Sólstafir - Ótta review


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Band: Sólstafir
Album: Ótta
Release date: August 2014

01. Lágnætti
02. Ótta
03. Rismál
04. Dagmál
05. Miðdegi
06. Nón
07. Miðaftann
08. Náttmál
09. Tilberi [bonus]
10. Til Valhallar [bonus]
11. Ótta [Elevator Mix] [bonus]

There's something naturally interesting about Icelandic music. Perhaps it's out of predilection for its origin, geographic distance and isolation at the top of the world. Whatever the case may be, there's one particular metal band who have managed to convey their own meaning in this phenomena.

Sólstafir's style so often seemed to suffer from an identity crisis as they continued to distance themselves from their initial style, such suffering making it all the more distinctive and the resulting sound set into a variety of mood pieces which find a focused expression in their latest effort. On Ótta they've certainly surmounted themselves as artistic post-metal prospectors, engaging a sound at metal's fringes.

Of their records since Masterpiece Of Bitterness, you might imagine a unique occurrence of a psychedelic and progressively inclined rock band somehow sauntering out of the Wild West and finding themselves lost in a different time and place, when Nordic custom prevailed over Iceland. Their efforts to belong there within a newly disconcerting and post-metallic climate were certainly never futile with their excellence of characteristic instrumentation, though the results of such efforts only found the vocal arrangements becoming (over the course of Köld and Svartir Sandar) increasingly isolated and alone in their context, standing out clearly as a weakness. As they continue to dwell in such an environment, not yet unified in terms of performance, and aging as all things do with time, these saddened psychedelics were never able to forget what they once were or their own time. As they became increasingly accepting of their fate, they acclimatised to their current environment, maturing and understanding best how to move past existential confusion. This is most obviously manifest in the development of vocal performance by Tryggvason, whose character was laid so naively bare in Köld and Svartir Sandar, although somehow finding resemblance to Pink Floyd's vocal arrangements in the advancing context and influence of psychedelic rock on their sound, though with a heightened anguishing feeling, and often of the Icelandic tongue. The vocal performance on Ótta finds the band with their most controlled and fitting voice.

A constant struggle within themselves becomes apparent the further through the discography, up until this album. The attempt to coalesce divergent stylistic hallmarks have been well accommodated into the same sound, here represented in a psychedelic variant of post-rock married to a metallic texture on the cusp of sludge with recursive beats, rhythmic patterns and distortions perpetuating the more densely weighted metal movements, yet drawing from elementary song structures long left behind and now only residually formative. Black metal no longer holds a tone here, yet it is partially present in Ótta's structure and best recalled in post-metal founded tremolo in tracks such as the closer "Nattmal," the lengthiest of the tracks.

Despite the above attempted metaphor of a psych rock band finding their way in a new stylistic environment, this band were originally far from rock in any form, proffering instead an already atypical viking/black metal mix, to which their sound became increasingly diversified in the manner of stylistic progression championed by the likes of Enslaved. Over the course of their discography, the decision to venture from a form of black metal not to progressive metal, but to post-rock doesn't result in comparability to the likes of Alcest's shoegaze persuasions, as what Ótta presents is highly individualised and accomplished, not falling into the trap of self genericization when they adopt more of a rock, less of a metal nature. For example they don't imitate the style of post-rock of fellow Icelandic act Sigur Rós, which is one most notable and potentially liable to be influential here, from which Sólstafir individualistically refrain.

The atmospheric backdrop to the record, enhanced by an immersive production, is stylistically amorphous yet maintains a consistent mood. It varies from piano aspersions and violin accompanied banjo trekking in the title track, to drawn out borrowings from psychedelic and post-metallic mix filling distortions, providing the general texture of the record, and as a result Ótta is quite different in its entirety to what the band have attempted so far with their sound. Everything atmospheric, and designed to cast a specific mood, manages to gel and provide more of a contemplative art rock incentive and arrangement to the record, which is something very fresh and creatively adventurous for the band.

