Kannonau’s past and present

KANNONAU: Kannonau

Release year: 2006/2022
Label: Misty Circles/Steinklang Industries

Not long ago, I touched upon the subject of Italian neofolk in my review of Rose Rovine E Amanti’s album Sogni Visioni E Premonizioni (reviewed here): one of the few local scenes, who’ve managed to create their own, uniquely local brand of neofolk. One that actually sounds Italian instead of vaguely European.

Kannonau can certainly not be called luminaries of the genre, or even the Italian scene. A major factor is of course the brevity of their discography: one mini-album and one full-length are all they’ve released despite starting out almost 20 years ago. They’ve been more or less dormant a lot of this time, as well. So: musical deficiencies are not the reason for their relative obscurity.

Having previously only been released as a CDr back in 2006, Kannonau’s debut EP is certainly long overdue for a re-release. Interestingly enough, this happens on a release containing not only the EP, but two brand new tracks. As such, it binds together the origins and the future of the now re-activated project. Sensibly, the vinyl features the new tracks (of which there are two) on one side, and the old EP on the other.

Now as then, Kannonau’s style of neofolk leans heavily towards a neoclassical, even ritualistic form. Archetypal acoustic guitars are present here and there, but as far as instrumentation goes, the center stage is occupied by epic-yet-minimalistic synths and ritualistic drumming. The vocals, all in Italian, are somewhere between spoken recitals and monotonous singing, again amplifying a certain ritulistic aspect of the music.

The resulting atmospheres are those of holy fires being lit in ancient temples on a holy night, a procession of devout initiates filing into the sanctum, where a priest performs the sacred rites. There’s a vague and indescribably mediterranean element to the atmospheres, but not in the same strongly characteristic sense as with some other Italian artists. This could be Roman, this could be Greek – Kannonau paint a rough picture, leaving the details for the listener to fill in.

Comparing the sides, the new material is somewhat more focused and minimalist. Relying entirely on layers of understated neoclassical synths and ritualistic percussion to back the vocals, it comes across as a matured, distilled version of the earlier EP. In contrast, the earlier EP contains richer instrumentation but loses some of the singular focus. On the whole, though, the underlying nature of the music seems to be the same.

Interestingly, the two halves that constitute this release, despite being separated by over 15 years, mesh together well. Yes, the older material has a slightly more plastic sound to the synths – symptomatic of the technology of that age! – and the vocals sound more controlled and mature on the newer tracks, but there’s no major breach between the new and the old.

Whilst this isn’t necessarily the absolutely best in Italian neofolk (after all, there are some real high points to compete against!), it is nonetheless an interesting release; something that those who look to go ever deeper should by all means check out. And, based on the two new tracks, if Kannonau remains active and releases more material, it will be worth waiting for.

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