Whether it be because of the extremely low limitation of their releases or their own seemingly hermetic nature, Somniferum is one of the best-kept secrets in American dark folk music, and what’s more interesting is that they’re based in my own Kentuckian back yard and I, embarrassingly enough, had no clue of their existence until this CD-R arrived at my home. The man behind Somniferum is one Brian G., with little to no other information being readily available other than the instrumentation that he utilizes on the recordings within the album. With this said, it’s impossible to know what other musical endeavors Brian has been involved with in the past, but his musical abilities and the sheer amount of instruments that he can play (with varying degrees of quality) suggest that either he has been playing music for quite some time, or he has a certain degree of natural talent that few musicians are born with. Regardless, as a project that came out of nowhere, Somniferum has offered up an impressive first-glance through “To Walk the Path Less Travelled”.
The music of Somniferum, as could be expected, is heavily influenced by the lush rolling hillsides and forests of the Kentucky landscape as well as by a very personal Heathen spirit. Though there are no vocals nor any kind of personal information on Brian that came with the release, the album does come with a hand-cut and hand-marked wooden rune, in this case being the Raidô rune, the rune of journeys, fittingly. With this, however, there are very few blatantly spiritual notions available in “To Walk…”, with the obvious being “Calling upon Ancestors” and “To Drink of Mimir’s Well”, i.e. Mímisbrunnr, the well that is located beneath Yggdrasil and which Odin himself sacrificed an eye to in exchange for a drink from it which carried much wisdom. Other than these two notions, the primary theme of the album is the previously mentioned Kentucky wilderness, an aspect to which I can attest is incredibly important to those of us nature-minded volk in this region where the wilderness is still relatively rich and uncorrupted by the misguided, ruinous cataclysm of man.
The entire work of Somniferum is composed as instrumental music. Though many of these tracks could easily be pushed into a neofolk direction by the addition of simplistic percussion and vocals, they somehow attain a more emotive nature by remaining as they are. Easy comparisons could be made to the likes of Stone Breath and Sangre de Muerdago, both because of the allure of the beauty of an overly melodic acoustic guitar performance and the variations in instrumentation that accompany it. There are also certain ambient influences to be found as well, lurking in the background of some tracks, creating an atmosphere that projects like Count Beetle appeared to try to force but, ultimately, failed to achieve. The compositions are wonderfully constructed and the acoustic performance is well done outside of the sparse moment of a missed pluck of a string. Of course, when you choose to go with this route of minimal folk, you leave the mix open to mistakes being easily heard. This is especially apparent wherein the raw mix caused the notes from a wood flute to sound somewhat out of tune with the acoustic notes. Other instruments, of course, add a great deal to the music, especially the very sparse percussive aspect including a very rare snare hit and the occasional bell melody.
Overall, it’s a wonderful album with an even better concept. I can’t help but feel like it would be improved with the inclusion of some sort of text since vocals aren’t an important aspect of the project, but that’s simply bonus material. The primary problem with the album is the lack of consistency in performance which sounds like it can be chopped up to a lack of experience in the recording department rather than a performance issue. For the acoustic dark folk lover, this is certainly worth seeking out, but there is certainly work to be done on the recording side of the music. The emotion remains the most viable aspect of this release though, and it easily comes across in an, at times, overwhelmingly sombre and melancholic atmosphere.
02) Autumnal Hymn Number 13
03) Skies of Grey
04) Crossing the Wilderness
05) To Drink of Mimir’s Well
06) Under a Canopy of Leaves
07) A Midsummer Night’s Chorus
08) Thought and Memory
09) Calling upon Ancestors
10) Nocturnal Reflections
11) She was Laid to Rest in the Old Pine Covered Hill