Review Summary: Von presents an eerie atmosphere teeming with haunting imagery as well as gentler, more compassionate sentiments.
The reason many people are afraid of the dark is that they fear the unknown. It is our natural tendency to shy away from what we don't understand. However, within the unknown, there are stories to be told, experiences to be had, and new wonders to discover. Enter: Sigur Ros, one of the most fascinating groups falling into the heralded post-rock category. The band has become a beloved household name, creating some of the most beautiful and emotionally magnificent music of all time. However, their first album, Von, is often forgotten in the midst of the fascinating work that followed it. For Sigur Ros, Von is both a stylistic anomaly and an audacious effort.
By stylistic anomaly, I mean that, for a large chunk of its content, Von wears more of an ambient outfit than a post-rock one. Not that Sigur Ros didn't delve into ambient music on subsequent albums, but Von is considerably more stagnant. Many of the tracks on this album, especially the longer ones, tend to meander, but it's almost as if they don't quite go anywhere. However, this makes Von sound very uncanny. Some tracks will haunt the listener's dreams, while others will feel like the touch of an angel. The band dons an enormous variety of sounds that meet to generate formidable atmospheres of supernatural leaning.
Von is also a stylistic anomaly due to its intrinsic darkness. Although Sigur Ros is usually associated with warmth and tenderness, Von takes the listener to places that are bleaker and often quite scary. The opening track, for instance, starts off with an eerie vibe but does not stop there. The track catches the listener off guard with a few surprising moments that are very frightening. Mustering a foreboding drone and ear-piercing cries, the track "Sigur Ros" is as unsettling as they come. After the shocking madness of the first track, Sigur Ros provides respite from what seems like a horrible nightmare with a sort of parental comfort on "Dogun". The gentler moments make this LP dynamic, but they don't exactly grab me emotionally. I'm not so sure they're supposed to either.
The choir-like vocals on tracks like "Hun Jord ..." and "Syndir Guds (Opinberun frelsarans)" breathe new life into the album and are as spine-chilling as they are pretty. Some of Von's most bizarre moments probably wouldn't even be considered songs in the traditional sense; they are entities of sound that present ghostly imagery and all sorts of intriguing noises that proliferate in the studio. On the other hand, "Myrkur" is one of Von's more focused and coherent numbers. The drums give the album a fresh new pulse while transfixing vocals soar from the mountaintops. However, I can't help but question the inclusion of the eighteen seconds of silence following a track that gives Von a burst of momentum. Nonetheless, following this interlude of silence is luckily one of the most interesting tracks on the LP. "Hafssol" brings the attention back to the environment, in which a strong gust of wind carries the listener into an obscure setting abound with undefined forces. The track goes on for over twelve minutes, but the secrets embedded within the song demand an expansive backdrop.
Jonsi's vocals get some chances to shine as well. The title track puts his benevolent voice front and center in what becomes one of the album's more hopeful and benign segments. In general, Von is not entirely engaging. It is jam-packed with extraordinary ideas, but some of these ideas are strung out over durations that are slightly too long. Sigur Ros is certainly indulgent on this LP, and this is easily one of their most experimental releases. They often seem unsure of their sound, but tracks like "Myrkur" and "Syndir Guds" show that they are starting to find it.
Von is hard to penetrate, but beneath the surface is a haunting, stimulating aura waiting to be absorbed. Some tracks prevent the album from taking form, yet the pinnacle tracks are colorful and robust. Von is indeed strange, but, for Sigur Ros, where there is darkness, there is always a twinkle of light.
Syndir Guds (Opinberun frelsarans)
Hun Jord ...