July 15, 2012 by Beldrac
Sólstafir – Svartir Sandar
Genre: Post-Black Metal/Post-Rock
Sólstafir’s second album, “Masterpiece of Bitterness” was one of those hidden gem discoveries you make once in a while and it’s made regular returns to my playlist over the years. The previous album, “Köld” marked a change to a more progressive style of Post-Black Metal and has also made a number of appearances in my speakers. I’ll start by admitting “Svartir Sandar” – which means “Black Sand” in Anglo-tongue – was one of my favourite albums of 2011 so expect a good review.
Any and all translation you see in here was done with the help of an online translator; don’t shoot me if it’s wrong…
The Post-Metal roots they laid down on “Masterpiece of Bitterness” and explored on “Köld” have grown to be the trunk of this album, with some Rock and even Psychedelic branches making for a pensive and at times brooding listening experience. It’s certainly easy to lose yourself in the rhythms of the album and it’s a great soundtrack for a long pointless amble. The drumming is still hard and heavy as ever, but compared to “Köld” the guitar and overall feel is more mood-rich and a little less relenting. The album is split up into two equal parts, “Andvari” and “Gola” – both translations of “breeze” which I think is a good word to describe the album. The overall tempo sometimes strengthens to stronger gusts but never reaches a gale. I imagine a breeze that’s just cold enough to leave you uncomfortable at first, but once your body adapts to the temperature it feels fresh and clears the mind of everyday gloom. The production is also clear but with the right amounts of fuzz to break the crispness.
I think one of the things that can put people off the Post- genre is its relentlessness and there often is very little room for the music to breathe, but I think it’s exactly here where the enjoyment streams from. On the first few listens of an album it all may seem a little dense and the different layers only later start revealing themselves, giving you one of those musical “eureka” moments where you really hear something for the first time after hearing it twenty times. Sólstafir manages to incorporate the same moments into this album but yet sidestep the monotony by putting bits of Psychedelic swirl in strategic places, to add just a little more texture to the album. However, those out there who regard that exact shoegazing monotony as a big turn on should not be put off either.
Overall this album is as gray as a beautiful winter’s day and perhaps no track represents this album better than the beautifully sad and epic “Fjara.” This must be one of the most memorable songs I’ve heard in a very long time, and I encourage you to watch the official video. The beauty of the landscape and the sheer guts and determination displayed by the spirited actress is worth the watch alone, while the intriguing story that unfolds and the startling end makes for a video that’s more majestic and communicative than most music videos produced these days. The song is sad but somehow hopeful at the same time, which is the general emotion I get from the album.
There’s a good mix of heavy and fast, and slow and wandering on this album and it’s really a good listen any time of the day or night; whether in a darkened room or in a lit waiting room, “Svatir Sandar” is always ready to take your thoughts down a wondering path. If you’re a fan of Progressive and Post-Black Metal and you like yourself a bit of Rock in between, you may find yourself as enthralled as I am.