Kauan blend elements of folk and metal better than perhaps any other band today, clouding doom in a lush and weary atmosphere. I’ve found Kauan have always suited feelings of displacement. The sparse snare and woodblock echo in still silence, and simple little piano melodies feel as if they’ll be picked up and blown away on a cold wind, but not before searing into your soul. It’s a sound not pinned to any point in time, and soft keyboards and big chugging riffs can alter the cold pastoral vibe, though never forcibly. Kauan are Russian, but they sing in Finnish and now are based out of Ukraine, and the band captures a sad sense of loss — not maudlin but nostalgic. When I think of Kauan I often think of driving through the industrial outskirts of Japan after a 20-hour flight from New York, with my head pressed against a bus window beading and streaming with rain, watching factories and fields pass by under a gloomy sky. I was listening to the band’s excellent 2009 album, Aava tuulen maa, on repeat through my headphones.
Sorni Nai is a conept album, and it’s actually one continuous song cut up into seven tracks for ease of listening. The album chronicles the Dyatlov Pass incident, a bizarre and horrifying event in which nine Russian hikers mysteriously died on February 2, 1959 in the Ural Mountains. Nine students, accomplished skiers and hikers, had set out on a winter trek in rough conditions a few days prior. As they moved through a pass in a snowstorm, they deviated from their course and ended up near the top of a mountain known as “Dead Mountain” in a local dialect, Mansi. (Sorni Nai is named for a Mansi goddess of the Ural Mountains, and track titles are in Mansi.) They sheltered in a tent. When a search party went looking for them after their prolonged absence, they found the tent cut open from the inside, footprints nearby and eventually the bodies of the hikers, who had fled without coats, barefoot or in socks, from the tent in heavy snowfall. Two of the hikers had fractured skulls and ribs, and one was missing her tongue, eyes and part of her lips. Soviet authorities blamed their deaths on an “unknown compelling force,” though some point to the possibility of an avalanche and the cruelly quick onset of hypothermia in -20 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can certainly enjoy Sorni Nai without that context, but with it, you might imagine a bit of the doomed journey. For those who may have first heard Kauan on their 2014 offering, Pirut, you’ll see a slightly different side of the band here, one that draws upon Kauan’s more melancholic side. It’s interesting that on an album about getting lost in the woods, Kauan’s found a way forward that so expertly channels the band’s collective work. Listen.
Sorni Nai is out 11/10 via Blood Music and is available to pre-order here.