Hailing from the former principality of Tver (over 100 miles northwest of Moscow, Russia) come the empassioned Kreiviskai who combine neofolk, martial, neoclassical with gothic industrial and black metal in their second album ‘Nonregnum’. The album is a diverse collection of tracks or songs all in commemoration of the Principality of Tver whose history and culture have been erased or assimilated into non-recognition by the Muscovite oppression and the expansion of the Soviet empire. Each song on the album chronologically celebrates (or commiserates) a certain era of the Principality of Tver when it was in its full glory thriving in the upper reaches of the Volga river where trade routes enriched its people who kept themselves to themselves harmoniously and peacefully between the twelfth and fifteenth century until it was overcome by its neighbouring Principality of Moscow.
Kreiviskai’s sole wish is to portray its history through their music and it is not surprising that the range of emotions throughout along with the genre or style span from light and blissful folk to the very darkest and most anger-driven black metal to a mournful and elegiac conclusion with some element of hope for its resurrection. Musically, they are a very talented foursome who can compose beautiful pieces and enable us to relive in that blissful Arcadian state and then they transport us through the hell of having that taken away from under our feet and placing us in a state of despair or severance.
The album is entitled ‘Nonregnum’ suggests defiance against the Russian state – a refusal to be ruled, either glorious or subversive depending on which side you live. What is most striking about this release is the stunning artwork and careful attention to detail. It’s almost crafted for a collector of historic artefacts. The CD comes in a hardbook cover with 20 pages made to look like an ancient tome enscribed in ink on parchment with the lyrics, history of Tver, beautiful illustrations and maps. There is also a collectors’ edition which is even more magical as it is a box set which contains the A5 CD booklet and disc but also a cassette of the digitally remastered first album, a replica medieval coin from Tver as a keepsake, a magazine or almanac called ‘Vela’ (not sure if this is translated in English, though), a patch, and beautifully designed bookmarks. It is a very thoughtful and carefully considered gift set, even the box itself is embossed with silver.
The album begins with ‘Dainas’ (Songs) which is quintessentially a heathen or pagan neoclassical and spiritual introduction beginning with the foundation of Tver in the year 1135 sung chanted beautifully by female vocals to a brooding drone with what sounds like the kantele, kraviklyre or harp recounting how Tver was established by a bird taking an acorn from a sacred oak and dropping it at the source of three rivers. It is powerfully evocative and meditative, the melancholic deep strings amidst the crackle of the flames as we hear the cry of the violin over the waves of dark synth. It is very reminiscent of Gyvata or Pragnavit. A male incantation concludes the track with a melodica taking you into another dimension. It feels religious and penetrates to the soul.
Chimes and wind-driven bells lead us into an acoustic guitar introduction for the second track which becomes more neofolk or folk rock as we go forward in time to 1247 where the establishing of the Principality of Tver begins, a new dawn with hope and optimism with the birth and new growth from the acorn at this sacred place. The interplay between female chanting and male spoken narration continues as we go through the album chronologically to the third track ‘Bortonevo (1317)’ which celebrates the successful resistance of Tver against the might of the Golden Horde and the Mongols who allied with the princes of Moscow to attack but the folk of Tver – nobles and peasants – united to counter-attack and with divine grace overcome the oppressors. We can hear the fighting in the background and the rejoicing as the recorder weaves its melody over acoustic guitar.
The towers of Tver ring their bells as we progress to 1327 ‘The Cost of Freedom’ where musically it becomes more martial and warlike with the marching pace of drums and acoustic riffing to the bagpipes with the tone changing to one of concern and caution. All is not well. Reoccurring attacks from the nomads outside on Tver continue and much slaughter is done. But still Tver holds. The melodies and harmonies with the strings and the guitar are superb, almost medieval with neoclassical elements that evoke beauty and a sense of power.
‘Sieged’ (1375) turns elegiac and wholly neoclassical with a European classical tradition with string arrangements in vibrato and classical piano against the deep roll of the kettle drum as Tver agains becomes besieged by an empowered Moscow, a siege that lasts for a damagingly long time but still Tver holds out.
‘A Great Tver Freedom’ (1413) begins with a beautiful string arrangement for an intro and then strangely changes direction with an almost industrial and gothic element like a hybrid of Rome, Arditi and Depeche Mode with drum machine and a call-to-arms vocal commanding for the people of Tver to establish firmly their foundations. Freedom comes at the price of blood. The Principality of Tver is officially recognised as a state.
‘The Last Attempt to Stay’ (1468) recalls the attempts to expand the trade links with neighbouring states and nations where the Volga was the central channel for traffic. Some superb guitar work against the strings weave a magical spell as the story is told. The story reaches its ending as ‘The Lost Freedom’ (1485) sees a more devastating siege of Tver where traitors and the disloyal betray their king and aid Moscow under Prince Ivan Vasilyevich to penetrate the city with fire and depose Mikhail III who flees to Lithuania where we retreat in ‘Exhaustion (1505)’ with much lamentation and anger. And thus ends the once-golden state of Tver.
An outro follows entitled ‘Pragnavit – Akavita’ which is very similar to the introductory track Dainas. It is not clear whether this actually by the band Pragnavit as it retains their same style. Birds tweet against a heathen-like evening with the violin or fiddle sending back into that hypnotic state of catharsis as we consider the memory of Tver and its people, the fall of its towers and walls and its deeds assigned to history where outside forces have attempted to wipe out all memory or record. That is, until Kreiviskais successfully resurrect it with a sense of romantic and nationalistic pride in the hope that one day Tver will be reborn and the roots from that very same sacred oak that grew from that acorn will one day regrow and thrive once again.
An extra bonus track comes at the end which a complete surprise as Kreiviskai add ‘Ode to the Great One’ which literally has about three or four genres combined – centred around metal – which seems at odds with the rest of the album with black metal vocals but yet with the same vocal narrations outside of this and melodic guitar.
Nonregnum is a beautifully crafted album made and is an essential recommendation to those who adore historically-based neofolk, tribal spiritual folk and who share the same distaste for the modern world and mourn the loss of identity of its folk through expansion of empires, or more appropriately today – globalisation.