Friday 21 June 2013

Sigur Rós - Kveikur

Sigur Rós have become synonymous with Iceland, their music directly and deeply inspired by their surrounding environment.  But if last year’s ‘Valtari’, the band’s sixth album, was reminiscent of shivering landscapes frozen in time, then follow-up ‘Kveikur’ is positively volcanic: aflame with brimstone, ash and shuddering tectonic rhythms.

At least to begin with.  Opening track Brennistein (Brimstone) lurches aggressively, heralding a menacing, sinister and unsettling new sound.  Distorted bass drones rumble like quaking earth, drum beats fuse the industrial with the elemental, and frontman Jónsi Birgisson sings in a lower, more urgent register to spur on the cataclysm.  Gone are the joyous crescendos, the serene textures and the aching melodies in favour of something darker, primal and apocalyptic.  It’s a sound that continues with the title track (Kveikur – Candlewick) and its web of distorted textures, percussion and bass glissandi heavy with the weight of impending doom.  By contrast, closing track Var (Was) is a stripped-back piano-led affair – a sombre yet hopeful antithesis to Brennistein’s destruction.

The change of sound comes with the departure of keyboardist and founding member Kjartan Sveinsson, but the band haven’t forgotten their roots.  ‘Kveikur’ overall still relies on the typical conventions of their sound – the majestic swells, the bittersweet melodies and Birgisson’s odd mix of Icelandic and ‘Hopelandic’ (his own fictional language).  For some, the language barrier is a hurdle too far, but the band’s strength comes from the overwhelming emotional power of their music that’s as present as ever here.  Whilst Ísjaki (Iceberg) is the closest the album has to a pop single, as a whole ‘Kveikur’ is far from the recognisable melodies of ‘Takk…’ yet equally removed from the ambient ‘Valtari’.  There’s certainly more of an earthy quality: less slow-motion wafting, less dependency on joyous crescendos and a more immediate, focussed and visceral experience that’s far from the background music in the minds of their critics.  It’s a glacial evolution, but Sigur Rós are still utterly unique in their exploration of textures and experimentation with instrumentation.

So, this might not be the seismic shift some may have expected, but ‘Kveikur’ is still a beautiful album all the same.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Brennistein
* Rafstraumur

Listen: 'Kveikur' is available now.

Watch: Sigur Rós continue their world tour throughout the year.