The more down-tempo track "Midaftann," manages to convey how much Ótta sets itself apart from prior work, with its focus on piano keys and its violin ending played out to a tune devoid of guitars and drums, forming a clear point of differentiation from the rest of the record, as it forgoes any metal texture entirely to represent the furthest point from the genre the band have ever ventured. Being the album's softest piece, it's truly touching, to be sure, as is the album's entire movement considered as a whole, from its heaviest and rhythm defined metal aspects to its moments of lighter atmospheric air.

There is an undeniable beauty here in bereavement, delivered with distinctively Icelandic language and artistry. Ótta is another well formed landmark in Icelandic music, at the edge of metal, from the edge of the world.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 8
Songwriting: 8
Originality: 9
Production: 8


Written on 06.09.2014 by R'Vannith enjoys music, he's hoping you do too.


Comments: 12   Visited by: 320 users
06.09.2014 - 11:16
Cynic Metalhead
Atrocious Virgin
Gawd, R'Vannith your reviews are always hefty.
06.09.2014 - 15:35
Lengthy review, but then again, this isn't exactly the sort of music that can be summed up in few words. Good job man, not exactly the easiest band to tackle. I honestly really need to catch up on them as I haven't really scoped much since Masterpiece Of Bitterness, but I definitely agree, these guys have an amazing atmosphere and there's something very special going on with their music. Hope to see em live someday, maybe at Roadburn or something. Also, if you love that sort of mysterious vibe that often comes with Icelandic metal, I'd recommend checking out both Carpe Noctem and Wormlust, if you haven't already.
Now who should I call? Should I call Mr. Strawberry?
No, I don't think I'll call Mr. Strawberry. I don't think he's taking calls.
06.09.2014 - 16:07
Troy Killjoy
860 words! *wipes sweat from brow*

I like the rating though. Not a blind 9+ simply because it's Solstafir. I also like the fact you analyze it by comparing it to other bands that kind of stand out in their own way, which really emphasizes how much of a unique entity this band has become.
Prettier than BloodTears.
06.09.2014 - 17:51
Boxcar Willy
yr a kook
To me this is an easy 9 record. Very fresh and original. Combines a lot of sounds.
Checkout my band here!
06.09.2014 - 18:17
Good review, that was well described.

I really like the melodies created, but it feels a bit weak/soft compared to previous efforts. Each song has a similar structure of building-up with constant presence of piano/violin, lacking variation... throw in a instrumental or something. Still very good album.
06.09.2014 - 20:06
Great review, wow!!
World won't end today - it's already tomorrow in Australia.
08.09.2014 - 06:00
Man this review was great. Good job!
08.09.2014 - 06:48
Thank you kindly for the comments guys. Much appreciated, I'm glad I managed to describe this successfully.
08.09.2014 - 13:04
M C Vice
So many big words. And me with no tertiary education.
"Another day, another Doug."
"I'll fight you on one condition. That you lower your nipples."
" 'Tis a lie! Thy backside is whole and ungobbled, thou ungrateful whelp!"
08.09.2014 - 23:31
Troy Killjoy
Written by M C Vice on 08.09.2014 at 13:04
So many big words. And me with no tertiary education.

Sólstafir - Ótta Review for Dummies

This album is good, but it could have been better. There's some really cool things going on and they set themselves apart from the rest of the metal scene. Fans of the band and newcomers alike will most likely enjoy what they hear.
Prettier than BloodTears.
08.09.2014 - 23:35
Weirdo of MS
Written by Troy Killjoy on 08.09.2014 at 23:31

Written by M C Vice on 08.09.2014 at 13:04
So many big words. And me with no tertiary education.

Sólstafir - Ótta Review for Dummies

This album is good, but it could have been better. There's some really cool things going on and they set themselves apart from the rest of the metal scene. Fans of the band and newcomers alike will most likely enjoy what they hear.

If reviews would be all like that I'd totally read'em
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03.02.2015 - 19:33
Stamp Tramp
Written by Cynic Metalhead on 06.09.2014 at 11:16

Gawd, R'Vannith your reviews are always hefty.

Agreed, this was like picking up one of my old masters-level textbooks. Wordsmith.
Daily underground metal recommendations at Metal Trenches.
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