Icelandic chameleons Solstafir push deeper into psyche skies on dreamy new opus ‘Berdreyminn’

Photo by Steinunn Lilja Draumland

Progression for a band can be good and bad, depending on where the music lands and if people accept what you’ve done. Ulver is practically unrecognizable musically from their original form, though many have embraced their radical turns away from their roots. Whereas, say, Mastodon doesn’t resemble their earlier records, and though they gained massive popularity, many of the people who were there for the start have been turned off by their musical journey.

Icelandic band Solstafir largely are travelling the Ulver route. While their initial sound soaked deeply in black metal and Viking waters, they’ve progressed into something altogether different over the years.  If you wanted to argue Solstafir aren’t exactly a metal band anymore, I wouldn’t challenge you. They might not either as the group—Aðalbjörn Tryggvason (guitar, vocals), Svavar Austmann (bass), Sæþór Maríus Sæþórsson (guitar), Hallgrímur Jón Hallgrímsson (drums, backing vocals)—let that ship sail long ago as they moved more into atmospheric post-rock realms, which hit its peak on 2014’s amazing “Otta.” The record got them in with a larger audience, and now with their new opus “Berdreyminn” ready to land, their expanse should only stretch further. They did hit a rough patch a couple years back with the dismissal of longtime drummer Guðmundur Óli “Gummi” Pálmason, which was a fairly controversial topic for a while. Nonetheless, the band pushed on, and what you hear is an even larger base of sound, albeit one not as immediately gripping as “Otta.”

“Silfur-Refur” begins with noises blaring and guitars dripping, as the darkness starts to spread. Finally, the song tears open and charges, with passionate singing from Tryggvason, and the soloing burning away. Things calm before another late push, before a smooth finish glides away. “Ísafold” has murky synth and burning guitars churning through their vintage tube amps. It’s such a genuine feeling coming from them, with powerful vocals, bass romping through, and an epic, foggy finish. “Hula” is the first of a run of songs that topple seven minutes, a streak that goes through to the end of the album. The music buzzes into a psyche dream land, as keys drizzle over the singing, and an orchestral section meets up with pianos and hearty vocals, with everything fades into the horizon. “Nárós” has head-swimming guitars, with the singing pulled back, and the music glimmering. Later, the band kicks into high gear out of a haze, while things get grittier and more muscular, with the track having a surreal finish.

“Hvít Sæng” brings back the piano slithering, with the singing (it’s in Icelandic, so this is a guess) taking on a storyteller mode. As the track opens deeper, the melodies and intensity pick up, and a driving, spacious pace goes into swirling madness. “Dýrafjörður” starts amid thick strings, hypnotic keys, and a psychedelic thunder that brings with it an eerie nostalgia. The intensity bubbles and drives the song, while the singing enraptures, and the synth makes your head spin. “Ambátt” has disarming vocal harmonies at the start as keys plink, and a nighttime feel takes over the senses. The playing is calculated, while the bass rumbles, and a tornadic loop brings the song to an end. Closer “Bláfjall” has a heavy church organ standing tall, as everything eventually ramps up into power. There are teases of speed and heaviness, as the synth shines, the guitars chug, and some slide playing adds another level of texture. The organs spill back into the scene, as the song comes to a raucous, punishing finish.

Solstafir, amid chaos and their own creative fires, have another strong document in “Berdreyminn” that should help them build on the masses who follow them. It’s a far cry from the fire of their early days, but that’s only from a volume standpoint. They continue to draw from their hearts and ever-changing passions, which keeps paying off for this band and pushing their possibilities into the stars.

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