Icelandic dreamers Solstafir push boundaries even further with melodic, emotional ‘Otta’

SolstafirBands enthusiastically pushing and encouraging their own development and the changes that result from those is a major theme in metal lately. It’s something we’ve certainly covered extensively here, a good example of which is the Opeth piece that ran a couple of week ago. Today, we return to that subject that has given so generously and bolstered some healthy debate among metal listener.

Solstafir started off as a pretty aggressive band, as anyone who has heard their 2002 debut record “Í Blóði og Anda” surely knows. They were gnarly, black metal-influenced, post-hardcore, classic screamo, and they were a devastating unit. But the Icelandic band never was predictable nor like any other acts out there, and even with that first album, it seemed like they might be a band that wouldn’t tread an expected path. We knew that was the case with their 2011 release “Svartir Sandar,” and that point is hammered home even harder with their excellent new record “Otta.” One could point to this record and say it isn’t even metal. Fair point, though who really cares? The band definitely digs deeper into post-metal and post-rock territory (I hate those terms, too, by the way, but they’re easy descriptions), and much of the record is lovely and emotionally moving. It’s their best work yet, mostly because it’s their most realized and effective. Oh, and the music is just damn good.

SUA 331LPES Trigatefold.inddSolstafir picked a really good time to up their game. With Season of Mist behind them, they’re on a solid label that’ll get this music into people’s hands and ears. Plus, with this past year’s appearance at Maryland Deathfest behind them, more eyes will be on them than ever before. The four guys who make up Solstafir—guitarist/vocalist Aðalbjörn Tryggvason, guitarist Sæþór Maríus Sæþórsson, bassist Svavar Austman, and drummer Guðmundur Óli Pálmason– did an excellent job answering the bell and putting out a record that’ll keep their more open-minded listeners intact and will find a slew of new people eager for a challenging band that’ll always put great music in their laps. The one gap that might exist is that all of the songs are sung in their native Icelandic, but really, if you hear this thing, that won’t be a sticking point. The pure expression more than overcomes not being able to understand the words.

We open with “Lágnætti” that begins with dripping piano, some gentle singing, and strings drizzling atmosphere. Then it opens up, with the tempo pushing forward, the vocals going from clean bellowing to bursting shouts, and gazey fire just erupting. Next up is the title cut, a really great song and one of the best cuts on this record. There’s a great banjo line snaking through the entire song that acts as the spine, and it makes me feel like the band dipped a bit into Americana. Like many of the other cuts on the album, it goes back and forth, getting quiet and reflective at times, loud and bursting with gusto at others. Really amazing track, and I keep going back to revisit this one. “Rismál” opens with a capella vocals, before steely guitars meet up with it and give it a country-fed feel. The music echoes and bleeds reds and oranges, and the melodies constructing this thing, both musically and vocally, are gripping. “Dagmál” feels a little poppy at times, which is a cool curve for the band, and it’s one of the catchiest songs on here. It’s a great example of how these guys can get past the pesky language barrier and just get in your blood.

“Miðdegi” has a soaring open, some of the most forceful vocals on the record, and a really cool texture that sits behind this basher. The guitars grind hard, the singing is fantastic, and it’s just a really great rock song. Period. “Nón” has a gritty start, and you can sense things are going toward epic territory. Serenity takes over, as keys slip in and trickle through the song, but then things ignite almost out of nowhere are tear forward. The final section rips into classic rock-fueled bombast, as these guys let loose and get raucous and nasty, and I’d imagine this will bring their crowds to life when they play it live. “Miðaftann” is a quiet, slow one, though to call it merely a ballad would not really be doing the song justice. Piano and strings add the atmosphere, the vocals are softer and more reflective, and it even bleeds thematically into the gigantic, 11:15-long closer “Náttmál.” That one grabs you from its opening melody that builds off the strains that led into this, and dreamy tones make it seem like this one will float into the clouds. But then things speed up in a hurry, as the band lets loose, and over the entire piece, waves crash down hard but then pull back into the ocean again. The guys cut things open in the final four minutes, as guitars start to chug hard, organs spill in to give the thing a psychedelic wash, and the playing reaches a fiery crescendo that eventually gives way to the final pumps of organs. Enthralling finish to a heart-stopping record.

Solstafir’s tremendous new album “Otta” is a game changer for them. It makes their future wide open, both from a creative perspective and concerning how far they can go. You can feel this record in your heart, which lets you know how genuine it is, and it should make them one of those bands that spill out of people’s mouths when name dropping the modern era’s most exciting bands. Their metallic teeth might not be as sharp anymore, but their creative juices never have been flowing harder.

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