Sólstafir

support Myrkur + Árstíðir
author AP date 18/12/17 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

It is hard to imagine a more appropriate finale to another year of concerts in Denmark than one spent watching and listening to a trio of Nordic artists who take pride in their heritage. Although the region’s representation on stage is limited to Denmark and Iceland, there are conversations ongoing in all of the six Nordic languages within the sold out confines of Copenhagen’s most prolific venue for metal shows. In a sense, the entire North is united for one last pagan ritual before the Christian traditions of the season kick in, and as you can imagine, this feeling of togetherness envelops the venue in a special atmosphere even before the evening’s first artist, the ambient folk outfit Árstíðir, has set foot on stage.

All photos courtesy of Peter Troest

Árstíðir

Like the headliner, Árstíðir hails from the Icelandic capital Reykjavík, and as is custom for bands that reside on that barren volcanic island, every note resonating from their instruments is swaddled in melancholy. The quartet takes a mellower approach to the feeling than Sólstafir, however, roping in elements of post-rock, chamber pop and even classical music to further their idea of what neofolk should sound like. It certainly does not sound like seasons, as the band’s moniker would have it, for the lighting and the tone of the music both remain autumnal throughout, the blue hues and harmonised voices of baritone guitarist Gunnar Már Jakobsson, guitarist Daniel Auðunsson and pianist Ragnar Ólafsson carrying a profound sense of longing (for summer, perhaps?), and the instrumentation reflecting both tranquil mists and violent storms. The songs are thus quite ambient most of the time, albeit with the characteristic peaks and troughs required to hold an audience in thrall. Few of them are exactly catchy, but when the group does opt to include a touch of cinematic, almost Nordic Giantsy uplift or some violin-laced drama in one of their many crescendos, it is hard to argue with the fact that Árstíðir makes for a pretty captivating live act. And the final three songs, all of which are as-yet unrecorded but will feature on the Icelanders’ first album for the iconic Season of Mist in the Spring, certainly do suggest that there is plenty more promise to the four musicians than what we already have witnessed tonight.

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Myrkur

Myrkur has come a long way since the nervously clumsy début performance she gave at the 2015 edition of Roskilde Festival — in fact, watching her now, it is hard to even imagine this as the same Amalie Bruun. Over the past two years, she has perfected the Myrkur persona, morphing from wraith to siren at will, always embodying the pagan spirit of the ancient North. Indeed, she is an artist in the truest meaning of the word; she becomes one with her music and as a result, the audience may behold what almost looks like theatre whilst listening to Myrkur’s eclectic music. The fusions of folk, post-rock and black metal à la “The Serpent” to which we are treated must be poison to self-confessed metal purists, but judging by the volume of the cheering and the enthusiasm with which each song is applauded, there cannot be many such elitists present here tonight. Instead, it feels like the audience revels in Myrkur’s performance and that appreciation in turn seems to provide the fuel for her staging one of her best, if not her best concert in Denmark yet. Expressive, theatrical — but also quite harrowing when the blastbeats roll in, the guitar melodies turn to ominous tremolo, and Bruun lets her deranged shrieks take over from her operatic singing in the likes of “Ulvinde” and “Onde børn”, both off Myrkur’s 2015-début, “M”.

But as expressive and captivating as Bruun herself is, and as much as Myrkur essentially is a one-woman project, the performance would not be complete without the antics of her live band — guitarist Andreas Lynge (of The Cleansing), bassist Jeppe Skouv (ex-The Psyke Project) and drummer Martin Haumann (of Mother of All). Donning bordeaux hoods and what looks like smears of black face paint, these are no mere hired hands; they carry themselves with the same ghoulish bravado as their counterparts in bands like Behemoth and Taake, and contribute the vital element of horror to the atmosphere when the Norwegian black metal influence takes precedence (increasingly, as the set moves forward) in songs such as “Jeg er guden, i er tjenerne” and the magnificent “Skøgen skulle dø”. There is no question that the three musicians form an integral part of Myrkur’s expression now and it would not be surprising if they were introduced as official members of the band sometime in the future. That is, if Myrkur does not transform into a much different act before; certainly, her usage of a shallow, shamanic drum in a number of the new songs off this year’s “Mareridt” LP, not to mention her interpretation of the olde Nordic folk piece, “De tre piker”, at the end of the concert with a Nyckelharpa and her voice as the sole instruments, seems to suggest that black metal may, in fact, be on the way to becoming a mere trace in her future music. But as long as she continues to produce music this unique and deliver performances this mesmerising, there is no reason to fear such an eventuality.

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Sólstafir

Sólstafir tends to awaken mixed feelings for me. I have found myself completely spellbound by the six studies of epic desolation that constitute their recorded output thus far, yet the band’s concerts have never had that effect on me. Post-metal — especially when injected with a dose of doom — seldom delivers the wildest performances, with lighting and film footage tending to produce the fodder for the eye, but even so, Sólstafir has sometimes felt too distant and introspective to cement themselves as a favourite band of mine. That changes tonight. Not only does the quintet (they have brought Árstíðir’s keyboardist Ragnar Ólafsson into the fold) sound phenomenal as they present “Silfur-Refur” off this year’s “Berdreyminn” album to us, they also seem hellbent on ridding me of my skepticism by virtue of a newfound energy — which they translate into a phenomenal performance, too. Guitarist/vocalist Aðalbjörn Tryggvason takes the lead in this regard; his constant movement, bulging eyes and impassioned singing during the likes of “Ótta” and “Lagnætti” often makes the man indistinguishable from Baroness’ John Baizley, and it tempts the suggestion that Tryggvason may in fact consciously have chosen Baizley’s showmanship as the archetype for his own demeanour. The other musicians — in particular guitarist Sæþór Maríus Sæþórsson and bassist Svavar Austman — are less statuesque now, too, each settling into his own groove and playing with more nerve than I have ever seen them do before.

Whatever the reasons behind, Sólstafir has transformed into an intense and present live act, which in turn affords even more urgency to songs like “Ísafold” and “Köld”. The instrumental final segment of the latter piece was always hair-raising in its grandeur — now, it nigh brings tears to my eyes. The former, meanwhile, brings all the weight of the world crashing down unto me when Tryggvason lets loose the full power of his strained, anguished singing. A mutual sensation that something special is unfolding is thus felt by band and audience alike, culminating first in “Bláfjall”, before which the frontman goes against his set ways of not explaining Sólstafir’s lyrical universe in order to address depression, and since in his dropping into the audience during the colossal finale of “Goddess of the Ages” to deliver its chants of oooh-oh! in deafening unison with the 600 attendees. Indeed, if this invigorating concert marks the standard that we can expect from Sólstafir henceforth, then the band needs to be considered as post-metal royalty — live as well as on record. Whereas in the past, I had no strong feelings about Sólstafir returning to play more concerts on Danish soil, but having witnessed their determination and fortitude tonight, the next show cannot come quickly enough!

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Setlist:

  • 01. Silfur-Refur
  • 02. Ótta
  • 03. Lágnætti
  • 04. Ísafold
  • 05. Köld
  • 06. Hula
  • 07. Fjara
  • 08. Bláfjall
  • 09. Goddess of the Ages

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