Iceland is a bizarre country. Black sands and rocks, hot springs, Danish occupation and brennivin. And so much amazing music. Björk, Sígur Rós, The Vintage Caravan, Misþyrming and then some. Is it something in the brennivin or the sausages? Or is it the strange, almost alien environment that inspires young people to start making music? Sólstafir is another band from that strange island who have travelling the world and awing audiences with original, heartfelt music. Pigeonholing their style has become somewhat of a challenge over the years. Originally they started out as a viking/black metal band in 1995 but it didn’t become successful until they found their atmospheric, proggy metal style. On their latest record however, they are slowly morphing into a post rock band. No worries, there is still some riffage going on. “Nárós” starts off as an atmospheric piece but in the second half the guitars really kick in. Same with “Hvít Sæng”, although I have to say that the first, quieter half with its carefully layered wall of strings, guitar drones and piano is absolutely gorgeous. Closer “Bláfjall” is not only the fastest song on the album but also the most rock oriented. None of these are bad songs but Sólstafir has written more memorable songs. The really good songs here are the ones that qualify more as post rock than metal. Songs like opener “Silfur-Refur” where post rock and metal/hard rock are both balancing on a tightrope. One influenes the other and thus the post rock bits have more bite while the metal parts are no longer boomy, boxy and overly compressed but wide and epic. “Dýrafjörður” with its impossible title is a similar track. There is loud and silent, vigour and tenderness. A soundscape where keeping silence can be as meaningful as screaming. The intimate, soft song “Hula” can be qualified as pure post rock. There is some noise going on but it’s no longer the main goal, the purpose of the song. It merely serves as decoration, an ornament. The best song here is still “Ambátt” with its beautiful vocal harmonies. An ambitious, gorgeous track that is not so much a song but a soundtrack to the changing seasons of their hometown. But is it metal? It’s perhaps better to leave that question open for debate. Personally I applaud it when bands take their music in a different direction. Like I’ve probably said a few hundred times, music is a “living thing” that is being made by human beings who learn, develop their styles and evolve. Of course there are a few cases where the new direction doesn’t lead to better, more exciting music (looking at you, Stinkin Park) but why shouldn’t a band toy with ideas and genres? If it leads to something that the band feels passionate about and consequently better performances, why not? After all there is only band who can record the same album 14 times… But back to “Berdreyminn”. I don’t really think this should really count as a review but more of a mental exercise to the listener. To which degree does he or she follow Sólstafir’s new trend? Is it appealing? If this was a band by a different name, what would the final verdict be?
- Ivo Goeyens