VESPER KENNINGS: Songs Of Verdant Bone, Eight Wreathen Hoorahs For Weary Hearts
Release year: 2022
It’s a couple of years now since I first became acquainted with the Finnish project Vesper Kennings through their two demos. Already on those, the band came across as both mature and as having a genuinely own character. As such, it can certainly be said I did not approach this, their debut album, without some expectations.
Located somewhere between psychedelic folk, folk rock and neofolk, Vesper Kennings’ stylistic trappings are wreathed in esoteric imagery, magical mysticism, poetry and mythology – balanced by a small touch of the decadent. All without being self-servingly esotericist or name-checking this or that deity or myth. Where some artists operating in a similar thematic field come across as exceedingly inward-turning, introvert, Vesper Kennings’ world seems to open up and welcome the listener – but does not reveal or explain all of its mysteries.
The definitions of a vague genre such as neofolk are so elastic and blurred, that I really have no problems using that descriptor when speaking of Vesper Kennings. Still, as alluded above, there is much more than basic, stereotype neofolk going on here – if your idea of neofolk is limited to a man in camouflage uniform strumming acoustic guitar augmented by wind chimes, then this ain’t for ya.
Sure, acoustic guitars figure prominently on Songs Of Verdant Bone (wind chimes do not), as well synths ranging from sweeping backgrounds to synthesized brass, but so does electric guitar, often with a decided psychedelic rock bent. And hammond sounds. Add to this a standard drum kit, not the stereotypical martial percussion, and Vesper Kennings’ brand of neofolk reaches well beyond any narrow-minded conceptions of the genre.
However, equally undeniably as the band’s expression reaches above and beyond neofolk, they are likely to find a sympathetic audience amongst neofolk fans. The folk-y sound combined with lyrics of pagan mysticism, apocalyptic visions, folklore and romantic poetry make sure of that.
As mentioned above, already on the band’s two demos, they came across a band having discovered their own character. This debut album reinforces that idea, since all four songs from the first demo are included on Songs Of Verdant Bone in new versions. And to boot, not even in greatly revised versions – though the arrangements on the album are somewhat touched up and augmented from the demo versions, the songs are instantly recognizable and familiar. And this is well: there was no need to greatly revamp already great songs.
At the centre of the sound is S. Kalliomäki’s somewhat rough-around-the-edges but charismatic vocals. There is something in his vocals, his lyrics and the way he delivers them that reminds me of Finnish cult, esoterically inclined heavy rock band Babylon Whores – nothing I can put my finger exactly on, but an elusive something. And, apparently, I may not be too far off the mark here!
In the lyrics department, the band make use of both Finnish and English. Whilst I feel that without doubt the three Finnish tracks are lyrically the strongest with their beautiful verbal imagery and well-used language, the English lyrics are also worthy of note. The Finnish lyrics have this character of vague, undefined, often apocalyptic mythology about them, whilst the English lyrics seem to draw from the rich well-springs of European lore. Maybe it’s just in how I, as a Finn, interpret subtle subtexts and unelaborated contexts in Finnish lyrics differently from those in English lyrics, but to me there appears to be a certain gap between the texts of the two languages. As I see it, the Finnish lyrics reach for the eternal and the mythopoetic, whilst the English lyrics plant their feet into the grass and draw from the deep roots of esoteric historical-folkloristic soil.
Musically, Songs Of Verdant Bone is a strong debut album, confident in its own expression. It does not represent a major step in any direction, qualitywise or stylewise, from the demos, but nonetheless sees the band consolidate and solidify their sound. In other words, whatever small chinks there were on the demos, have mostly been patched up now.
It’s tough to pick out particular favourite tracks from the album, when after a dozen or so listens I am particular towards most. Paarmasaari and Hiljaisuuden taakse maa with their poetic imagery of ending worlds, ends of the world and serene, forlorn beauty are impressive both lyrically and musically. Fields Of Strife Forever represents a nice change of pace on the album, throwing in a country-beat and Irish tin whistle. And… wait, that’s already three of the eight tracks on the album. Let’s call these my three picks of the litter for you all to check out.
The album comes packaged in a cardboard box with lyrics insert and four photo inserts. These only serve to deepen the mysterious, esoteric aspects of the band – one cannot instantly relate them to anything on the album itself, but obviously they are not separated from it. A lovingly hand-crafted package, this is certainly worth adding to any neolfolk fans’ collection as a physical item.
And musically, the same applies: if you’re into neofolk, dark folk, weird folk, pagan folk, call it what you will, you’d do well to check this album.