Review Summary: Masterpiece? Indeed.
Solstafir are an Icelandic metal band who seem to be one of those bands that are hard to classify, always a good thing in my book. Elements from black and Viking metal as well as progressive and psychedelic rock form the bulk part of their sound. This is their second full-length album, and an album that I strongly feel should be deserving of a proper review here on Sputnik.
It’s a pretty unique 70 minute musical journey that will either leave a splendid impression on you or leave you out in the cold to rot. It takes a lot of balls to start off an album with a 20 minute song but that is exactly what they have done with the rather strangely titled beginning track, ‘I Myself The Visionary Head’, which starts off with a randomly sung operatic female vocal introduction after which the drums, guitars, bass and vocals start kicking in. I might as well point out now that either the vocals or long song lengths could be the most likely candidates to put off new listeners. The vocals are not particularly well sung, epic or profound in any way but for me it seems to fit in perfectly with the nature of the music it accompanies. The vocals are sung mostly in a unique yelled kind of way, in an almost similar vein to Primordial’s vocals, yet where Primordial’s vocals have a defiant almost patriotic quality to it, the vocals on this sound more desolate and desperate, drenched in reverb to make it sound like they are being howled from a distance, almost as if the vocalist is reaching out for something that isn’t there and dare I say it, it sounds even bitter at times while being triumphant sounding in other parts. As far as the song lengths are concerned, if you like instant gratification metal then this probably won’t appeal to you. I can see fans of Agalloch, Opeth and the aforementioned Primordial probably liking this.
What makes this album so special is not only the amount of variety displayed throughout the album but also in its ability to engross the listener in its cold desolate atmosphere. While the sound of the band is not really unique in itself, what makes it so good is how the band are able to accomplish moments of brilliance throughout the album by keeping things interesting somehow on each song and by incorporating a variety of stylistic, dynamics and structure changes. The drone-like repetitive section that starts of around 4 minutes into ‘I Myself The Visionary Head’ could easily have been boring but the lead melody of the guitar is so good that the terrific climatic burst that erupts after the drone-like section is actually amplified and bettered because of it. Other highlights would include the terrific scream spewed forth around 12 minutes into ‘Ritual of Fire’, a sample of what sounds like someone taking a piss in a shower in some poor Eskimo fellow's hut with a gentle acoustic accompanied lead around 2 minutes into ‘Lux Fare’, the ferocious vocals and buildups throughout ‘Nature Strutter’ , the beautiful acoustic guitar led outro that is ‘Nattfari’, and so forth. The album is filled with great little moments like these that elevate it far beyond your average metal release that gives it a lasting appeal, to be listened to and discovered again, over and over (and part of the reason that compelled me to write this review in the first place).
The guitar riffs that the songs are built on range from tremolo-picked goodness to expansive spacey leads and are not only catchy and memorable, as displayed in ‘Bloodsoaked Velvet’ but can also be quite enchanting in its beauty, as displayed in the intro melody in ‘Ritual of Fire’. Another highlight is the bass guitar, which is clearly audible and plays a prominent role in driving the songs along, both in the heavier and softer sections. The bass is played with all kinds of neat little flourishes and touches that really add another dimension to the music. The drumming, while not overly technical or praise-worthy, does have a lot more to it than just blast-beats and there are various pattern changes and interesting fills throughout the album, partly due to the progressive and psychedelic rock influences. Every member of the band plays their part superbly and this is the type of album where you can almost hear that everything seemed to just “click” for the band, which would also explain why the band were so confident to give the album its title.
This is the sort of album you can play a few years down the line and when you do, it will still kick ass just the way you remembered it. Every song is as good as the one that preceeded it and the album as a whole is just a stunningly realized piece of music that should be listened to in its entirety. The only reason why I can’t give this a classic rating is, because its so unique in its delivery, not every savvy metalhead will be able to appreciate this, but if your interested is tickled after reading this review, then you’ll be in for a treat. The follow-up album, ‘Kold’, is also a terrific album in its own way that takes the progressive and psychedelic metal elements slightly further but I consider this album to be superior in every way and the perfect starting point for newcomers to the band.