It sure has been a while since we’ve done one of these, huh? To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to be writing this column when I picked up the promo for the newest release from St. Petersburg’s Sivyj Yar. The Russian one-piece came on my radar quite some time ago because of their unique, delicate and highly melodic brand of folksy black metal. When I saw the name on our list, I knew I had to snag it, but Golden Threads has turned out to be pretty far from what I had originally anticipated, in all the best ways.
The musician simply known as Vladimir has been making music under the Sivyj Yar moniker since 2006, but on Golden Threads, all the black metal trappings are discarded in favor of straight ahead romantic neo-folk. The all-acoustic, all-instrumental album is described by the man himself as “neo-medieval nocturnes”; the main instrument is the Novgorod gusil, which is similar to a lyre in terms of sound and how it is played. The sonic palette is rounded out by the usual cast of neo-folk characters: gentle acoustic guitar, sparse percussion, woodwinds (a decidedly Sivyj Yar instrument) and chiming bells. The overall sound is incredibly bright, much brighter and snappier than your average pagan folk ensemble, specifically owing to the timbre of the gusil. Thematically, the album (despite having no vocals on it) is heavily influenced by the Book of Veles, a controversial manuscript that recounts the history of the pagan peoples and the main influence on the modern paganism revival, despite the fact scholarly analysis indicates it is probably a forgery. The album is even dedicated to Yuri Mirolyubov, the man who either first studied the manuscript or wrote it, depending on who you ask.
Despite the fact that Golden Threads is a marked departure from the comforts of black metal, there is a lot going on in these songs that immediately calls me back to previous Sivyj Yar records. The flute and guitar melodies (and bouncy, snaking basslines) that normally run under tremolo guitars and blast beats are virtually unchanged save for a lack of distortion, and Vladimir’s sense of melody was what immediately hooked me on his music in the first place. They are no less poignant and stirring here than they are anywhere else in his discography, alongside the gentle folk strumming and picking that has always been some percentage of his sound. This time, there’s just more of it, but the gusil is a relatively new addition to his arsenal as far as I know. The chiming echo of this instrument is absolutely mesmerizing, and I am blown away by how many different moods and melodies can come out of that instrument. Opening track “Hear My Voice in the Spring Breeze” had my jaw on the floor within seconds. There is something truly special about these songs; they immediately transport you to a place and time that you’ve never been to before and somehow you feel like you miss it. All songs are absolutely hypnotic and otherworldly, and they are surprisingly more upbeat than I was expecting them to be. They really do feel like the celebration of heritage that the Book of Veles embodies for so many.
I don’t honestly know what I was expecting when I realized that Golden Threads was not going to be a typical Sivyj Yar album, but I know that it wasn’t this. Serves me right for holding my expectations too firmly, because this ended up being the album I needed. My type of folk is the kind of transcendental and deeply meditative folk of the wild, and this checks all my boxes. While I love what Vladimir is known for, and I hope that he gets back to it when he’s ready, I don’t think I would mind more of this either. It stacks up against anything the band had previously put out while still being unique and captivating.