Iceland may be one of the most barren places on earth but the same cannot be said about its music scene – which is a rich gathering of like-minded and highly artistic people that has provided quite a few unique-sounding bands over the years.
My introduction to Progressive/Post-Metal quartet Solstafir back in 2013, when I saw them opening for Norwegian Metalers Vreid at the Barfly here in London, was not that positive, however, as that live performance had failed to impress.
Never the one to shy away from a challenge, though, I decided to give the Icelanders another change by taking on the task of reviewing their latest musical offering “Otta”.
The first couple of spins did not provide any massive breakthroughs but rather introduced me to a few quality melodies and made me realise how important string and piano arrangements have been in the shaping of this eight track release.
It was after having ‘lived’ with these songs for a week or so that I began to understand and appreciate the fine melodic nuances and string-led intricate arrangements and realised how perfectly they support each and every composition in this album.
Not many bands have the nerve to open an album with an eight and a half minute track these days but the mournful piano melodies and supporting dreamy string arrangements make “Lagnaetti” the perfect choice for this role.
Quite similar in tempo and feel but finding piano and string sections vying for dominance the same-titled composition “Otta” comes across as a more intricate piece compared to the opening track, while the four and a half minute “Rismal” betrays the band’s love and admiration of all things Pink Floyd.
Founded on a Goth keyboard melody and featuring dramatic melodies in the vein of Anathema, “Dagmal” is a very enjoyable affair, something that sadly cannot be said for the follow-up “Middgeti” – a Punk infused piece in which frontman Aðalbjörn “Addi” Tryggvason provides the most bland and uninspiring vocal performance of the album.
Luckily, the closing part of the album features some of the highest quality material on offer. “Non” is a fairly enjoyable piece, featuring a catchy layered vocal melody and lead guitar parts influenced by the mighty Iron Maiden while the main melody of the moody, piano-led “Midaftann” could easily feature in a Paradise Lost album.
The album concludes in a manner as indulgent as when it started, as the eleven minute “Nattmal” finds the Icelanders bringing together in perfect harmony a world of different tempos, melodies and ideas.
I had hoped that “Otta” would be the album to help me understand and appreciate what Solstafir are trying to achieve with their music.
The album may come across as quite a straight forward musical offering but the truth of the matter is that there is enough substance and plentiful layers of music here to make it appealing to fans of classic Rock and those with more Prog inclinations alike.
Now, providing that you are not put off by the fact that the lyrics are written in Icelandic you’re in for a treat.