Review Summary: The best American black metal record you forgot about.
Helping to jump-start the “Cascadian black metal” movement with their first two releases, Fauna cemented themselves in the history of American black metal alongside the likes of Weakling, Leviathan, and Wolves in the Throne Room. While the band’s first two records were released fairly quickly, their third effort, Avifauna
, encountered a handful of difficulties which hindered its release and ultimately seemed to push it from the minds of longtime fans and the black metal community at large, severely disrupting its reception to the point of almost complete obscurity.
Its physical release having been delayed numerous times, Avifauna
was finally designated ready-for-order in late December 2012 with little announcement or warning, signaling an end to years of waiting for fans eager to see what direction the band would take next. Seeing as both previous releases by the band were fairly distinct from one another, the question for their next album seemed fairly obvious: where exactly
would Fauna take their third album--would it be more straightforward black metal/folk like Rain
, more doom/drone like The Hunt
, or something else completely"
The answer seems to be a bit of the former, with a dash of the latter--Avifauna
doesn’t so much tread new directions as it does clean up and solidify the band’s previous styles, while simultaneously streamlining them. Featuring three lengthy “main” tracks and two short interlude pieces, the album still runs a hefty 73 minutes but this time is much, much more organized than the band's previous releases. While cutting the band’s movements into three shorter pieces might not, in theory, allow for the same hypnotic ritual-like feelings as their previous works, it does force the individual movements to become much more diverse and dynamic which absolutely works in the band’s favor.
Each of the three main tracks on Avifauna
work as their own “mini” epics which cycle through simple, ritualistic acoustics and mid-paced metal riffs on their way to thundering black metal crescendos. Essentially, the album plays out like a more dynamic or better-structured Rain
but recreated thrice instead of in one long slog; each lengthy track represents the same playing styles and songwriting techniques but is organized differently from the pieces before it.
Taking a page from Echtra’s namesake side project, “Soaring Into Earth” begins the album with eight minutes of simple, slow acoustic playing accompanied by a sad violin and the occasional folk-ish singing. Suddenly, the acoustics are overwhelmed by an eruption of black metal riffs, blasting drums, and anguished vocals. The cacophony continues for several minutes, cycling through different lead melodies to provide a sense of transition amidst the unchanging drum beat. After sucking in the listener with its hypnotic tempo, the drums suddenly slam on the breaks and rip the listener away from their reverie, greeting them instead with a slow guitar dirge that eventually gives way to another acoustic section, often gracing their ears with more wonderful violin accompaniment. The track then finishes its twenty-nine minute run by combining the sum of its parts in a doomy-yet-hopeful mid-paced crescendo of electric riffs and violin.
The other two full tracks, “Syrint” and “The Harpy”, more-or-less mimic the combinations of elements and songwriting ideas present in “Soaring into Earth”, but organize them differently so as to create three independent-yet-similar pieces. In that way, Avifauna
is definitely a stylistically predictable record but that doesn’t really work against it; in the context of the album each piece--including the two short interludes--work as part of a whole, seventy-minute ritual nicely cut into five pieces for accessibility and aesthetic appeal.
Taken as a whole, Avifauna
is one big blasting droney folk metal epic that carries the idea of hypnotic ritualism through an ever-changing slew of tempos and instrumental styles. Although it appeared with little warning after mostly being forgotten about, Fauna’s third LP definitely proves itself to have been worth the wait and should definitely establish the band as one of the true heavyweights in American black metal.