Monday, 11 January 2010

Sólstafir - Köld. 92/100.

Once the dust had settled, I suppose the journey from black metal, or Viking metal as it might well have been, to a psychedelic form of rock was much clearer than that brief description would suggest. It might seem like there are no parallel lines to be drawn from Sólstafir’s transition from a black metal based type of music to psychedelic rock but, even from the very beginning, there clearly are. At the start of their full-length career it was a challenge to pigeon hole Sólstafir and place them into a suitable genre whereby we reviewers can describe their music in accordance with the traditions and values that composes that genre, but even with time and a lot of troublesome digestion, the Icelandic four piece band are still as difficult, if not more, to define. ‘Í Blóði og Anda’ was very much a work in progress. It highlighted, although not considerably well, some of the quirky talents within the band that we would later come to admire, like the vocals of Aðalbjörn Tryggvason, albeit in a vastly different manner to how the band portray themselves in the present day.

From there onwards, the Icelanders were on the up-and-up, climbing the mountainous task cautiously on ‘Masterpiece of Bitterness’ before successfully conquering the mountain and placing their national flag upon the top in the form of ‘Köld’, a record which warmed the hearts of many to the band and helped them become a recognised face of metal and rock around the globe. Although I didn’t initially enjoy this record much, perhaps due to the fact that the sophomore exceeded many of my expectations, catching the band live in London last year helped me understand the direction of this record and the journey these immaculate performers took to reach this destination with an emotional performance in front of an engaged audience. Having expected Sólstafir to steal the show away from the grasp of Secrets of the Moon, I was overjoyed when they not only did that, but completely blew away all opposition to the crown of “best band of the night”. To call it a grand performance would be an understatement and, thankfully, the material present on this divine record makes much more sense to me now than ever before, touching me emotionally.

The live performance indicated to me that not only can the band perform well in the studio, but they’re also a force to be reckoned with in the flesh as they tightly pack their songs with outstanding atmosphere and overwhelming emotion in the vocals, particularly. As I previously said, having gone over the career of the band, it isn’t as bewildering now as it initially was to see that Sólstafir have gone down this rock, performing psychedelic rock when they clearly produced some of the most unique metal in decades. Akin to former glory days, Sólstafir are still very much unique, especially in regards to atmosphere and the vocal performance which reverberates as the embodiment of emotion. Songs like ‘She Destroys Again’ provides a new look into the depths of the Icelandic band. While the vocals are normally screamed in torment, the vocals are portrayed alongside a cleaner and clearer sense of instrumentation (in the beginning) in a clean form also, spoken softly with a sense of sadness. Although I have always considered the band to have an emotional side, it has become more clear in time, carving me open with every pluck of the string, or beat of the drum.

The metal roots haven’t been washed away completely as this record definitely amasses an edgy sound akin to the older metal works. There is still a metal backbone to the record, in my eyes, with the use of fast, repetitive riffs on both bass and guitar, both of which are audible alongside one another and pressing drums which hunt us down like a savage beast. I was particularly impressed with the bassist in the flesh and have come to realise what impact the bass has on the atmospheres, helping them remain fresh, as songs like ‘She Destroys Again’ wonderfully displays. Listening to the beginning of ‘Necrologue’, it is easy to understand why the psychedelic tag has been bestowed upon them as the bass sullenly sweeps in and out of consciousness underneath the achingly beautiful vocals. The bass and vocal combinations definitely adds a psychedelic structure to the atmospheres. Considering Sólstafir have changed on every record, it will be interesting to see where they go from here and whether they can keep up with the levels of performance they’re putting in nowadays. I cannot review this record without mentioning the fantastically catchy ‘Love Is The Devil (And I Am In Love)’. Definitely recommended.

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