So it might be the most sparsely populated country in Europe but over the last few years we have certainly seen an avalanche of ice and a geyser of fire as far as the music we love is concerned coming out of Iceland. Perhaps it is to do with the environment which surely has to attribute something to the creativity of the people that live there or maybe it’s due to their (ahem) Fortitude! There’s a spark that’s for sure and it’s something that probably doesn’t really surprise Solstafir who have been weathering the particular storm now through six albums and a slew of other releases. They are probably the country’s biggest musical export at the moment certainly as far as those that verse in their native tongue are concerned and like many others they seem to be spreading their wings and are constantly on the road and creating new music. Of course it hasn’t all been plain sledging for them as their drummer situation has proven. I’m not going to go into that in any greater detail, it’s all been contested to some extent and other to say that this new one introduces new sticks-man Hallgrímur Jón Hallgrímsson to the fold it’s best to leave things at that.
So eight new songs of epic, sweeping cinematic goodness is what we have here and an album title that translates to ‘Dreamer’ which proves to be quite apt. ‘Silfur-Refur’ moodily twangs in and expands to bounce away with Aðalbjörn Tryggvason’s instantly recognisable vocals rolling off his tongue full of poeticism (in any language) and totally infecting us with his mysteries. There’s plenty of drama but also slow and moody parts, both of which are equally enthralling, drawing you into their somewhat unique universe. The sound is absolutely magnificent packing a real punch when the hefty flurries hit and filling up the sound with everything crystalline within the mix. Cold synth and classic rock sounding guitars take into ‘Ísafold,’ vocals are packed full of emotion but it’s the bass lines that really catch my attention here and remind me what drew me to the band on first hearing Köld back in 2009. There’s some serious Fields Of The Nephilim worship going on here and one knows that the big ginger lunk (no offence Svavar) playing here must have been inspired by Tony Pettitt. Who knows with HIM biting the dust we could well see Solstafir supporting the Nephs at some point which would be blissful as far as I’m concerned.
Gloom and endless twilight is the feeling I get from ‘Hula’, upbeat it is not at first as the dreams fragrantly spread with Morpheus at their heart. I can see the lighters coming out as this one gently sways live but it’s gorgeous with it and as it builds there are even some soprano vocals in the background and some serious orchestral parts around the melodic piano work. ‘Nárós’ also starts in a slow-burning fashion but this proves very much a song of two parts suddenly rocks out in a near post punk fashion and grooves heavily giving the album its most compulsive and unadulterated head-banging section. There’s normally a feel of a Western somewhere in the realms of the music and the last saloon piano at slow moody riffs suggest a gun fight soon to take place as the ‘Hvít Sæng’ (White Blanket) is drawn over the participants and the snow batters down outside. Despite the slow nature of this near ballad the feel is that there is a story unfolding and it gains impetus as massive bass swaggers out and everything gloriously bristles away. It’s enough to sweep you right off your feet, now who won that duel?
With most of the songs running between the 7-8 minute mark there’s a huge amount of depth and emotion to each and every one of them and plenty of time to surprise as they occasionally turn in on themselves giving you pretty much the best of more than one world. Piano is quite prolific throughout and augments the vocal tones perfectly adding atmosphere to the wide-scope cinematic feel of the music. It’s an album like I have found with all the band’s work to take you on a journey and although you have to work with it rather than just give it a cursory listen you are deeply rewarded. Each and every song is a bit like a mini-adventure and up to the listener to interpret I guess, unless they gain insight by speaking Icelandic that is. If not simply be prepared to be soothed and shaken in equal measures, enjoy some sudden jazz motifs as songs like ‘Ambátt’ show a broad spread of musical ideas and experimentation and ultimately close your eyes and think about travelling to Iceland with this as your soundtrack on the journey (I know I am dreaming of it). The tourist board should definitely think about giving Solstafir a reward but from us a simple mark out of ten will have to suffice.
(8.5/10 Pete Woods)