Review: Syven - Corpus Christi (2012)


artist: Syven
release: Cor­pus Christi
format: CD, Flash Drive
year of release: 2012
label: Audi­okratik
dur­a­tion: 35:04

detailed info: dis​cogs​.com

2011’s Aik­antaite was an impress­ive debut for Finland-based duo Syven and their unique folky neo­clas­si­cism. While this first album was some­times hampered slightly by over­pol­ished metal influ­ences and a tend­ency towards long-windedness, it was a solid first effort non­ethe­less. It pales in com­par­ison to Cor­pus Christi, though, which was one of my favour­ite sur­prises of last year.

How can a one-track, 35-minute con­cept album be less long-winded than five shorter indi­vidual tracks? Com­pos­i­tion, of course! Cor­pus Christi is set up in four dis­tinct move­ments, and even within those pieces, there is a clear step away from repet­it­ive, mantra-based com­pos­i­tions towards some­thing that is more layered and gently evolving. The basic ingredi­ents are still the same, though: A. Tolonen’s flow­ing kan­tele melod­ies and synth back­ings on the one hand, and Andy Koski-Semmens’ clas­sical bass voice on the other, along with some frame drum per­cus­sion.

The album’s pre­lude intro­duces the slow-paced, deep synth atmo­sphere that per­meates most of the album, and Koski-Semmens  fills the intro with a spec­trum of dark, plaint­ive voices. As the piece gets going in earn­est, a piano-like base joins in, along with kan­tele and drums, and we are treated to a pon­der­ous rendi­tion of the Middle Eng­lish Cor­pus Christi Carol, which Syven arrange into a sweep­ing epic bal­lad.

As Jon Rosenthal over at The Inar­gu­able admir­ably shows, Cor­pus Christi incor­por­ates pro­found influ­ences from dif­fer­ent sac­red music styles, such as the organum music of the Tem­plars, which is an excel­lent match for Koski-Semmens’ lovely basso. The chal­lenge with such influ­ences – unless you’re a recon­struc­tion­ist – is always to see if you can meld them into mod­ern music in an eleg­ant way, and Syven have met that chal­lenge admir­ably. The lines between medi­aeval melodic com­pos­i­tion tech­niques and influ­ences from neo­folk and nor­dic ritual music are almost imper­cept­ible unless you know what to look for.

Mov­ing on, there is a brief silence after “Cor­pus Christi”, a moment of death before the “Renas­cen­tia”, the most eth­er­eal move­ment in which the bright, search­ing kan­tele melody punc­tu­ates the whispered and spoken word parts and airy chants. The album’s last five minutes are reserved for a rendi­tion of the deep Tem­plar chant “Crucem Sanc­tam Subiit”, a massively impress­ive effort by Koski-Semmens, and a power­ful clos­ing note.

I can’t praise Cor­pus Christi enough. By skil­fully meld­ing dif­fer­ent kinds of sac­red and folk music, Syven some­how dis­solve the dis­tance not only between medi­aeval and mod­ern music, but also between the medi­ter­ranean and the nor­dic. It also opens up Chris­tian mys­ti­cism in a way that high­lights some of its more uni­ver­sal com­pon­ents, par­tic­u­larly when we come to the areas of music, blood, death, and rebirth. Mas­ter­fully craf­ted and pol­ished to a sheen, Cor­pus Christi is an album for seekers and dream­ers.

Reviewed by O.S.

Track­list:

1. Cor­pus Christi (35:04)
I Plor­a­tio
II Cor­pus Christi
III Renas­cen­tia
IV Crucem Sanc­tam Subiit

video: Cor­pus Christi