This interview with Fauna was the impetus for the creation of this zine. Though the ideas fueling the drive to create it have been longstanding, I have wanted to interview Fauna for quite sometime now. With Rain receiving more widespread attention, I thought it especially relevant to delve into the deep thought and passion that motivate this ensemble.
Both Fauna and their predecessor, Threnos, helped carve out many of the frameworks for what has become known as Cascadian Black Metal. Fauna, Threnos and their kindred Chet (from Blood of the Black Owl and Ruhr Hunter) as well as many other lesser well-known luminaries from the Pacific Northwestern United States cultivated the fertile grounds from which others have taken root. Most well known of course being Wolves in the Throne Room.
Fauna cannot be seen from a modern perspective, their performances are not rock concerts and their sound is not for the mainstream, nor even for the mainstream of the prodigious underground metal scene. They exist as emissaries from the sacred realm, the magicians and shamans that help transport us between realms and light the funeral pyre to the corpse of modernity.
-Set Sothis Nox La
Echtra and Vines, would you be willing to discuss your chosen names? Do you see yourselves as embodying different entities when you take the stage or conduct a recording?
Absolutely. Echtra and Vines are beings other than those who normally inhabit the coil we are bound to. While there is inevitably a residue of identity that remains after having transcended ourselves, the reasoning and feeling processes we undergo in the altered state of consciousness Fauna represents are wholly different from those we normally experience. Putting on corpsepaint and preparing to engage the otherworld is a powerful process, and requires the individual to loosen their hold on the mundane. This inevitably results, for us, in the attainment of an ecstatic state that cannot be understood as arising from our individuated selves. Those other beings we become are a result of the meeting between ourselves and the All.
Echtra is a word from the Irish language (often mistakenly referred to as Gaelic (it is actually just one of a number of variants in the family of Gaelic languages)), signifying a story cycle wherein the hero finds themselves unexpectedly transported into the otherworld. These tales, common in the bardic tradition of our ancestors, commonly feature a person going about daily tasks and finding themselves suddenly catapulted onto sacred ground.
The most effective way to explain the meaning of Vines is thus:
Vines are the arms of God. Rooted firmly within the Earth yet ceaselessly reaching skyward; strangling Life with Life.
I see Fauna as an expression of Atavistic Black Metal, while also being fiercely Heathen. This can be seen as distinct from “orthodox black metal,” which tries to strengthen ties to Satanism and believes that Black Metal should be strictly about Satan. What are your leanings in this regard?
One of the fundamental attributes of Black Metal is an anti-modern stance, an intuitive rejection of civilization and the desire for its destruction. Whichever direction the original impulse went in, it seemed to retain that basic critical framework. You can see this atavistic tendency in the themes of pagan retribution and the fetishization of Nature, both of which have been ubiquitous within the Black Metal milieu. This basic critique was also combined with a strong antipathy toward Christianity that usually (at least in the early years) meant a tendency toward Satanism. While we have tremendous respect for those early pioneers, we do not fall within this tradition.
Part of our rejection of Satanism relates to time. For one thing, the spiritual forms that resonate most deeply in us are older than Satan. More importantly, however, our cosmology stresses an atemporality that resists the historicization of mythology. Judeo-Christian thought, which birthed the figure of Satan, represents the apotheosis of the entry of human consciousness into a time-bound understanding of our world. Previous to this, humans embraced what Mircea Eliade wrote of in his text The Myth of the Eternal Return: a mode of being that facilitated an ahistorical engagement with the mythic structure, a doorway into becoming contemporary with one’s Gods, a recognition that the life one lived and the one enjoyed by distant ancestors were the same. This is the fundamental religious structure of humans, found in all pre-civilized peoples in one form or another. Christianity’s positing of a chronology of cosmological events that exist in time destroys our spiritual faculties.
One of the deformations of consciousness that is connected with this is a strong emphasis on duality, the inability to tolerate the shades of gray which reality ultimately is. To paraphrase Paul Shepard: one aspect of maturity is the ability to affirm ambiguity, a development that the ontogenetic crippling we experience as civilized people renders very difficult to achieve. Christianity shackles us to a perceptual lens that can conceive of things only in terms of duality, apparent in its focus on good and evil, heaven and earth, and, most importantly for our conversation, Jesus & Satan. This duality is part of the legacy from which we would like to break free, moving instead towards a pluralistic embrace of our world and the nuanced shades of meaning that elude reductionistic ideologies.
Perhaps the ultimate reductionism exhibited by the Judeo-Christian paradigm is monotheism, the facet of most “world religions” that lends them their unique virulence. The sense that the multivalent world we inhabit could be attributed to one deity is an obvious failure of understanding, and the rabidity of those infected with this madness to “convert” others an obvious signal of its destructiveness. When humans had multiple gods they were capable of abiding multiple truths at once, and when the landscape was intimately connected to our relationship with spirits and ancestors we recognized the fundamental truth that, in the deepest possible sense, All is One. Christianity works against this psychic assimilation of the world and the personal integration it offers, limiting the individual instead to a puerile obsession with “good and bad.” Satanism simply capitulates to this essential logic.
Thus, Satan and Christ are only two forks of the same tongue. What we want to stress is that Satanism relies upon and supports the Christian worldview. It exists within their framework and strengthens their reality. As creatures inculcated within this Christian gestalt, we have a hard time thinking outside of it. Satanism, however antagonistic it might seem to Christianity, does not exist outside Christianity, nor does it threaten Christianity.
All of this notwithstanding, we do recognize the mythic potency of Satan and embrace the Luciferian principle he represents. Most if not all mythological systems have a trickster figure, the animal or theriomorphic deity that in some way rebels against the established order, often seeming to relish confounding humans with inexplicable mysteries and unsolvable problems. Lucifer is the questioner, the one who refuses to accept truth as given, and as such wields a power that should be sought by all individuals.
What we seek to connect with, in contradistinction to the abstraction of the Christian faith, is the numinous power that resides in our blood and rings in our ears. This force, which opens our eyes and then speaks to us in ways even we cannot comprehend, is atavism. These are the ancient ways of being that do not need to be recreated; they are there, waiting to spring up through us if we only open ourselves to their light. These intransigent human potentialities are like the weeds that perennially spring up between the cracks in the pavement. We do not need to plant the weeds, nor do we need to tear up the pavement. If we cease thwarting natural processes the balance will be restored.
One of the other primary attributes exhibited by Black Metal is the expression of raw, visceral pain at the dreariness of our modern existence. We believe that humans have a deeply embedded notion of how we are supposed to be, and how the world around us ought to be. These are genetic expectations, conditioned by millennia of adaptation and refinement that took place in the wild and gave birth to the human soul. Yet the abjectly profane modern world around us ceaselessly disappoints these notions, and the tension between what our inner animal demands and what the outer world denies results in psychosis and misery. Through our music and performance we attempt to literally recreate this world that is almost forgotten (at least to the conscious mind). Our goal is to create, in a real and transparent way, a transcendent space where we can be animals again. This allows us to take part in our shamanic legacy of communication with the animal and plant kingdoms, as well as the world of the spirits. The idea of a nascent god within each of us, within each animal we encounter, within each stone upon the path; this is the true threat to the sky god. The crux of our atavism is this process of our inborn desires rising up unbidden toward manifestation. In seeking to honor these instincts we challenge the hegemony of the modern world and pay tribute to our ancestors, for this is our true human path.
Fauna have performed live and also recorded and self-released 2 compact discs. Both CDs are essentially one song that is over an hour in length, and the packages you produce require much labor. Live rituals also demonstrate a large investment of time, and are clearly based on important overarching concepts. Knowing the immense thought and energy that goes into both elements, do you have a strong feeling about either being the primary vehicle for the endeavors of Fauna?
Siberian shamans have referred to their drum, beaten in a simple and repetitive fashion, as their horse. This signified the ability of the drum to carry them away, beyond the world of the senses. As twenty-first century beings, waylaid in a maze conjured by the devastating influences of rationalism and materialism, Fauna is our horse.
Essentially a vehicle for ritual action, this project can actually be understood as the live rite itself. The recordings are documents that we share with others for use in private environments, but they must be understood as artifacts. It is an unalterable truth that the mediation involved in the process of taking something living and turning it into an object dims its fire. However, we have been told that these recordings are powerful tools, and we honor the fact that we can provide a portal for others in this age of fragmentation. There is a curious power in being able to disseminate these portable documents that can transform faraway spaces, artifacts imbued with the numinous value of our workings.
