Season Of Mist
14 October 2011
by George Fernandez
Iceland. Famous for collapsing banks, one of the hardest languages to learn in the world, volcanoes, glaciers and one-time Chelsea striker Eidur Guðjohnsen. What it’s less famous for is heavy metal. Perhaps that’s for the best. If more people knew about the power of Sólstafir, the fuss kicked up by the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull would seem like a minor affair, and Svartir Sandar is a shining example.
Sólstafir began life as a fairly unremarkable black metal band, but you’d be hard pressed to spot either the black metal or mediocre traits in anything they do now. If you listen bloody hard, you might be able to detect a whiff of Burzum’s shoe-gazing phase, but the only real hangover from there is an atmosphere thick enough to ground flights across Europe. Other than that, the nearest stylistic touchstone (apart from a passage that sounds remarkably like the end of ‘Iron Man‘ during ‘Melrakkablús‘) are countrymen Sigur Rós, a similar beauty and vast, outdoor warmth permeating everything – only far more bleak.
Svartir Sandar is a deeply emotional wander through an ash-blasted wilderness that shifts in mood between the gentle embrace of watery sunshine and threatening storm clouds, one minute gentle, uplifting and wonderous, the next drenched in dark thoughts and distant menace. The feelings Sólstafir are trying to stir up in you are vivid and immediate, tugging on your heartstrings from the off and belying the abstractness of the music.
Perhaps the single most astonishing aspect of this magnum opus is the power of Aðalbjörn Tryggvason’s vocals which, despite being sung entirely in Icelandic, are so human and laced with naked emotion that you don’t need to know what he’s crooning or wailing at you to connect with it. His voice manages to communicate a wealth of feeling that requires absolutely no verbal understanding, so honest does it sound.
Watch a teaser for ‘Svartir Sandar’ here:
At 77 minutes in length (it’s a double album, the first half entitled Andvari, the second Gola), you might expect this to overstay its welcome, but somehow it still leaves you gagging for more – the variation between and within songs is such that it simply doesn’t have a chance to get repetitive, and the whole thing is so remarkably effortless that it doesn’t drain you in the slightest. It puts you through the ringer emotionally in way few other bands (not even Opeth – natch) have managed in god-knows how long, making you smile blissfully and sob like an infant with equal ease, but in a way that leaves you feeling totally refreshed.
Sólstafir have been an under appreciated gem of a band for a while, but with Svartir Sandar they have completely outdone themselves. This is mind-blowing in its brilliance.
Sounds like: Sigur Rós meets Burzum via Pelican and Cult Of Luna
Top tracks: Ljós í Stormi, Kukl, Djákninn