Scandinavia is a true metropolis of rock and metal. There’s the Swedish power of SABATON, the Danish excellence of VOLBEAT and the Norwegian frenzy of KVELERTAK to name just a few examples; if we look at the other countries associated with the region then the mind immediately springs to the Finnish beauty of NIGHTWISH and emotions of HIM. When it comes to Iceland, you’re a little more hard pushed: there’s SIGURE ROS, BJORK and OF MONSTERS AND MEN of course, but none of them could really be classified as either genre mentioned previously. Thank goodness therefore for SÓLSTAFIR.
Formed over 20 years ago, the band have become a real player in shaping the musical landscape of their country, with 2014’s Otta gaining high praise from all corners of the world and ending up in several Album of the Year lists. May 2017 sees the release of their sixth album Berdreyminn (meaning ‘dreamer of forthcoming events’) and the first without long-time drummer Guðmundur Óli Pálmason, with sticks duties handled by Hallgrímur Jón “Grimsi” Hallgrímsson. It is also, according to the band, is focused “not on style, but pure emotion.”
Well, as far as that focus is concerned, job well done. As has been the case on many of their releases, all the lyrics are sung in their native tongue, which works to SÓLSTAFIR‘s advantage immeasurably; because 99% of listeners on these shores won’t understand a word being said, the mind will instinctively focus on the rich dynamics of the guitars and drums instead, allowing for a stronger appreciation of the hugely talented musicianship and song structure. It also means that frontman Aðalbjörn Tryggvason’s vocals become another instrument, giving an extra depth and texture to everything that’s going on around it. And boy, is there a lot going on.
This isn’t an album you can listen to once and be done with it – several spins will be required to explore every single nuance and the effect is incredible. Opening track Silfur-Refur has an almost Western feel to it, but this succeeds in casting a barren world around you, immersing you immediately into its rumbling, progressive style that takes you by the scruff of the neck and pulls you along whether you want to or not. Lead single Isafold opens with an intriguing synth beat before transforming into a quite sumptuous bass riff from Svavar “Svabbi” Austmann and wouldn’t actually sound out of place on the soundtrack to Miami Vice. It’s back to bleakness for Hula and a haunting piano undertone that only aids the latter-day PINK FLOYD vibes and the ethereal female backing vocals, whilst Nora‘s evolution from atmospheric overtones to fuzzy, driving rock without so much as a warning is a true delight.
Then, there’s the majesty of Ambatt, which is stompier than the rest and yet never loses its finesse for a single moment and the album wraps up with Blafjall (meaning blue, black mountain), showcasing a strong drumming performance and once more containing the synths that made Isafold such a joy to listen to, allowing for a darkness to spread itself across the song and envelope you in its grasp before delivering the sucker punch of a chunky, RAMMSTEIN-esque riff.
Just as its predecessor, Berdreyminn is going to blow minds, open eyes and feature in many end of year lists, that much is guaranteed. Iceland packs a punch for a country with a population the same as Belfast – the England football team can testify – but SÓLSTAFIR have proved it in an overall more positive, impressive and mindblowing fashion.
Berdreyminn is out now via Season of Mist.
Like SÓLSTAFIR on Facebook.