Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sólstafir's Köld

This album came out in 2009 but I just discovered it a few months ago.  I've been listening to it a lot recently.  My mother tells me frequently, "don't you listen to loud music, you'll destroy your hearing."  I know she's right, but some albums are just styled in such a way, and are so good, they have to be blasted.  Sólstafir's Köld is one of those albums.  I don't mind listening to it at a volume that makes my ears throb.  It's just that good.  To listen to it any other way would detract from the experience too much.

Listening to Aðalbjörn Tryggvason scream "Í dögun birtist þu" at the top of his lungs is like watching Lisbeth Salander throw the leather suit in the dumpster. 


Just when there's a little bit of hope, it vanishes in an instance. 

This is simply one of the best albums ever, and I would say Sólstafir's best hands down. Sólstafir draws its influences from all over the place, and the result is a very avant-garde, unusual sound.  I swear at times when  Aðalbjörn Tryggvason screams he sounds like a raspier Billy Idol. It's the soft parts of the album, and the way the melodies are carried over from soft to hard and hard to soft, that make it so damn good, in addition to its styling and unconventional fusion of genres.  See all of "Köld," especially the 4:20 - 6:45 part and the subsequent part that reverts back to metal.  The music is sometimes joyous, but always haunting.  "World Void of Souls" is extremely haunting, non unlike something Trent Reznor & company might write, with hummed vocal melodies and an eerie ambient riff playing throughout about a 10-minute span after an eerie sound sample concludes of a man muttering this:

I woke up at 9:30 thinking I had already missed the daylight
But it won’t be here for another two hours.
It doesn’t matter, I’ll probably sleep through it anyway.
I drift through my days like a zombie,
Looking for reflections of her in the grayness of it all.
The daylight only lasts for a couple of hours,
So I haven’t seen any colors for a couple of weeks.
It doesn’t matter, I’ve always been into bleakness.
Even my dreams are in black and white.
But maybe that is just because so are the photos of her,
The last evidence that she, happiness, really did exist.

The emotions stream in this album.  This is perfect music to listen to over a frozen, desolate landscape, maybe as the sun rises.  Sólsafir is from Iceland; I suppose they've always drawn influence from their unique and isolated environment.  There's a craving of old, better days - better times in life that have passed and aren't coming back. This is especially the tone in "Necrologue" and “World Void of Souls," where the listener feels as if they're sitting around a campfire in the dead of night while a stranger recalls the beauty in the midst of all the colorless, black and white days that seamlessly blend together.    

Iceland has one of the best music environments of any country out there.  Maybe it's because of its isolation.  Maybe it's because it's located just a few miles outside the Arctic Circle.  I know bands - the best bands - draw from their natural environments when writing music, and usually their finished products reflect that. Sometimes it might even be accidental.  Sometimes we are impacted in ways, and by things, we don't understand.  And sometimes we're not even aware of it.  What most Icelandic bands probably are conscious of is the fact that Iceland has a small population, and that countries with small populations, especially isolated countries with small populations, of which Iceland is a prime example, are often ideal places for cross-fertilization.
Iceland has more bands per capita than any other country in the world.  All these bands and musicians know one another, or at least know of one another.  They are influenced by one another.  This results in unusual music fusions.  Icelanders also suffer from "small nation complex."  "Per capita" is probably one of the most commonly used phrases in Iceland.  This accompanied with its nasty history of being a colony to a larger, richer nation probably perpetuates a cultural sense of self-consciousness that also finds its way into the fabric of Icelandic music. 

Wherever Sólstafir's feelings are coming from, those feelings are in their music.  They echo loud and clear.  And whatever their influences are, be it black metal or death metal or Sigur Rós, they go from writing radio friendly pop songs to prolonged raw, texturized, instrumental passages that are quite deep, gripping and emotionally exhausting.  

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