As usual, the run up to Christmas is packed with gigs and on this particular evening, most of the crowd I usually go with chose to go for an aural battering courtesy of Revocation, Archspire et al at Manchester’s Rebellion, while I opted for a more refined evening in the company of the Icelandic gentlemen of Sólstafir.

Making my way into the fantastic Deaf Institute venue I was reminded that despite its grandiose appearance it is actually a very intimate venue and it struck me that it was likely to get busy! I was not wrong!

I grabbed a pint and took up a spot for opening band Talons, a six piece from Herefordshire who proceed to deliver an intriguing instrumental blend of rock, post rock and post metal, with a hint of folk in places courtesy of the strings. The band were barely illuminated by red backlighting creating a claustrophobic atmosphere forcing the whole focus to be on the music. The room soon filled with an appreciative crowd and as the set progressed, I felt that more classical influences came to prominence but perhaps my ears were just becoming a little more accustomed to their style. As the set progressed, the grooves became hypnotic with heads nodding subconsciously around the room. All too soon, the set was being brought to a close with ‘Quiet’ the closing track from their new album ‘We All Know’. I think it’s fair to say Talons cut their claws on a new set of fans tonight.

The instrumental theme continued with Telepathy, who delivered wave after wave of crushing post metal to the ever swelling crowd. The band effectively played in shadow helping build the atmosphere. Their sound was more intense than Talons, perhaps even menacing and confrontational at times but infused with haunting melodies that were impossible to ignore and as the set progressed the polite applause evolved into cheers between tracks. By the time Telepathy left the stage, the room was packed and it seemed that everybody in attendance had been impressed by the calibre of the support acts.

After a short break, the lights dimmed once more for the Icelandic phenomenon that is Sólstafir. Taking to the stage, they opened with instrumental ‘78 Days in the Desert’ followed by ‘Köld’, both older tracks which were lapped by what felt like a sell-out crowd. ‘Silfur-Refur’ brought us back to the latest album with its noble melody and rasping vocals, as frontman Aðalbjörn Tryggvason stood on the edge of the stage effortlessly teasing those in the front rows. The momentum was kept up with ‘Ísafold’ who’s infectious harmonies had the crowd either dancing or jumping up and down, but either way no-one was stood still.

A highlight of the set followed in the form of the magnificent ‘Ótta’ whose delicate intro and vulnerable vocals soon built into a pulsating euphony which had heads banging around the hall. The quieter, introspective mid-section worked well before the main melody returned as the song built to its majestic climax.

‘Hula’ and ‘Ljósfari’ continued with epic soundscapes swathed in melancholy sandwiching a brief time out to introduce the band and welcome the crowd. My all-time favourite Sólstafir track ’Fjara’ followed. An understated masterpiece with sublime harmonies and graceful melodies, it never fails to grab me and make me feel emotional. Tonight was no exception and as I looked around me I saw that many people had their eyes closed, gently nodding their heads soaking upon the atmosphere generated by the music.

There was another pause in proceedings as Aðalbjörn took time out to introduce ‘Bláfjall’ saying that he doesn’t usually talk about songs’ meanings but explaining that this track was about depression, addiction and mental illness. He reflected that many people suffer from these conditions but as they can be taboo they don’t talk about them, afraid they will be judged. He mused that some go to the doctors for medications to help, whereas some medicate on the streets to take the pain away. He considered that it is too easy to give in to the darkness and suggested that even if you personally don’t suffer, you will know someone who does and he asked that we should talk to these people as we may be their only help. He further added that if you are affected by this, then the next song was for you, before saying ‘The song is the Black Mountain’ (‘Bláfjall’). The crowd moved as one, all transfixed and lost in the moment of this fully immersive experience as the track built towards its climax, perhaps reminiscent of a mental health victims internal struggle reaching crisis point.

The final track of the evening was introduced as a ballad about the ladies, before it fell to ‘Goddess of the Ages’ to bring things to a close. Sólstafir are something of an enigma and on paper shouldn’t work but the evocative gravel throated vocals, seductive harmonies, psychedelic tinged melodies and impassioned delivery fuse together to create something exceptional, as was attested to by this stunning show.

Review and Photos Andy Pountney