Artist: Mariana Semkina
Album Title: Sleepwalking
Date of Release: 14 February 2020
You may recognise the name, for Mariana Semkina (who has tweaked her real name, Marjana for this release) is one half of the duo that, alongside Gleb Kolyadin has created the rather intriguing and beautiful Iamthemorning, who have rightfully gained in popularity in recent years. ‘Sleepwalking’ however, is the debut solo album from Semkina and, to all intents and purposes, it came about a little by accident.
According to Marjana herself, she wrote the material on ‘Sleepwalking’ for her own benefit, as a therapeutic exercise to help her through some dark days. In the end, she realised that she had crafted a body of work that was simply too personal to be able to release in any other way than under her own name.
An accident it may have been, but there’s no denying that it has turned into a very happy accident indeed. Not only does Marjana boast eleven new, original songs to give the world, but she has also managed to enlist the help of some of impressive names to help her bring her compositions to life. Joining Marjana on ‘Sleepwalking’ are Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess, Nick Beggs (Steven Wilson, The Mute Gods), drummer Craig Blundell and Vlad Avy. Not only that, but the record also features the St Petersburg Orchestra ‘1703’.
On paper, this sounds like it should be a mouth-watering prospect. And, happily, in reality, that’s exactly how it has turned out. This is normally the kind of music that is way out of my sphere of knowledge as there’s not a blastbeat or heavy guitar in sight. In fact, the only heaviness to be heard is within the deep, emotional, dark and personal lyrics that Semkina sings throughout. Should genre labels be important to you, the music could be described as a blend of folk, pop, alternative and classical music.
Genre tags are, to my mind, a little redundant here though, because I honestly believe that it is better to describe the music in less clinical, linear terms. After all, this album is a much more human affair, being born out of the more organic needs and feelings of Marjana herself. ‘Sleepwalking’ therefore, is an incredibly rich and immersive experience, as well as a thoroughly beautiful yet lyrically and emotionally challenging one. It is never easy listening in on someone’s innermost personal thoughts and feelings, and ‘Sleepwalking’ is no different.
With that said, I would suggest that, in my opinion, ‘Sleepwalking’ is actually a more immediate and enticing listen than her work with Iamthemorning. It is difficult to articulate why this is, especially given the overtly challenging emotions that come out to play here. However, having tried to wrestle with this conundrum for several days, I think it boils down to the fact that, for my tastes, the melodies tend to speak to me more.
Take ‘Everything Burns’ as an example. It is a dark song, but the orchestral arrangements are stunning; they are minimal enough to not detract attention from Semkina’s gorgeously delicate voice but the strings in particular, carry a sense of elegance that is striking, underpinned by a sensitive drum beat from Blundell.
And then it hits me more clearly – as mesmerising as Marjana’s performance is, she has found an ensemble who have brought out the very best I her. From the orchestra, to the performances from Beggs, Blundell and Rudess, this is a really beautifully-delivered album that enhances the magical vocal performance of Marjana and her songwriting abilities. No-one has let ego get in the way; instead these accomplished artists have worked together to bring Marjana’s voice and her musical vision to life. If anything, ‘Sleepwalking’ is all the more powerful and effective because of it.
‘Mermaid Song’, which again features the orchestra in full-on cinematic mode, is utterly breathtaking thanks to the sincerity of Marjana’s performance on top of the bold soundscapes created to compliment her perfectly.
The piano within closer ‘Still Life’ is sumptuous, yet understated, adding a touch of extra elegance to the composition, whilst at the other end of the album, opener ‘Dark Matter’ benefits from delicate acoustic guitar notes and quiet orchestration, which builds to deliver an irresistible crescendo that has a distinctly dark, cinematic vibe to it.
If I’m honest, I’m not a fan of every song, although the vast majority are nothing short of wonderful and, I hasten to add, those that I don’t like as much are down to personal taste rather than a lack of quality. Some are genuine growers that only fully flower after much effort on my part, such as ‘Am I Sleeping’ as just one example. I love it now, but for a long time, I wasn’t altogether sure about it.
Overall though, ‘Sleepwalking’ is an incredibly rewarding listen and an album that has surprised and delighted me in equal measure. It isn’t always easy, but that just adds to its charms, of which there are many. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Marjana Semkina because, on the strength of ‘Sleepwalking’, there is bound to be a clamour for more solo work in the not-too-distant future. Rightfully so, too, as talent like this simply cannot be ignored.
The Score of Much Metal: 90%
Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: