Review Summary: ... And then complete silence, everything that lives is still. Are the hills going to march off? Will Heaven fall upon us? Will the Earth open under us? We don't know, for a total eclipse has come upon us...
It’s a wonder that something as mature as what Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds has released can come from a guy who is only 23 years old. His ear for wonderful, lasting neoclassical pieces was first displayed on his debut album Eulogy For Evolution
, which worked his piano and string arrangements in with guitars and drums for a sound which wasn’t quite honest-to-goodness neoclassical, but was certainly profound in showcasing Arnalds’ talent. With his newest album …And They Have Escaped The Weight Of Darkness
, Arnalds goes with a minimalist, hugely atmospheric approach which plods along at a snail’s pace, only breaking to crest momentarily at glorious crescendos that slip back as quickly as they came. It’s not technical prowess at its most intimidating, no, but it is an exercise in how to write a good, bleak neoclassical album.
…And They Have Escaped The Weight Of Darkness
isn’t intent on going all over the map; it doesn’t want to clutter the album with multitudes of moods and influences. Instead, Arnalds focuses on a single point and encompasses everything therein. The piano chords are powerful; the strings are moving. They’re all pieces to the impressively large puzzle (just less than 44 minutes) that are both enthralling and noticeably well-executed. The string arrangements are only a subtle touch that really exemplifies the mood of any given song, and the extras like the drums and minor synth effects (see “Gleypa Okkur”, one of the most captivating tracks on the album) make the last half of the album standout from the rest. Indeed, the first half of the album is rather dull and lifeless (the exception being "Tunglið"), and may make you want to turn off the music by the third track, but the reward comes as the latter portion of the album really shows what Arnalds is capable of. While this may be an intentional buildup, with the first few songs being relatively benign and strangely similar-sounding and the last few filled with all sorts of ear-candy and impressive buildups, it is tiresome and can wear thin, especially after repeated listens.
It’s nice, though, to hear the pace quicken by the time the uplifting “Hægt, Kemur Ljósið” comes around, because it shows another side to Arnalds than what many people are used to hearing. Instead of the dark, depressive tracks that he places at the start of the album, these songs are filled with a sense of joy, and are an absolute treat to listen to. Despite some stagnation in the first five songs, the album as a whole is a resounding success for Arnalds, and further proof that he is one of the best up-and-coming composers around. He’s toured with post-rock band Sigur Ros, he’s sold out The Barbican Hall (the largest performing arts center in Europe), and his music is so down-to-earth and real that you wouldn’t guess any of that. …And They Have Escaped The Weight Of Darkness
is one of my personal favorites of the year thus far, a beautiful piece of music - pure music, real music - that simply should not be missed.