REVIEW: SÓLSTAFIR – “Endless Twilight Of Codependent Love”
There are many things that draw a listener to metal. For some, it’s the aggression, and brutality, others the FU attitude towards the establishment, and for many; reasons that have little to do with the aforementioned factors. I was first drawn into the genre when I discovered that a fusion between progressive rock and heavier music existed. And the fusion of styles into a unique, and beautiful whole is what drew me further down the metal rabbit hole. And one band that combines many elements into a sound that is all their own is Iceland’s Sólstafir. Post-metal, black metal, shoegaze, a touch of prog, and shimmering acoustic, and pop melodies blend together into a unique, and often thrillingly beautiful fusion. The band has been doing it for a long time now, and their upcoming ‘Endless Twilight of Codependent Love’ further cements their place in the metal community.
The first thing anyone will notice about this album is the striking album art. The mid-19th-century painting The Lady of the Mountain graces the cover. She is considered the female personification of Iceland. Known for years only as a black and white woodblock, the full painting was discovered only recently, at which point band mastermind Aðalbjörn Tryggvason, was reminded of the classic album cover for ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’ which was fitting as the material on this new album (along with the long and equally awkward title) has a certain quality, and wall of guitar sound not unlike what Billy Corgan has been doing for years. A coincidence for sure, but a happy one.
The album starts off with “Akkeri” which like all but one of the songs is sung in their native Icelandic. Sólstafir is known for their “slow burn” songs, and this is no exception, beginning quietly with light singing before the fuzzy wall of guitar heaviness comes pouring in, and the vocals take on a more anguished sound. Not quite a scream, but certainly not only sung, but the 10-minute piece also is a perfect opening number and one which their fans will be very comfortable with.
Fast-paced, crushing heaviness is of course only one part of their sound, and the band is comfortable embracing a variety throughout. The obvious standout for this is the lone song in English “Her Fall From Grace.” This song drew me in from the very beginning, first for the obvious reason that I could understand the lyrics, but more and more for the tragic, and emotional vocal delivery of the lyrics. Musically it begins with a sound that is closer to soft rock than most of the album, although that fades with the growing addition of beefier clean electric guitar. The lyrics deal with the sadly true story of a friend who succumbed to the long death of mental illness, finally taking their own life. It is unfortunately a fitting song for 2020, with addiction, depression, and suicide all on a terrible rise due to forced confinement and isolation due to the pandemic. It grows worse by the day, and time alone will tell which pandemic will have the worst long term effect on the world.
The quiet doesn’t land long, of course, the band tears into “Dionysus” with blazing guitar riffs, and fierce screams. It harkens back to their early albums, with a stronger black metal feel than most of the rest of the album, but the soaring nature of their post-metal soul is never far away. Indeed this soaring nature is the highlight of what is probably my favorite song on the album “Or.” It begins with a jazzy, almost blues-based piano, one almost feels like they’re walking into an old juke joint before the jangly guitars startup, and the Icelandic vocals come in. While not a long song (just under 7 minutes) it feels longer due to the evolving nature of it, and the slow, but the offbeat build of sound and aggression. The jazzy nature, and laid back vocal style lasts about halfway through the song when things quiet down, and only guitar feedback is heard. Then the band comes roaring back in with a Corganesque wall of guitar, and anguished screamed vocals. The melody and almost triumphant build have the effect of being a chorus for a band that doesn’t use choruses. I have little doubt that whenever we’re back to going to shows, this will be a live highlight.
The album officially has 9 tracks, with an additional two bonus tracks. The nearly 9 minute “Úlfur” ends the album proper, and “Hann For Sjalfur” closes the whole thing out. It is a fitting closer, the beginning sounds almost like their better known, and quieter fellow countrymen Sigur Rós; very mellow and the guitar takes on a bowed sound, with slow deliberate drumming for the atmosphere. The guitars take on the sound and feel of a chill wind off the Icelandic coast, one could easily see oneself listening to it while walking Reynisfjara, the famous black sand beach. It is a piece of controlled tension throughout, never quite bubbling over as one would expect, making an eerie, yet oddly comforting conclusion to the album.
Sólstafir have been working on and perfecting their unique fusion of metal, and rock influences for a quarter-century now. With their growing use of piano, and quieter moments to augment the aggression their beauty only grows. ‘Endless Twilight of Codependent Love’ is an example of a band that organically matures, and evolves with each release. Both raging, and delicately beautiful, it is an album that reveals more of itself upon multiple listens and is ultimately deeply rewarding.