The Baltic lands glimmer like a fantasy realm, a world left over from the remnants of Prussia that is buried behind the history of Germany and Scandinavia to the North. Romowe Rikoito, hailing from Lithuania, speaks of lands and Gods that have yet to be conquered by the tides of the modern world. Scarcely has the phrase “folk music,” in the context of a modern band, meant so much, for Undēina truly sounds like it comes from another time. With the sounds of a sacred river flowing throughout the album, listening to this music will legitimately transport you to a world that is in popular context unknown.
Romowe Rikoito mixes English with Prussian and modern composition with tunes that speak of ceremonies from their past, showcasing the nowadays rare gift of actual songwriting. Niktorious began this project over two decades ago, and it has been almost half that time since the last album, Āustradēiwa, was issued on the obscure Italian industrial imprint Ars Benevola Mater. While every previous release has been a fine example of what neofolk is capable of being at its best, Romowe Rikoito has fully developed their sound on Undēina in a way that is ultimately theirs to claim and no others’. These are no longer the narcissists emulating David Tibet, nor do they sing in a tongue that is not theirs or of gods that are not of their ancestors. On Undēina, Romowe Rikoito have fully come into their own, with a concept that is completely immersed in the sacred history of the land they come from and songs that truly speak for these ancient rivers and places that are culturally their own.
“Swentagrēiwa” begins things with a hypnotic chant along with the opening sounds of one of the holy rivers which influenced this album. Through a rich use of symbols, it creates a world that is largely unique, seeming to almost resemble a fantasy world, yet being one that is fully grounded in reality. This liminal space defines the whole album, for it is both a beautiful tragedy and a glorious recollection of the past. Many worlds exist within this one album—some that are exceedingly magical, and others which are curiously practical.
This group is truly a master of languages, as the liner notes reveal. Everything from Gaelic and English to Prussian and their native tongue is used as a means of conveying something vital. Much of their presentation has to do with specific places, and the explanations and conjugations of words, while intriguing, are often confusing. The vinyl version of the album comes with a map which I have found difficult to understand. This is a band that is cloaked in both mystical and intellectual mystery. I do wish, however, that the packaging for the album was explained a bit clearer.
At times, Undēina reminds you that this is indeed native music, much like if it was Sami or any given tribe from America. Romowe Rikoito is essentially Baltic Native music, and that is truly folk. Still, it writes songs for a modern audience that has placed this term neofolk on it, and I have no doubt this audience has found a new classic. The female vocals are extremely pleasant over the gentle yet monotone male vocals, which are spoken more than sung. While cello and violin form around the structure of acoustic guitar, various vocals and other sounds such as bells and drums create a nearly ritual ambiance. A number of people lend their voice to Undēina—some to particular tracks, and others to many. All of this intense intermingling creates a sense that this is not merely one band, but a collective that speaks of a connection with place and spirit rather than empty words.
“Twanksta Town” is one of the songs that I can see being on the top of anyone’s playlist. It’s entirely composed of melancholic piano and classical ornamentation with vocals that are sung in English; everything just comes together here in an incredible, harmonious piece. Many of these songs linger in the air long after the album is over, demanding to experience the journey again. Consider if Rome and Wardruna were to work on an album together; the former has more of a traditional song approach that is firmly based in temporal themes, while the other transports you to other worlds and taps into the spiritual depths of its audience. Romowe Rikoito somehow does both, and they do it with grace and sincerity.
The pace of Undēina mostly remains the same, revealing one of its only flaws: repetition. Being that the majority of the songs reach the six-to-seven-minute mark, this is an album that demands much of your attention. Undēina can grow wearisome over time, for the tracks do not differ considerably stylistically. It is incredible to consider how many years have separated Undēina from its predecessor, but Romowe Rikoito have returned with an album that stands far above many of its peers, especially in an era that sees neofolk continuing to struggle through a barrage of mediocre clones. Although most of the album is in Prussian, its melodies are infectious, leaving its audience to imagine some distant land that is still profoundly in touch with its Heathen roots.
01) Bewangiskas Pintegas Pagaūsenis
05) Twānksta Town
07) Merūnas Dwars
08) Merūnas Meddjan
10) Dēinawas Deināina
11) Undēinas Dajā
12) Bewangiskas Pintegas Wangā