing, making this feel raw and off the cuff. Here, he tells a story of a woman who refuses to give up her land to the coal industry and gets come help from her kin to ward them off “where the old river flows. “In a Breath” has melodies fluttering as Ravenwood recalls taking a trail that he’s walked many times and all the memories that come rushing back with that. The track is reflective, vulnerable, and undeniably human especially as he realizes, “You know you’ll never be the same,” as he absorbs moments that have passed by, some rich with hurt. “West Virginia Mining Disaster” closes, a take on the Jean Ritchie-penned song handled here a capella by Kelsey Maye, whose performance is stunning. You can hear every breath and swallow as she takes this track that recalls an event in May 1968 that trapped 25 miners for days, with four not surviving. Her singing booms as she tells of a young mother who realizes her sons soon will head underground, ending the track with, “His occupation was mining, West Virginia his home,” with her delivery of the word “west” buckling your knees.

Ravenwood has been steering Twilight Fauna in this direction for quite some time, as his black metal always has been twinged with Appalachian folk grandeur. However, “Foundations” is where he absolutely nails this formula, with this being his most realized work to date and the richest collection of songs in his catalog. It took me just a single listen to understand just how good this record is, and subsequently, I’ve gone back to relive each track multiple times, trying to glean even more meaning.

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