Review Summary: A soundscape that shifts the game into a slightly different playing field.
For all the post-rock/metal bands floating around today, it’s hard to come across a band that can offer you something which will resonate long after play time. The perquisites that form post-rock/metal stem from, in my opinion, the composition of a piece of music that paints a visual backdrop for the music itself; music that you can see, smell -- even get close enough to touch. And if a band does this right, it’s a fantastic experience for the listener. The problem I’ve found in recent years, with the genre in question, is that it’s all become a little too formulaic and predictable. That said however, in 2014 one group shattered this notion and gained my complete attention: an Icelandic post-metal group called Solstafir. Their fifth studio effort not only dragged me into their music for the first time, but signified a band who’d managed to really hone in on what they were crafting up to that point. Put bluntly -- without an ounce of exaggeration -- Otta
is a bona fide contemporary masterpiece, blending several different genres together in a really cohesive and natural way: black metal, post-rock, folk and metal, all utilized in a way that delivers in being both sonically and visually striking; guaranteeing you’ll be sent on an epic, windswept and chilling journey. So for Solstafir in 2017, it must be a rather anxious time for them: the most obvious factor trying to compete with a near flawless record, but for also trying to prove they can still create an album of equal or better quality without their long time drummer -- a problem which surfaced in 2015, and subsequently resulted in the firing of founding member, Guðmundur Óli Pálmason. These shaky foundations can be make or break for a band, bringing out some of their finest works, or their worst….
And so the question lingers: is Berdreyminn
better or worse than Otta
? Firstly it’s important to point out that while the straight forward answer is no, it’s to be noted that they are quite different records, and for that it will ultimately result in what your preference is. Berdreyminn
is a much warmer, and in some ways, less intense and upbeat record; utilizing a hefty slab of 80s influence, from the synths to the guitar tones, solos, and even the galloping rhythm section. Anyone who liked the extreme, bleak isolation of Otta
will probably be taken back at certain points by some the decisions they’ve made. However, in the context of the band’s progression as artists, it all seems to be the most natural choice for a great successor album. In spite of my fervent love for the wintry, windswept elements of the former, and the fact that’s what made their sound so appealing to me, Berdreyminn
still brings the same level of quality, albeit in a different way.
So, with that in mind, while it doesn’t have the same loneliness as its former, it handles the vibes and tonal atmospherics excellently: the western swagger that comes from the guitar riff on the opening track, mixed with the eerie droning effect backing it, makes you feel like you’re stood in a swamp in the middle of the Wild West; the kick-in for the song is also fantastic, with its really powerful, fat, punchy distortion -- a quality you’ll become quite familiar with on this record. The hard-rock grooves and guitar passages on “Ísafold“ and “Ambátt“ hold a gargantuan amount of energy, excitement, and a new type of intensity; while the likes of the desolate, gauzy and haunting calm of “Hula” and “Dýrafjörður” bring a great dynamic to the album, and a familiarity that doesn’t carbon copy what they’ve done previous, but takes the template and moulds it in a new way. And when you’re trying to take on an album like Otta
you can’t really expect a better result than what Berdreyminn
brings to the table. They’ve lent a heavy amount of elements from their previous LP, but focus on certain aspects from it and shake the ideas up so it makes these new songs exciting and fresh. The organ on “Bláfjall” brings a depressing beauty to the track and is certainly one of the songs highlights, but it’s the interesting 80s influences that come from the guitars and the way these vibes are meshed with the ambient sections of the song that make it so engaging. And that’s what this LP does exceptionally well. More often than not listening to this thing, I kept being reminded of Beastmilk’s debut album Climax
, because that style of post-punk is heavily present here; and it’s a style that suits them rather well.
The closing words for Berdreyminn
is that it’s a solid, epic and, most importantly, interesting successor. They could have easily churned out a carbon copy of Otta
, instead they decided to push their artistic vision further. The haunting soundscapes and heavy riffs -- while nothing new -- bring out a different dimension and angle to the band. The song that sums up this album well, and is certainly one of its biggest highlights, comes from the closing track, “Bláfjall“, which combines several different ideas used in the past and refines them in a way that makes you appreciate just how unique these guys are to everyone else. There are moments on here that genuinely create some career defining moments -- their song structures and crescendos always pay off and the album never wastes your time. But, as I’ve said already, the core aesthetic to Berdreyminn
doesn’t quite engross me as much this time. This doesn’t detract from what is a stellar progression for the band, it’s just a minor preference that hindered my overall experience. If you’re a fan of Solstafir this delivers the goods in spades. If you’re a fan of any of the genres I’ve mentioned, definitely give this a go. It won’t disappoint and is certainly a highlight for 2017.
EDITIONS: DIGITAL/C̶D̶/V̶I̶N̶Y̶L̶/D̶E̶L̶U̶X̶E̶ ̶W̶O̶O̶D̶ ̶B̶O̶X̶/S̶P̶E̶C̶I̶A̶L̶ ̶E̶D̶I̶T̶I̶O̶N̶/C̶A̶S̶S̶E̶T̶T̶E̶
SPECIAL EDITION: Various special editions are on offer: the top tier of the album is a wooden box, containing all the formats and goodies; while the edition below it contains the album on CD, bonus tracks, ear plugs, and a patch, housed in a box similar to the last album’s special edition.