Review Summary: Hypnotic, Lethargic And Mesmeric
Some people say that a good album should take the listener on a ‘journey’. Sólstafir’s journey has led them from the dark roots of underground black metal band from Iceland to a blinding beacon of something much more complex, touching and personal. Their upward journey has led them to their 5th album, Ótta, and after hearing it you can no longer call them black metal. However neither can you take it away from them; in a way this juxtaposition is what makes Sólstafir one of the most unique bands around today.
Iceland is not a country known for metal however Sólstafir keep their heritage close to heart within Ótta. The depth the quartet go into this record in terms of their heritage is significant of the level of depth each song goes into on the album. Few would assume that this is a concept album is based upon an Old Icelandic measurement of time: ‘Eykt’, where each day has eight stages- all 8 songs on Ótta then represent a different time stage. As if that isn’t as deep enough, Aðalbjörn Tryggvason sings the album in their mother tongue.
Lágnætti (Midnight) awakens the album with a piano led chord and quiet vocals as if to not disturb the night. As the pace quickens the vocals become more pronounced in keeping with the gentle drops and rises in tempo to create an almost sub-conscious tone. Towards the climax of the song the piano becomes centralized around the shroud of ambience that almost serves as a riff. Before the echoed last note, a subtle guitar solo finds its way in to form a sublime yet abrupt ending to the song. Ótta (Dawn) progresses with a delicate rise in volume before introducing a simple riff from a banjo that immediately touches the heart. Atmosphere ripples though the brief interlude before blasting into the hypnotic riff once more. Nearing the end of the song, Sólstafir still manage to produce a sense of tragedy through the passion behind Tryggvason’s cries and straining strings. The nine and a half minutes genuinely seem to fly by.
Sólstafir incorporate a slow tone to express the gentle build ups of emotion to their draining music. Rismál (Dayrise) and Dagmál (Morning) build on that slow pace to allow the listener to wade through their own senses to discover the depth Sólstafir go into through the dynamic simplicity of their music. The approach is much like the subdued Katatonia, but of their own making where a certain sense of passion that no other band comes close to touching. The slow pace of the album thus far rises to a consistent rise and sink of harmonies during Miðdegi (Midday) before a stand out solo appears behind the curtain of instrumentation. The fuzz of guitar and dreary bass in Nón (midafternoon) leads to some purely atmospheric interludes that prepare you for the burst of grooves and exploding solos afterwards.
We’ve come through the ferocity of morning and day, now it’s time to relax. Any urgency is stripped away on the sorrowful, piano led Miðaftann (afternoon) and crescendos in Náttmál (Evening) which bring to album to a close with pulsating ambiance of looming anger to give way to a dramatic growth of intensity unlike anything on the album. This song is a masterpiece of progressiveness; much like the album itself.