• Elegant elegy - A review of Sólstafir's "Berdreyminn"

    Sólstafir - Berdreyminn (2017)

    A band with a charismatic sound like Sólstafir can only evolve if it finds the right balance between typical trademarks and a few new soundscapes. That's precisely what happens here. 

    After the elegiac and lethargic Ótta with its sinister soundscapes and a prominent use of banjo sounds, Berdreyminn tries out a couple of new elements. The overall atmosphere of the record is slightly more uplifting. The calmer songs have a beautiful ethereal touch while the few mid-tempo tracks that open and close the record are much more vivid than anything on the predecessor. The banjo has disappeared and instead we get a decent and minimal use of elegant piano sounds, enchanting string sections and shy choirs in a few select moments. The low bass guitar sound is more present in the mid-tempo tracks than it was on the predecessor. On the other side, the guitar play sounds more reduced than ever in the calmer tracks. The drum play is also minimalistic and less present than before.

    Despite these welcome shifts and changes, Berdreyminn is still a typical Sólstafir release. We get the band's melancholic and mysterious atmosphere from start to finish, the overlong song structures that take a few spins to unfold their magic, the slightly distorted, minimalist and slow guitar riffs and the charismatic mournful vocals that are performed with genuine passion.

    As standout tracks, I would cite the opener "Silfur-Refur" that kicks the album off with a bang after a short introduction as soon as dirty guitar riffs, numbing organ sounds and vivid bass lines take the lead, the melodic and mysterious "Hula" with its haunting choirs and comforting orchestral passages as well as the playful "Ambátt" that has a few progressive changes of pace and structure which makes it the most creative tune on a very strong record.

    Some people might have had concerns about this record after the band's ugly split with founding member and drummer Guðmundur Óli Pálmason but this change didn't have any negative impacts on this record. Sólstafir sounds as convincing, inspired and unique as it did before the split.

    In the end, Sólstafir successfully managed to innovate on this release without changing its unique identity. Berdreyminn is quite different from Ótta but has the same high quality. If I had to choose between the two, I would even say that I like the new record slightly better. This album is definitely one of the highlights of the year already. Fans of the band, occasional listeners and potential new fans who like atmospheric post-rock, Northern folk sounds and progressive doom metal should give this release a chance. I recommend purchasing the box set with two strong additional tracks and other gimmicks or the limited Japanese edition without the bonus tracks but with an additional live DVD that perfectly captures the spirit of the Icelandic quartet.

    Final rating: 92%

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