Release year: 2022
Label: Svart Records
Reading the promo text of Sunir, first release by the enigmatic, or at least seemingly enigmatic Ianai, one is baffled by the sheer amount of self-conscious myth and mystery construction going on. I mean, just go ahead and read it.
Seriously, I get the desire to build an alter ego around a musical concept, but that just goes a bit too far. Elsewhere, Ianai has been identified as the project of Jaani Peuhu, who used to play keyboards in Swallow The Sun. So is he the “mysterious” Ianai Trevenial? The thing is, with this degree of rather pretentious myth-building, I really don’t care.
The above considered, I admit I approached the album with some apprehension. I try to not let extramusical aspects have too much of an impact, but it’s impossible to ignore them completely. Still, all things considered, Sunir is not a bad album.
In the end, Sunir is relatively easy to put on the musical map: it’s a combination of world music, new age music, folk ambient, Enya, Adiemus and, why not!, a bit of Auri. Somewhat cinematic and dramatic, ambient-tinged, acoustic world music that doesn’t identify with any single tradition, but combines many into a mishmash that’s a bit of everything, from nordic to shamanic eastern to arabian to, well, take your pick. Traditional and acoustic instruments mix with both male and female vocals, whose delivery is basically instrumental in the same sense as Adiemus was; there may be real words used here, but they’re mixed in a way that renders them hard to decipher.
At least on the surface, this potpourri of musical traditions filtered into a rather cinematic, ambient folk sound might appear deep and profound. And of course, might be that there is some profound thought running through this album – but after a couple of listens, this mostly comes across as an Adiemus taking cues from Heilung, Wardruna and other so-called “Nordic ritual folk” acts. Adiemus in the sense, that the spiritual depth comes across as mere sheen.
I realize I sound not only critical, but even condemning of the album. From one point of view, maybe I am. But from another, not really. Let me elaborate. Whatever the intent on the album, it comes across as spiritually shallow to me – an elaborately constructed surface with little actual depth. That I am quite critical of. On the other hand, musically, Sunir isn’t bad at all. It’s got it’s flaws, but not the point of breaking the album.
One shortcoming of the album is that it’s ambient nature means the 70-minute epic drags on and on if you try to concentrate on it. There’s really nothing to grab your attention. However, if you let it flow in the background, Ianai weave rather evocative ambient, mythological tapestries. In this sense, Sunir comes across as something of a musical coloring book; it presents the listener with vague images, but leaves it to the listener to fill in the colors and give the shapes meaning.
And, you know, were it not for the silly mythos building around the band, I’d even dig this sort of open-ended nature of Ianai. If there were no information about the band, if it were a totally open book, I’d buy that for a dollar. But with the vague, ultimately hollow sounding, self-conscious mythos building around Ianai, it rubs me the wrong way.
So, in the end, Sunir is a musically decent, although in some respects, flawed piece of sort of faux folk ambient. If my tirade about the perceived shallowness of the project feels like “who gives a fuck” to you, or if vague (and this in a non-condemnding, purely thematically descriptive way) new age folk ambient is precisely your cup of tea, you’ll probably love this. On the other hand, if the algiz rune on the cover made you hope for some kind of actually profound ritual folk/neofolk/whatever then… well, keep on looking.