"Artist: Внуки Святослава (Vnuki Svyatoslava) [Russia]
Album Title: Плести венками песни
Record Label: Slav Sunrise (Russia)
Released: 2008

As I think I stated in a review of a Krynitza CD, I haven't had much exposure to pagan folk music, and most of it that I have heard has been due to the artists' connection to metal. In the case of Vnuki Svyatoslava (translated as "Grandchildren of Svyatoslav"), I discovered them when I came across a Youtube video of them performing the lovely song Укатилось Красно Солнышко with Rodoslav of Krynitza at a concert. Because their label, Slav Sunrise, has no distribution in the United States, it took me a while to track down any of their work. Eventually I happened across a copy of their 2007 release Искать себя from an Amazon related seller. I was fairly impressed with that album, with its blend of Slavic, Celtic, and other folk styles, but the album I really wanted to find was their 2008 release Плести венками песни, which I'd heard was a big improvement. Thanks to a favorite Russian Ebay seller, I finally obtained this album in October. It was well worth the effort it took to get it, too. This is one of the most beautiful albums I have heard in a very long time.

Vnuki Svyatoslava is an eight-piece band from the Yaroslavl oblast of Russia (I believe), currently consisting of four males and four females. Their official website details their tumultuous history since 2002, full of line-up changes and changes in direction. Quite frankly, I find it amazing that they persisted through that turmoil, and it's even more amazing that they have produced a piece of art as stunning as Плести венками песни.

The band is fronted by Oksana Knyazeva (I apologize in advance if I improperly romanize any names, as there is virtually no English-language information I can discover about this band at the moment), an academically-trained vocalist who also plays tambourine and frog rattle. She is joined by two violinists, Kseniya Lukyanenko and Alina Petrova, flautist Irina Nadeinskaya, guitarist Michael Gryzyhin, guitar- and balalaika- player Dmitry Konov, bass guitarist Sergei Bushuyev, and a percussionist Sergei Glebov. Most members play multiple instruments, so there's a nice variety in the sound. Hopefully this lineup is a stable one, because each member of the band is very talented and they create wonderful music together. Most of the music is written by Oksana and Dmitry.

The first album was fairly straightforward folk, but Плести венками песни has a strong classical feel to it. Part of this is due to Oksana's breathtaking vocals, but the prevalence of violins and flutes and the arrangements themselves also helps the band transcend easy categorization. I would say don't even bother trying to figure it out, but rather enjoy the sound. The songwriting is very strong, with each song featuring beautiful, rich, and often catchy melodies. There are many high points, but the very classical-sounding Ярославль and the folky День-день are my definite favorites. There is not a single weak song on this album. Everything is simply perfect and beautiful, down to the production itself. The production on the first album was pretty good, but it had its flaws. The production on this album is absolutely flawless; each instrument is given enough room to breathe, and the full range of sound is treated with the utmost care.

As a bonus for fans of Russian pagan metal like myself, the great Rodoslav (Krynitza, Oprich, Vo Skorbyah) appears on two tracks. First, he provides background vocals to enhance the already-excellent Ярославль, and then performs a duet with Oksana on a re-recorded version of Укатилось Красно Солнышко (the original of which appeared on the first Vnuki Svyatoslava album, minus Rodoslav). As another apparent nod to pagan metal, Sergei Bushuyev employs a sort of growling vocal on the third track, Заговор. This is a little strange to hear in music such as this, but I thought it was kind of cool.

This is a rather short album, as seems to be the norm for folk albums. The ten tracks that make up the album proper total about 28 minutes of music, though, because I never tire of listening to it, I don't feel the least bit short-changed. Also, they included two bonus tracks, which boosts the total length of the CD to 33 1/2 minutes. I'm not sure why the two tracks at the end are not considered to be part of the album, as they appear to have been taken from the same recording sessions and are just as good as the rest of the songs, but I'm sure the band had a reason for it.

I'm prone to "bubbling" about CD's I'm really excited about, but I think this is another case where it is warranted. In the five weeks or so that I've owned this CD, I've probably listened to it, on average, two or three times per day, and that's a conservative estimate. I don't normally listen to an album that often, no matter how much I enjoy it. I've listened to Плести венками песни a few times just in the length of time it has taken me to write this review, and when it's over I always want to listen to it again. Those looking for metal or even rock definitely won't find it on this album, but fans of folk, Russian classical music, or simply beautiful music in general would probably enjoy this album. If I were to construct a list of a handful of CD's I would take with me to a desert island, provided of course that I had some way of listening to them, Плести венками песни would be on it. If eventually I make a list of my favorite albums of 2008, I'm certain this one will be at the top.

The major problem facing anyone (on the American side of the ocean, at least) interested in tracking down this CD will be the fact that it's almost impossible to find, anywhere. I was fortunate enough to find it on Ebay, but it seems that, currently, the only other way to legally obtain it is to learn enough Russian to allow yourself to order it from one of the online stores that Slav Sunrise distributes to. You may be able to contact the label at slavsunrise *at* yandex *dot* ru and inquire about ordering a copy, but I haven't contacted them yet, myself. Your best bet, at least until Slav Sunrise can get some distributors over here, would be to google "Vnuki Svyatoslava," or, even better, "Внуки Святослава," and hope for the best. It's a shame that such a great album can be so difficult to obtain, but maybe if enough of us express an interest, the label will realize that they have a potential market outside of Russia and will get in contact with some distributors.

In conclusion, Плести венками песни is an incredible, absolutely breathtaking CD that is a headache to find but would be a worthy addition to any fan of Slavic pagan music."