REVIEW: SÓLSTAFIR – “Berdreyminn”
I admire Solstafir. For a band that has rarely deviated from the sound that they have found best categorises them, they are a band that has rarely set a foot wrong. There’s something about that fusion of post-rock sound with their own atmospheric and darker elements – like the love child of Muse or Queens of the Stone Age with Katatonia – that just breathes along with the listener. While not ones to deviate from the recipe that has worked for them for so long, their latest album ‘Berdreyminn’ takes that sound that fans know and loves, and pushes it to the next level.
Before discussing the music, it’s important to point out that the production on this album is perfect for its intended sound, and what I mean by that is that it’s not perfect. It’s in the imperfections where the sound of the record comes alive. This is probably best categorised with some of the distorted guitar riffs which can sit quite high at some points, scraping on the sides of the mix and giving them a rough edge. But it is through that rough edge that the guitar tone is given a voice that speaks to its listener. Subtle nuances like these have always been the cornerstone of Solstafir’s sound, and they are perhaps that little bit more important with this record for reasons we will touch on later.
With an average track time of 7-8 minutes, I was curious to see how the tracks on the album paired up against the previous ones, and while I was pleased with what I got, I ultimately found myself slightly underwhelmed with the song structure. The band offers a formulaic approach to each track – slow instrumental introduction that moves into a tempo build, leading to the addition of vocals before further increasing the tempo into a heavier section before hitting that crescendo that submits the band into a quiet or silent outro. While I understand it’s a tried and true formula for the band; I would have liked to have seen something a bit more intuitive on this album. What I mean by this is that while each song still had contrasts, I hardly felt any difference in structure between, say, “Silfur-Refur” and “Ísafold” at the beginning of the album, and later tracks such as “Hvít Sæng” and “Dýrafjörður.”
While we have already touched on the production on ‘Berdreyminn’, it is important to highlight that outside of that, this album is sonically impressive. The band employs tempo transitions that are seamless and blend perfectly with the album’s overall feel, helping to weave their atmospheric melancholy. “Hula” is probably the first great example of this, but “Hvít Sæng” and “Dýrafjörður” were also quite memorable for the same reason.
The mid-album tracks follow the same recipes as the opening quarter while continuing to build on the minor shortfalls from earlier in the album. All of these tweaks occur before making the way for penultimate track “Ambátt”, which plays one of the most important roles on the album unknown to itself as it provides a fleetingly prolific transition into the closing track.
As the closing track on the album, “Blájfall” seems to be the one place where everything just sits together perfectly as the song wraps every skerrick of material up succinctly. It’s not because the track does anything drastically different from its predecessors, but merely because its strong points are just that bit more prevalent than the strengths of the others. Beginning with a rustic guitar riff that holds for most of the song, before breaking out into something reminiscent of Amon Amarth’s riff from “Pursuit of Vikings” and finally bringing all instruments back into the fold provides one of the greatest rushes on the album. If I had to recommend one song from the album to listen to, this would be it; and I can’t think of a better way to close the album.
Solstafir are unique in that they continue to excel by staying true to their winning formula in a music scene which has changed a lot since their emergence. While times have changed, it seems the demand for atmospheric post rock-fuelled riffs hasn’t, and Solstafir remains one of the only bands that is willing to provide them. While not without its flaws, ‘Berdreyminn’ continues that legacy and demonstrates that while band members may change, the core sound remains the same.
While I can see the band’s foundations on this record and acknowledge the improvement in their overall sound, I don’t feel this album has broken massive ground over their previous releases. And while I found it thoroughly enjoyable, the formulaic song structure did become repetitive. That minor disparagement aside, ‘Berdreyminn’ is an impressive album, and one that is sure to reinforce the fact that Solstafir remain the kings of Icelandic heavy music.