Icelandic anthems to melt your heart
Paul Castles gets swept away by Sólstafir’s stunning new album, released via Season of Mist on May 26 2017
Sólstafir may look as though they’ve just stepped off the set of Sergio Leone movie but their unique Icelandic sound carries much more variety than your average spaghetti western. Berdreyminn is their third sixth studio album and is every bit as insightful and imaginative as their previous work. Sólstafir don’t so much as write songs as create kaleidoscopic patterns that dance and pulse around you.
Live, they are a joy to behold with the looks and sound to make them an ever bigger draw these days with a showpiece London gig at Heaven looming in November before they embark on a Euro trek with Myrkur.
Berdreyminn (translation- dreamer) opens with the scintillating ‘Silfur-Refur’ which starts with a misleading monochrome beat before taking the blinkers off to expose a whole new world full of spiraling highs and spine-tingling guitars over which singer Aðalbjörn ‘Addi’ Tryggvason familiar Scandi drawl rests. The whole thing could easily have been used as a soundtrack to the likes of Twin Peaks.
This album is notable in that it’s the first since drummer Guðmundur Óli Pálmason left the band, sadly not under the best of circumstances. His replacement Hallgrímur Jón ‘Grimsi’ Hallgrímsson fits in well and fortunately little of the acrimony and bitterness that broke out publicly like a rash has transcended onto the album.
One of Sólstafir’s endearing attractions is the way in which the songs are sung in their native Icelandic, so we have to draw our own conclusions as to what the songs are all about. Addi Tryggvason’s vocals quiver with gut-wrenching vulnerability, much of which actually reflects his very personal drink battles down the years. What is never in doubt is the emotion-charged passion that permeates every chord and surging riff.
‘Hula’ is a sweet lullaby that you could tuck your baby into at night, confident that a good night’s sleep would ensue. The contours meander effortlessly across a dreamy tundra of Scandi ice although there’s plenty of warmth wrapped up in its shimmering grooves. Haunting female harmonies add even further layers of emotion to this fragile piece as Sólstafir pluck at your heartstrings as assuredly as a classic cellist.
The somnambulant sounds carry straight over onto ‘Naros’ in which the most unassuming of grooves is repeated until the Icelandic gods stir thrillingly at the midway point supplemented by a rumbling polar bear of a bassline and Addi opening himself up, carried along by the band’s vitality.
On ‘Hvit Saeng’ the tempo is upped, supplemented by some more hip-thrusting bass from Svavar ‘Svabbi’ Austmann over which a siren like drone adds to the atmospheric charges, momentum allowed to build superbly towards a compelling climax. A drone drifts into the ether at the start of ‘Dyrafjordur’ before Addi’s arrival. The gentle melodies are allowed to sumptuously build with Addi adding the human voice to a brittle framework of Scandi sound.
The two final songs are the longest at just over eight minutes each with ‘Ambett’ opening against an almost ecclesiastical choir of voices before moving off into a world of its own, one immersed in thought, and cushioned by grooves and heavenly rhythmic cuts. ‘Blafjall’ is something of a frosty closer, Addi crying out to the world of a thumping beat from Grimsi.
Although Solstafir have been around for 15 years it was their 2014 masterpiece Otta that really connected with a wider audience, making the Icelanders very much the darlings of the music press. Having started out with a more black metal approach, Sólstafir have developed into something quite different, with this release at times tumbling into a prog ambiance. Berdreyminn builds nicely on what they achieved with Otta, if not quite reaching its snow-lined peaks but the Solstafir story will hopefully remain part of our lives for some time to come.
- Hvit Saeng