Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sólstafir: Svartir Sandar (2011)


Of all the Nordic countries, Iceland is the only one without a significant stable of well-known metal bands. Chalk that up to population--a bit over 300,000, where Finland, Norway, and Denmark are around 5 million, and Sweden has over 9 million. But considering the ratio of great bands to people in these countries hovers somewhere around 1:30, there should still be about 10,000 Icelandic bands worth checking out. Trust me on those figures--science doesn't lie.

Chances are if you have heard of an Icelandic band, it's Sólstafir. I'm unfamiliar with their back catalog, which is said to have begun in Viking metal territory. There's none of that on Svartir Sandar, but there is plenty of interesting stuff going on.

This is a unique combination of psychedelic rock, post-rock, gothic metal, and a host of other influences. To put it into as few words as possible, I would call it the unlikely fusion of Agalloch and Lake of Tears, although that doesn't sum it up entirely. There's a great deal of echo on the guitars in most songs, which, when sped up, sounds strangely like surf rock (see "Þín Orð"). The vocals are clean, pained, and slightly angry, and it's easy to pick up on the mood even with Icelandic lyrics. There's plenty of other weird stuff to be found:
- female backing vocals
- xylophone straight out of a nature documentary
- saxophone
- Icelandic speech that sounds kind of like NPR news
- a haunting children's choir

Heaviness won't be found in abundance, so whether it's post-metal instead of post-rock is up for debate. Heaviness is there, though, along with a variety of different textures, moods, rhythms, volume levels, and everything else you can think of. This is easily the most dynamic record I've heard all year. As if that broad range of dynamics wasn't enough, they've also managed to plug in plenty of catchy riffs and vocal hooks. It's enough to keep you going for the full 2-disc set. It could have fit (barely) onto one disc, but the distinct separation between parts seems fitting.

The Verdict: Not only is this the most dynamic record of the year, it's also one of the most interesting. It is a bit long for many metalheads, and not heavy enough for all of us, but listening is a worthwhile odyssey. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.


  1. I really enjoyed their last record, Kold, so I've definitely got my eye on this one. It sounds like they have upped the experimental aspects at the expense of the heavy but I'm still very interested.

  2. Holy crap - the beginning to the song in the youtube video you posted is virtually identical to this (from Sigur Ros' (), track 8):