Sólstafir, I have to admit, are a recent discovery and has slipped my musical radar. Even an experienced metalhead such as myself can sometimes end up discovering a band very late in their life. While it seems that everybody else has apparently heard them for some considerable time I am late to the party. It happens really, no one is infallible and I generally like to think I have a pretty decent knowledge of my music. For example, I discovered Behemoth quite late while ironically I discovered Vesania very early, which essentially, has some of the their band members. Anyway, I digress.
After much study of their previous albums, I figured that Sólstafir had their roots descending from a strange form of experimental black metal – which I guess you could have originally called ‘post black metal’. To my ears, they have a sound that is very much like a band inspired by the extreme metal scene that has strong elements of 70s rock intertwined with their whole sonic structure; and a partially gritty stompy punk ethic on their earlier material. As time has gone on, their sound has either matured and progressed – or to take a more cynical slant on proceedings attempting a more ear friendly balance with “Otta”, their latest release.
Upon first spin compared with their earlier material, it starts with ‘Lágnætti’ – a track beginning with mournful piano and softly sung vocals, before going off into guitar squalls and a rising up-tempo stomp backed by piano and violins. The whole thing has that big ‘widescreen’ sound that would be very apt on an independent art film, that is deeply enjoyable with some beautifully poetic singing that has a sense of melancholy and emotive feeling. Shimmering quiet strings sets the mood for the albums title track ‘Otta’, that progressing swells and ebbs with blusey overtones. Throughout the album, strings, piano, organs and banjo add to the mix and give a mournful feel – it’s an album arranged in such a manner that playing it in shuffle mode would deride the whole impact. The best way to described them is imagine a strange parallel universe universe where Sigur Ros is a rock band that is heavily influenced by chilling out in fields in a camper van, listening to Pink Floyd and Steve Hillage – while indulging in jazz cigarettes and ‘those sort of mushrooms’.
The heavier parts of the album are undeniably the Sólstafir of old, but I feel that they have dialed it back quite a few notches which may upset the fans of their earlier work. Personally, from my short experience with them, I can understand why it may annoy some, but I feel that the gradual sonic change isn’t drastic at all and suits them very well. The vocals are more varied, and can go from a quiet croon to an anthemic chest beating shouts, all in Icelandic of course. Not that such a thing matters, as I feel this lends itself well to the music and the magic of it all would be ruined by singing in English. Look at the massive success of Rammstein who sing in German, that have earned big bucks worldwide and how dreadful the English lyric version of ‘Engel’ sounds, as a perfect case in point.
To conclude, I feel that Sólstafir are a band that could have a rip roaring success with this latest release that will gain many new friends. They manage to have a sound that is all things to all men, but not in a matter that heavily dilutes what they’re about. A rich appeal that will charm the bread and butter metal fan, meticulously quiffed bearded demographic, and extreme metal fan alike.
A truly enchanting listen, that is probably best listened to when you want to shut out the entire world. Or perhaps, one of those moments where you want to pack a suitcase, throw your mobile phone in a river, hop a train or get into a car and to leave it all behind. Blaring this album hoiked up to 11 on your exit, with middle fingers held defiantly aloft for all to see.