Sólstafir

Ótta

Written by: EW on 20/09/2014 23:51:02

Perhaps it is not surprising that the very best album, the number one greatest of the near 500 I’ve reviewed for Rockfreaks.net saw the popularity of it’s creator arise from the depths of the underground to a position today in which critical acclaim from metal circles continues despite a shedding of what metal skin they originally possessed. That band is Iceland’s Sólstafir, that album was the utter masterpiece "Köld" and now two albums down the line, "Ótta" represents a further coming of age that was initiated with 2011’s "Svartir Sandar”, as the band majestically float around a landscape of post-rock transcendence, windswept beauty and fervent, free-willed creative licensing. Much like the country they call home, "Ótta" is rugged, unique and majestic and even if these features land the album somewhere below the more diverse "Köld" in my rating scale it still makes for a fully involving and emotional listening experience.

Sung entirely in native tongue, the eight tracks form a concept based on an old Icelandic system of time called ‘Eykt’ (‘eight’) with piece representing a portion of three hours, with album opener "Lágnætti" starting at midnight and eventually concluding with "Náttmál". It is an interesting idea and once aware it starts to alter one’s perception of the album for the more exuberant can often be connected to symbolic parts of the day. "Nón" for instance, which in it’s back half holds the more energetic and rocking moments of the lot as it stands to represent mid-afternoon vitality and energy as any post-rock shackles are dropped amid a dynamic rhythmic performance from drummer Guðmundur Óli Pálmason. Following that is "Miðaftann”: quiet, piano-led and eerily wondrous as the early evening solitude leads into the more upbeat and dramatic closing track. Like much of "Ótta" the sound of a confident and well-versed foursome is readily apparent, both with how expertly interwoven guitars cleanly feed into the larger framework before fading into a windswept vastness and the manner in which accompanying instruments are fantastically worked into the more standard g/g/b/d line-up. The most frequent of these is the subtle ambient keys which offer a broad, if understated, backing for long periods before coming to life as in late on during "Náttmál”; themselves having replaced earlier classical string accompaniment. This is to not forget the title-track which sparingly works off a simple, repeated banjo refrain, with it’s value increased through the bringing of it into play at intervals within the 9+ minute track, as it fights against droning guitar feedback in the middle stages before re-emerging in a spirited fight back to lead the track to a bouncy and charismatic end.

As one of the most pleasant frontmen to listen to in my entire collection Aðalbjörn Tryggvason does not disappoint. Although he stays within his comfort zone throughout the record and sings in an utterly incomprehensible language to my ears his gentle tones are an inviting entry point into the music behind and simply worthy of a mention of their own, even if on occasion one would love to hear the man push his lines through a touch more vigour as have been heard in days gone by. Never do Sólstafir stay inhabited within one mood or genre and the careful condensing of varied influences and patterns offers a record that, like the elongated "Svartir Sandar”, gently sways in any number of directions, often within one song. The flipside to this renders the album a touch loose in execution as the potential benefits of even one shorter sharper song, ala "Love is the Devil" are eschewed in favour of repeated drawn-out sagas. This point is the reason "Köld" stands out above all others, when the band tempered heavier metal-edged moments with oceans of tranquillity in more daring contrasts but "Ótta" demonstrates a band where the creative well is still considerably deeper than the vast majority of others out there. That unique Icelandic entity is pleasingly alive and well.

Download: Ótta, Nón
For The Fans Of: Smashing Pumpkins to Agalloch to The Cult
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Release date 29.08.2014
Season of Mist

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