release: Corpus Christi
format: CD, Flash Drive
year of release: 2012
detailed info: discogs.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.
1. Corpus Christi (35:04)
II Corpus Christi
IV Crucem Sanctam Subiit
video: Corpus Christi