Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sólstafir - Köld (2009)

Arguably the premier metal band from Iceland, Sólstafir have come quite a ways from their pagan black/Viking metal roots. So far that any resemblance between Köld and their earlier releases has become marginalized, or merely thematic. They retain the cold core of their sound, that into which the imagination carves endless white landscapes and blowing winds, but this is packaged into haunting, angst-fueled post-rock, or shall I say post-black metal, or who cares.

When the result is this beautiful, there is little cause for complaint.

Köld is an album of glowering peaks and depressive valleys, where the geologic blood of the band's homeland can clearly be heard to run through every selection of phrase and tone. Eight tracks, most of which check in above the 8 minute mark, create a compelling and thorough journey through the (deceptively) empty and pale spaces of the musicians' environment. Instrumental "78 Days in the Desert" swells as its layered, shoegazing chords and subtle yet thundering percussion strike out across the wastes. "Köld" is just a wall of power, chords cutting the ice and Aðalbjörn Tryggvason's wandering vocals begin their tortured poetic delights. "Pale Rider" is a more harmonic vision, yet shares many of the same qualities: the simple yet soaring guitars, and some of the most aggressive vocals on the album. "She Destroys Again" may begin with some simple, folk/blues guitars ringing in a glistening distortion, but it picks up quite nicely. "Necrologue" is a gloomy piece, with calmer vocals and a series of acoustic chords lavishing the omni-present, looming bass. "World Void of Souls" is instrumental post-rock save for some spoken word. "Love is the Devil (and I Am in Love)" has some nice gothic hard rock sensibilities, imagine if The Cult tried their hand at a more gothic Finnish metal sound successfully. The beautiful and tranquil "Goddess of the Ages" closes off the record lovingly.

I admire the production of the album because it perfectly captures the many layers of emotion, but maintains a raw edge (similar to previous albums). All instruments sound fantastic. The drums are suitably tinny; the guitars echo through the gray and white clouds of the arctic vista; the vocals are clear yet mysterious. And when it needs to, the bass thunders through.

You do not hear an album like this every day. Though their material has always hinted at distinction; Sólstafir have evolved into something truly unique with this. I've heard others describe this band as the 'metal' Sigur Ros, and with Köld you can actually, sort of feel this bond between sonic architecture and a climatic, geographic influence. Whatever compelled this sound, I do hope it continues, because this is a brilliant album, joyous and haunting and immortal. It is easily the finest hour yet for Sólstafir, and I'd heartily recommend this to any fand of post-rock, or mellow post-black metal, even though it's obviously much more...

Verdict: Epic Win [9.5/10]

No comments: