Album Title: Berdreyminn
Label: Season of Mist
Date of Release: 26 May 2017
Being unexpectedly blown away by an album can be one of the best feelings where music is concerned. The rush of adrenaline that courses through your veins when you realise that you have uncovered a new gem in your own personal voyage of musical discovery is intoxicating.
The flip side to this however, is that your expectation levels drastically change from that moment onwards. When you listened to the previous album, you had nothing to lose. No preconceived ideas, no expectations, just a vague hope that the album in question would deliver an enjoyable listening experience. This time around, you know just how good the previous record was. You know what you liked about it and you have spent the intervening period loving the new discovery whilst hoping fervently that the band in question delivers something equally as edifying next time.
This is exactly the position in which I find myself with Sólstafir. In 2014, the Icelandic quartet released ‘Otta’, a magnificent record that made a huge impression on me. It ended up in my top 3 albums of 2014, and I was quoted at the time as saying:
“Sólstafir concentrate on creating intense atmospheres and painting epic vistas in the minds of the listener, many of which bring me close to tears. As I allow this very organic and natural-sounding album wash over me and seep into my psyche, I ache to return to the homeland of Sólstafir, to once again experience the landscape which has been reimagined so beautifully in musical form.”
So naturally, I couldn’t wait to delve into the ruggedrealm of Sólstafir once again, via their follow-up, ‘Berdreyminn’
The other back story of import which adds context to this review is that I have a certain affinity with Iceland. I have visited twice – once to scatter the ashes of my late brother and once to revisit him having allowed him to settle into his new home for a time. The emptiness, the rugged landscapes and the breath-taking beauty that confronts the senses around every new corner; it is a truly special place.
And what Sólstafir have succeeded in doing so eloquently with ‘Otta’ and now this new record, ‘Berdreyminn’, is give voice to the natural splendour of their native land, as depicted in the evocative cover art work courtesy of Adam Burke. Fragile and brittle melodies alongside quiet and calm soundscapes give rise to introspective thought and an appreciation of the beauty of their homeland. But juxtaposed with this are sections of grittier, heavier and more powerful swells and eddies of sound that serve as a timely reminder that the beauty can be deceptive, ready to ensnare those unprepared for the harsher, more unforgiving realities of the oft bleak and barren land.
The production on ‘Berdreyminn’ further enhances the authenticity of the music, allowing it to live and breathe with a vibrancy that a more polished affair might have eradicated. As it is, ‘Berdreyminn’ often has the glorious feel of an untamed, wild beast.
The music is pretty killer too. It is an impressive and absorbing body of work that is very consistent throughout and works better as a whole. Dip in and out of individual songs if you like but I humbly suggest that by doing so, you run the risk of losing a little of the overall impact of the record. The way in which it has been carefully constructed and ordered is part of the strength of ‘Berdreyminn’, ebbing and flowing, swirling and cascading with confidence and purpose across its not inconsiderable length.
When listening to ‘Berdreyminn’, the blending of post rock with classic rock, metal, psychedelia and ambient sensibilities feels utterly natural and in no way forced. Even when joined by brass, piano and strings, everything fits together perfectly. Take the striking opener ‘Silfur-Refur’ as a perfect example. It begins in a quiet understated and almost haunting manner that calls to mind their compatriots in Sigur Ros before steadily and carefully increasing the volume and intensity until the song explodes and comes truly alive. Led by a truly wonderful rhythm section comprised of bassist Svavar Austmann and the newly-recruited drummer Hallgrímur Jón Hallgrímsson, the track then slows and quietens for a time, thus creating a more pronounced sense of drama as the composition motors to an end via an imposing crescendo of sound, overlaid by the truly unique vocals of Aðalbjörn Tryggvason.
In contrast, ‘Ísafold’ opens with a more retro rock feel thanks to the guitar tones, the various textures and a commanding performance from Austmann, who really lets his bass come to the forefront of proceedings here. This is easily one of the most immediate tracks on the album, as well as the shortest and punchiest at a mere five minutes in length. Whilst it is arguably less atmospheric and emotive, I adore the melodies and the synth drenched, prog-like interlude that cuts in just after the three-minute mark.
‘Hula’ begins with a genuinely eerie and haunting introduction before the soothing sounds of post rock minimalism take over. There’s a latent and barely disguised anguish that threatens to break free but it is kept under wraps for the most part, although Tryggvason cuts loose and screams to the sky almost pleadingly towards the close. The female operatic vocals and choral voices lend the song yet another layer of emotion and atmosphere which sends shivers down my spine.
The chances are that if you like what you are reading thus far, you’ll go on to enjoy the whole of ‘Berdreyminn’, given its remarkable consistency. You’ll love the stark contrasts within ‘Nárós’, a song of two halves almost and no doubt you’ll lap up the initial stripped down sombre beauty of ‘Hvít Sæng’, which drips with emotion before switching to a heavy rock affair led by a relentless driving beat and strong riffs.
‘Ambátt’ feels a touch more progressive in construction, as it never seems to settle at any point for too long. It begins with a breathy, whispered vocal delivery before building across its length via some of the more flamboyant and slightly indulgent instrumentalism on the record. I have really taken to the church organ opening to closer ‘Bláfjall’ too which is somewhat at odds with the more punk-like attitude that joins the fray. And yet, it works, as does the marked increase in intensity and power as the song develops via my favourite heavy chugging riff that stirs the blood.
It’s a close run thing but if my life depended on it however, I think I’d choose ‘Dýrafjörður’ as my personal favourite track. The pace is slowed and there’s a definite Pink Floyd vibe to the guitars of Sæþór Maríus Sæþórsson and Tryggvason which convey a sense of bleakness that can only have been inspired by the band’s surroundings. The piece de resistance is reserved for the finale though, which features some angry-sounding dampened guitar notes that shake the very foundations as they chug alongside a delicate piano-led melody. It doesn’t matter that the lyrics are sung in Icelandic either because Tryggvason can tell a story just by his tone and delivery. And what a story it must be.
In summary, is ‘Berdreyminn’ better than ‘Otta’? Well, it is very close. If anything, I haven’t found myself succumbing to the emotion of the music in quite the same way but I think that this has more to do with my personal state of mind than the music itself. After all, how can one fault music that has such heart, such life and such majesty? More importantly for me though, ‘Berdreyminn’ serves to merely strengthen my deep love and affinity with Sólstafir’s homeland. And for that I am forever thankful.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.75
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day