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Album Reviews : Sólstafir – Svartir Sandar

By on September 22, 2011

When the powers that be here at Metal Obsession sent me the list of albums they wanted me to review, I noticed one album that, instead of having genre written next to it, just had written: “really good but impossible to describe”. Well, I for one am always up for challenge, and what better challenge than attempting the impossible? And that is how I ended up with Sólstafir’s Svartir Sandar blasting out of my speakers, while I picked up what remained of my jaw from the floor.

The album starts off slowly, with the first two minutes of the album consisting of ambient swells of sound, before the album’s first track, “Ljós ĺ Stormi”, truly starts, with shimmering guitar lines and some no nonsense drumming. For a Sólstafir virgin like myself, their whole sound is so completely different from so many ‘metal’ bands that you’re immediately drawn in. Four minutes into the album and I am already well and truly coloured impressed. The guitars aren’t always cutting clearly through the mix, unlike most metal albums, and singer Aðalbjörn Tryggvason vocals are delivered by shouting or wailing, avoiding both the precise clean singing and the growling that dominates modern metal music. Sólstafir are different, and it’s immediately obvious.

Sólstafir aren’t afraid to mix things up either, and after the twelve minute assault of “Ljós ĺ Stormi” comes crashing to a close, things take a left turn with “Fjara”, a slower more mellow song, that threatens to boil over at any moment, but instead of a climax, the song briefly changes direction into a piano and choir based section that wouldn’t be out of place on a Radiohead record, before settling back into the verse and then the final chorus.

The next track, “Fín Or” is structured and develops like a Cult of Luna song, reaching a post-rock/post-metal like climax before drifting away into “Sjúki Skugginn”, a track that shares similarities with bands likes Anathema and Primordial, while of course holding on to that trademark Sólstafir sound.

In contrast to the quiet outro of “Sjúki Skugginn”, “Æra” is much harder hitting, with moments reminiscent of Baroness in some parts, if Baroness had an awesome keyboard player. The next song, “Kukl” is probably my least favourite track on the album. It features not much more than piano and vocals and is a bit on the slow and more mellow side of things, but provides an excellent transition to “Melrakkablús”, the start of the second disc of the album and a song with an intro that instantly brings to mind the post-rock stylings of bands like Jakob.  “Melrakkablús” continues in this post-rock fashion, as it builds to its climatic outro, complete with what I am almost certain is a horn section.

“Druamfari”, the next track, starts out with a riff that wouldn’t be out of place in an Interpol song , as Sólstafir mix it up once again, keeping the listener entertained, before they pull off a smooth transition into a half-time post-rock section that brings the three and half minute instrumental to close, as it is replaced by an audio sample of what sounds like a news report, underscored by ambient noise, as “Stinningskaldi” flows right into “Stormfari”’s Tool-esque bassline. The audio sample continues as “Stormfari” builds, slowly drowning out the audio sample as the guitars coming crashing into the song, and start rocking out with some empowering riffs as singer Aðalbjörn Tryggvason delivers vocals that are filled with a sense of might that reminds me just a little of Primordial, not necessarily in sound, but certainly in feel.

One third of the album is contained in its final two tracks, “Svartir Sandar” and “Djákninn”.  “Svartir Sandar” overall has a black metal feel, reminding me, once again not sonically, but in terms of atmosphere, of Emperor’s cover of “A Fine Day to Die”. The song pulsates along in this black metal vein, before slowing down for the second half of the song, setting the mood as some operatic female vocals come in, bringing the title track to a chilling close.

The final track on the album, the eleven minute “Djákninn”, begins quietly, with a lone guitar playing some sorrowful riffs, until at about three minutes in, the other instruments come in, and the song starts to come together, sounding like a ballad. This lasts all of thirty seconds as the vocals and the drums start to pick up, and some serious groove is laid down for the listener to enjoy, before the song takes another shift, right into some AC/DC-esque rock’n’roll riffs, and then the song takes a turn back to its minor key ballad sound, but this time in a post rock fashion, as layers of sound build under drummer Guðmundur Óli Pálmason’s solid beats, as the vocals beginning wailing, as the guitars start screeching, soaked in wah and reverb, as the bass thunders along, as the whole song, as the whole album races towards its climax, the layers of sound pull you into a sonic journey towards the end of time. With two minutes off the end of the album, the drummer pulls off one of the most badass drum fills I have ever heard, while the guitars continue to create a sonic maelstrom of the most epic proportion. I could listen to this all day and not be bored. The song comes crashing to a close like it began, a simple, lone guitar, slowly fading out, leaving chills down your spine, as your wonder what the hell you just heard, and why it was so goddamn awesome.

This album reminds me of the first time I heard Neurosis’ Souls at Zero. I knew what I was listening to was incredible, but there were so many different elements, taken from so many different genres, without the loss of the all important cohesiveness that is essential to any great album, that it was hard to describe just what exactly I was hearing. Sólstafir have utilized the atmosphere of bands like Agalloch and Swallow the Sun, the soundscapes of My Bloody Valentine, the riffs of AC/DC and Baroness and the climatic post-rock/post-metal goodness of Jakob and Cult of Luna, blended it together, and served up one original, refreshing and fucking tasty album. When this album drops in October, you’d be stupid not to grab yourself a copy and tear into the musical ecstasy that awaits inside Sólstafir’s Svartir Sandar. 10/10

Band: Sólstafir
Album: Svartir Sandar
Year: 2011
Genre: Pure Awesome
Orgin: Reykjavík, Iceland
Label: Season of Mist/Riot! Entertainment
Website: http://solstafir.net/

Disc 1
1.  Ljós í Stormi
2. Fjara
3. Þín Orð
4. Sjúki Skugginn
5. Æra
6. Kukl

Disc 2
1. Melrakkablús
2. Draumfari
3. Stinningskaldi
4. Stormfari
5. Svartir Sandar
6. Djákninn

About

In between a busy schedule of studying, procrastination and sleeping Duncan sometimes writes album reviews. When not pretending to know things about music, he pretends to know things about the world over at Sudden Reason.