This second album from Naryan, a self-described “Melancholic” seven-piece from Finland, is a strange listen. The use of multi-instrumentalists with violin, flute and orchestration makes for a varied and powerful large-scale sound, and they obviously go for emotions and feeling in the writing, but the words do not always fit the music, which is very enjoyable and often uplifting, as the bleak lyrical outlook is almost unrelenting. A quick overview of the lyrics, all in English, suggests the following:-
Sounds like a hard slog, doesn’t it? Well Naryan have defied the odds by producing a highly listenable album, that as a side bonus will probably score highly with the suicidal, although that is probably poor marketing and likely to result in a reduced take up for their third album…
But enough of the flippancy, in all seriousness you should probably give this a listen, with the proviso that knives should be safely locked away before consulting the lyric book.
Naryan’s journey began in the early Noughties when current guitarist Lauri Kovero started composing progressive and, yes, melancholic instrumental pieces. The search for the right musicians to build the project was a long one, which seems to be continuing as two new members have appeared since the release of Black Letters in early 2016, the follow up to their 2013 self-titled debut.
Vocals are now a key feature, ably provided here by Ville Korhonen. The music is shot through with the aforementioned violin, piano and occasional flute which add greatly to the available textures, immediately apparent in the sorrowful strings of the opening title track. With a slightly more Gothic edge that does not permeate the whole album, Ville adds an impassioned vocal, the song moving in a folk direction with the appearance of recorder before bursting into a rockier flourish for the conclusion. Overall it’s a classy song with the emphasis on melody and bodes well for an album that continues beautifully with My End Leaf and Frost, the former having real sweep, coloured by strings and with the addition of harp in the quiet bit. The latter has more energy and Eveliina Sydänlähde’s flute works well with the strings, drive and energy coming from the guitars which are of the electric variety with a metallic edge.
There are plenty of bands playing this kind of thing to stadiums, but Naryan have a pleasing homely quality that focuses mainly on the one-to-one relationships between the characters in the songs, a case in point being the delicate I Promise You, Pauliina Vilpakka’s beautiful voice working well in duet with Ville. The mournful tone of the violin is central to a piece that is very nicely arranged, building to a suitably appropriate climax. It’s pleasing that the guitars don’t take every opportunity to swamp the proceedings with distorted metal, the device used sparingly to add to the effect, supporting the strings and piano rather than being cranked to 11 for the hell of it, and it works a treat, as with In Silence, a quite beautiful piano driven song with lovely violin from Nona Onnela. It’s a real ear-worm and beautifully delivered, orchestration expanding the sound.
Fuzzed up guitars return for Together In This, but the colours from strings and winds remain. Ville tries a slightly different approach with a rockier edge, and it works, although I prefer his vocals on some of the other songs as this one would be a little too “straight-ahead” if it weren’t for the gorgeous violin and piano textures.
Misery is another lovely song, still devoid of any chuckles though, a big ballad with string support that brought The Moody Blues to my mind at times. The rising melody of piano and violin is lovely, an injection of guitar and a well-judged solo keeping the momentum. Sleeping Beauty is the kind of song that would be the “lighter in the air” moment for many a stadium band, another quite delicate number delivered by an imploring Ville but with enough balls to give it momentum. Similarly, piano and violin form the basis of Hey Girl, which on paper sounds light and throwaway. In reality it’s anything but and there’s real depth and thought in the arrangements.
Finally, the longest song 764 sees a change of direction with the integration of acoustic guitar, which would no doubt have been worth utilising more earlier on. Ville is harder and less romantic here – he’s clearly having a hard time – and the focus is on a grittier setting, although the acoustic instruments add the necessary warmth. It’s a kind of claustrophobic mini-epic, if such a thing is possible. The spoken word bit could probably have been dropped, and there’s a hint of a shriek in there too, but the melody is always at hand, even if in the background, and it finishes the album on a grand-scale high.
Give Black Letters a proper listen and it won’t let you down. Yes, it is indeed a solemn and melancholic affair, but the attention to detail, the instrumentation and the determination of the band in making this album the best they can shines through, so hats off to all concerned. Gothic with a small ‘g’, Naryan don’t overplay their hand and the writing, arrangements and performances are all of high quality. This is a band that has real class, the result being an uplifting listen – as long as you don’t stray too far into the lyrics! I understand that the next release isn’t going to be as bleak – I hope that doesn’t diminish their appeal as they have some good stuff going on here. Give it a go, well worthwhile.
01. Black Letters (4:27)
02. My End Leaf (4:33)
03. Frost (4:56)
04. I Promise You (5:31)
05. In Silence (4:04)
06. Together in This (5:39)
07. Misery (4:44)
08. Sleeping Beauty (4:30)
09. Hey Girl (5:44)
10. 764 (7:20)
Total Time – 51:28
Ville Korhonen – Vocals
Lauri Kovero – Guitars
Raino Ketola – Guitars
Eveliina Sydänlähde – Bass, Flutes, Backing Vocals
Nona Onnela – Violin
Klas Granqvist – Drums
Tuomas Ilomäki – Piano
Emma Mäntylä – Cello (tracks 1 & 3)
Pauliina Vilpakka – Vocals (track 4)
Olli Syrjälä – Acoustic Guitar (track 9)
Record Label: n/a
Country of Origin: Finland
Year of Release: 2016