Twenty-two years into a career is usually not a time to make a career high point. If you are Icelandic rockers Sólstafir who have already had a career full of great albums, consistent as they are original, it would seem unlikely that the 11th release would be the one where all elements would catalyze so beautifully into a masterwork. This is exactly what they have done on their new album, Berdreyminn (Season of Mist).
Experimenting with everything from classic rock stylings to shoegaze, metal, and psychedelic jams, Sólstafir has never been afraid to take disparate styles of music and make them their own. It is not unusual that all of these elements and more should work together, but rather seem at home on a release from this band as these styles on their own would from any artist. The true mark of pioneering genius is never imitating, but claiming your own space on the mountain. This idea is in every single note of Berdreyminn.
Frontman Aðalbjörn Tryggvason, like Freddie Mercury or Phil Lynott, has a way of clawing into your very heart with his voice in a way few others can do. Master of mining the emotional wreckage via words and lyrics, be it anguish or uplifting, you don’t have to understand the language to know the light an shade of the lyrics. ‘Silfur-Refur’ starts the album off with grace and patience, setting the table. A lone lead guitar winds its way into your ear wit h the melody line for the rest of the track. Slowing building up to a boil, the track lifts off with a lurch into a full-scale impassioned rocker. This is one of the best openings to an album the band has ever had, one I would love to hear performed live.
‘Ísafold’ follows with another uptempo rock track, reminiscent of classic 70s rock like Fleetwood Mac would bring, with layers of great parts on top of each other, forming a cohesive jam. For the uninitiated, guitars always serve as an extra voice in the band, not just for solos, but a living component of song craft. Svavar Austmann’s rumbling, ostinato bass-lines will blow your mind, especially the buzzing breakdown parts.
Third track ‘Hula’ is a haunting piece of psychedelic balladry. It has a lot in common with the gazey tunes on Otta (also Season of Mist). As my colleague Wren Leader once called the band “Icelandic Cowboy Rock”, and this is a fitting title for this track. The band packs so much power into these type of songs, complete with great chorused vocalizing, it’s tough to not get choked up. ‘Nárós’ also mines this chill dreamscape for emotional weight to full effect. Later in the track, it kicks into a full-fledged rocker as well.
Piano and other instruments, such as banjo and mandolin and string arrangements.’Hvít Sæng’ starts off like a folksy tone poem, rocking out with a rave up style ending. ‘Dýrafjörður’, also benefits from terrific piano playing delicately set against swelling strings and just a light touch of guitars in the background. After the long intro, if takes on a very late era- Pink Floyd sound, not unlike ‘Comfortably Numb’. Astute listeners will find a few references to The Floyd across the Sólstafir cannon, and definitely on this album.
‘Ambátt’ is the bright mellow center of this trip. When the band casts off the darkness, it is truly amazing. The flow from the intro, to the bridges with swelling piano vamps and inspiring drums from new stickman Hallgrímur Jón “Grimsi” Hallgrímsson, to the final charge, really gives this track tremendous power. The final riff is a mean monster.
For the final track ‘Bláfjall’, all the feels and the cards are out on the table. The vocals alone on this track will give you chills, as well as the soaring majesty of the tune.
Fans can debate if this is their best album or merely a great among the greats. Sólstafir is the kind of band that inspires listeners to comb the depths of their souls for their truth.