There also exist certain unique advantages to the recording process. The music itself, used as a tool for intrapsychic exploration in the live environment, is able in the recorded environment to attain to a certain purity. Because the music is channeled in a controlled atmosphere a clarity is achieved that live situations disallow. There are many variables in performance, and inevitably some degree of exactitude in the conveyance of sounds is lost. We allocate a tremendous amount of energy to the songwriting process, and value highly the ability to give the songs themselves a vibrant life of their own.
Fauna are more than a “band” proper, being a duo; you forsake some of the trappings of a traditional live band and perform to backing tapes. Do you see yourselves moving towards having additional members? Do you want to have live drums or perform as a “full band,” or is your preference more towards the ritualistic medium as the embodiment of Fauna?
Our priority will always be the ritual. As long as we can continue to create spheres of illumination as just two individuals, without too much aesthetic compromise, we will do so. There are severe limitations that we accept by using electronic drums and backing tapes, and we do wish that we could overcome those limitations without compromising our principles. It would certainly be ideal to have a live drummer or other musicians within our project; however, it is more important to keep our project philosophically coherent than to try to incorporate new members. If there were someone who was qualified and shared our vision, we would not hesitate to welcome them within our fold.
You enacted the 3rd cycle of Fauna’s “initiatory labyrinth” in 2007. This 3rd cycle focused on flight and its place in shamanism and other mystical traditions. In visions you were directed to work with different individuals throughout the tour to take part as the Great Perceiver or Owl, who would present you something to help you on your journey. Could you talk about what is important for you in envisioning a performance and the process in working with these ideas balanced with the music that you write? Are the songs created and then each of the performances are conceived separately or is everything developed together? Could you talk about the first 2 cycles thusly?
What is important to us in envisioning performance is multifold. Primarily, we are using the rites we display to integrate the various phases of our own initiation, though this is by no means the sole motive. We seek total liberation, and thusly dedicate our works to the fellow seekers that have found us. We attempt to design our performances in such a way that the observer/participant is able to enter as deeply into ritual time and space as they wish, creating the possibilities of transcendence and transformation for those who partake of the realm we open. We are also opening ourselves to be a conduit for the voice of the Others, and to engage in worship of the destructive and regenerative principles of the natural world.
In following and developing these various impulses, for this 3rd cycle we realized that we wanted to invite other people to also become a conduit for the voice of the Others. We sent out a call to certain individuals we saw as ready to enter more deeply into the liminal space of the interspecies antiphony that is Fauna, inviting them into our dialogue with the spirits. We were interacting with a mythic and supernatural dimension of the human experience, and wanted to offer them the opportunity to embody that dimension and bring us the further guidance we were seeking.
For the 1st Cycle, the piece that has come to be known as “Rain,” we composed the music first. We worked with a local scribe known only as Ocean (the purveyor of the sonic alchemy of Port of the Sun and author of Black Hills Cabal), who created much of the lyrical material, and then set about to conjure a working fit for the soundscape and meaning layers that had been channeled. We worked with various individuals, including brYan le Fay (an extremely talented artist in the realms of dance and music who enacts the unclassifiable (and brilliant) Poison Ring), to bring to life 3 slightly different live rituals over the course of about 1 year.
Our 2nd Cycle, entitled “The Hunt,” was approached the opposite way. We sought visions of what needed to come next, and were gifted the images of a long mythic journey. This became simultaneously a story, ritual actions to be undertaken, an exposition of the themes through lyrics, and a map of the sonic textures that were thought to be conducive to the process we sought. The music and lyrics were entirely based on meeting the needs of the story, and were thus quite laborious to midwife into being. We worked closely with local artisan Lina Mclean of Brisingamen Design to embody the physical elements of the story and design a coherent action, and performed this 3 times, again over the course of a year.
What ideas most embody the intellectual underpinnings of Fauna? If you had to pick 3 to 5 ideas or concepts as a manifesto of sorts what would they be?
We are animals, and the less we give voice to our animal instincts the more psychotic we will become.
The essence of life is to be found in wildness; civilization is an inherently destructive institution that inhibits our humanness.
There are spirits or forces within all creation that can be communicated with if we know how.
We must return to a mythic consciousness wherein we conceive of ourselves as divine.
What motivates you to express yourself musically? Why Metal/Black Metal? Do you have specific motivations as to the construction of your sound? Do you feel that Fauna has become its own entity that you nurture with your passions? Some people have very strong idea of what music fits with one band and what would constitute another band. You both are also involved with Fearthainne, a completely acoustic project with other members. Do you have clear boundaries in what you define as the Fauna sound?
Black Metal seems an apt medium for our purposes because it lends itself so well to primal expression. It also has the potential to accurately convey the overarching sense of despair we feel so strongly when confronted with the devastation of the world and its peoples. Through our music and especially our rituals, we create a transcendent space in which we have an outlet to be as fully human as we possibly can. This involves engaging with many stages of consciousness and many modes of expression, and these modes surface in all of our music (though some speak more strongly through different projects). With Fearthainne we invoke spirits and watch as they dance between us; with Fauna we become those spirits. We construct our sounds to demarcate this transcendent space, and to texture the fabric of that trip into mythic experience. Elements of black metal work quite well toward this goal. The blast beat serves perfectly as the shaman’s drum, beating out a repetitive relentless rhythm to draw the seeker into a trance state. The blurry guitars accentuate this rhythm while also setting the tone for the dream state. Through modulations of the buzz-saw tone and occasional movements of doom and ambience, we are able to lead the listener down the tunnels of an ancient tomb, to discover the truth of their inner fire.
It appears to me that things close to the Earth are of the highest value to you. The lyrics often express emotive ties to both fauna and flora, and the band name itself also speaks to this element. Can you talk about your relationship with the environment, nature and your feelings about civilization in regards to this?
Yes, wildness and the Others (plant and animal) are woven into the heart of this project. One of the many aspects of Fauna is making war upon civilization, and we see our efforts as an assault upon the modern. We are integrally allied with the world of Nature, and are eager participants in the battle that is being waged every moment for the triumph of natural intelligence and the full reclamation of the Land. We prioritize the past, particularly the Deep Past, in our understanding of what it means to be a human being on Earth.
Animals have always been essential to our spiritual and psychic maturational process, and the paucity of wild animals in the experiential lives of most people ensures that they will never be truly human. We recognize the necessity of entering into relationship with all that is wild and feral, both in the world and within ourselves, in order to attain to fullness and a connection with the Divine.
I think that it is important to talk about time and your feelings towards it. Both recordings that I am aware of, Rain and the Hunt, are over an hour in length. Many of the riffs are drawn out lending a very cerebral element. What led you towards this incarnation of time and space in song writing? Is this a purposeful strategy to invite the listener into a meditative repose and thus initiate the listener into the shamanic process? Perhaps it speaks of the music being more of a personal journey and the listener less conceived of. Where does the listener/viewer fit into your ideas about music/performance?
The length and repetitive quality of the songs are crucial aspects of their transformative power. We are attempting to speak to different strata of mind simultaneously, and particularly seek to tap into something deeper within consciousness that is usually latent within the modern experience. This is an aspect of the psyche that has a different quality of attention and requires different modes of engagement in order to fully manifest.
While safeguarding our own ascension is the penultimate goal of this project, we imagine our conversation with the listener/viewer when we compose and, as stated earlier, attempt to speak to the deepest recesses of Soul with our works. Actually, our ideal is to erase conceptions of audience entirely, bringing those that interact with us into the fold. While the rituals we design are performance-based and not directly participatory, we hope to create a space that can foster a transgression of the self and create the possibility of attaining to the consciousness that lies trapped below the limited functioning of ego.
If this project existed solely for us we wouldn’t bother going to all the trouble of designing the live events. As you correctly intuited, it’s an immense amount of work, which we gratefully undertake as a gift to the world and an arrow in the body of the Tame. The role of the shaman has traditionally included balancing the relationship between humans and the more-than-human world as well as offering healing to members of the human community. We don’t shrink from this charge, and are committed to offering opportunities for the transformation of others as we pursue our own. Fauna exists as a conduit for of the soul retrieval of all.