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Album Reviews : Sólstafir – Masterpiece of Bitterness

By on September 23, 2008

After a number of demo and EP releases in the band’s first years, 2005 saw a change within Icelandic band Sólstafir. Shifting from a harsh Viking/Black Metal sound, the band’s first full length release produced a shift into a progressive direction, while still keeping the black metal roots the band was born with.

A 20 minute epic titled ‘I Myself the Visionary Head’ begins the album, quite an apt title given that if a band wishes to write music at this length, they must indeed be quite the visionaries. Beginning with a melody delivered via an operatic vocal line, it quickly transforms into one of the main guitar riffs used throughout the 20 minutes of the opening track This song is not only one of the most adventurous undertakings – along side Edge of Sanity’s ‘Crimson’ and Moonsorrow’s album ‘V: Havitetty’ – but it is also one of the most starkly beautiful pieces of music I’ve heard.

The remainder of the album is made up by 6 tracks ranging in length from another lengthy 14 minute track to the 3 minute straightforward yet attention grabbing acoustic outro. Even given the ‘epicness’ of some of the album’s tracks, the music is delivered in such a way that not once have I become disinterested or bored with the music. The bass guitar is used heavily throughout the album, especially noticeable in the slower minutes where it is often used in a way so that it gives a dreary downcast mood to the music. Simple drumming with good use made of the cymbals are a feature, however when the pace picks up, the drummer leads the way with some serious double kicks at times. Vocals on the album are flawless for this style in my opinion. they come in the form of an aggressive metal vocal – clear enough to understand, yet rough around the edges to fit in with the harsher music.

The penultimate track on the album – ‘Ritual of Fire‘ – I think deserves mention. With the simplicity of post-rock and a massive build up to the crescendo, it truly is a piece of work. On any ‘normal’ album I would immediately proclaim it as my ‘favourite track’, however alongside any other song on this album, it’s like deciding who was the first metal band, or what the best Opeth album is… some will say one thing, others will say a another, ultimately it can’t be done!

While I would call the music of Sólstafir as Progressive Black Metal, it’s not without saying that there are plenty of other aspects to the album. There are times on the album where the band shows the moods of Electric Wizard’s droning, Pink Floyd psychedelia, and Naxzul-esque nihilistic death inducing darkness. This album is a work of art, a ‘masterpiece’ if you will. It takes the listener through many emotion and moods, bringing you from the depths until ultimately it leaves you with a feeling of empowerment and self belief. The band is from Iceland, but the music is from the heart. 9.5/10

Band: Sólstafir
Album: Masterpiece of Bitterness
Year: 2005
Genre: Progressive Black Metal
Label: Spikefarm Records
Origin: Reykjavik, Iceland

Track listing:
1. I Myself The Visionary Head (Reviewers Choice)
2. Nature Strutter
3. Bloodsoaked Velvet
4. Lux Fare
5. Ghost of Light
6. Ritual of Fire
7. Náttfari