Sólstafir are a special band to me. Very few bands can evoke so much atmosphere, imagery and power all while singing in a language (Icelandic) that I don’t understand. I was very excited to hear their latest album “Berdreyminn” because I absolutely LOVED “Ótta.” The good news is that “Berdreyminn” is yet another masterpiece by this awesome band.
Each song on “Berdreyminn” has its own distinct identity. The commonality is not only the unique howl of Aðalbjörn Tryggvason, who still sings with such urgency and passion, but also the epic nature of the arrangements and instrumentation. In short, you KNOW it’s Sólstafir when you hear it. Too few bands have that going for them.
“Silfur-Refur” starts things off and it does what it needs to do: set the standard for the rest of the album. It starts out slowly before it builds up into a gallop. The guitars buzz, the drums pound and I LOVE the organ sound the most. New drummer Hallgrímur Jón Hallgrímsson acquits himself nicely right from the start. He was a great addition to the band.
“Ísafold” is next and is definitely one of my favorite track by Sólstafir, not only on this album but ever. The main guitar riff is mellow and transports me back to my childhood in the late 70s. Sitting in my room, lights off, and the stereo on some left of the dial, FM station. It’s pure magic. There’s such a perfect groove to it as well.
The next track “Hula” has nothing to do with the dance of that name of course. As with all things Sólstafir, the band sequence their albums perfectly. “Hula” changes the pace even more. Slower still, tranquil and yet it slowly builds up power and strength as it goes. The end of the track is yet another highlight with the strings and piano accompaniment. Yet another favorite.
“Nárós” seems to continue that slow burn until about three minutes in when the band kick the song into another gear. The key to the success of anything this band does is what notes are played, by what instrument and where those moments are within the context of the song: yes arrangement. Too many bands think it’s the number of notes that wins the day. “Hvít Sæng” proves that theory is a falsehood. It starts very quite before it pounces on you. That sort of dichotomy is what makes Sólstafir amazing.
I admit that I thought it was impossible to top “Ótta,” but somehow “Berdreyminn” sounds even better! The softer parts are even softer and the rocking parts rock so much harder. To be clear, I do think some of the songs on this album would not sound out of place on “Ótta” and “Dýrafjörður” is one of them. It has that majestic feel that made “Ótta” so good.
The album ends with 2 more gems in “Ambátt” and “Bláfjall.” “Ambátt” starts with an acapella opening and while Sólstafir will never be confused with Moon Safari, the overall vibe of the song (with electric piano) has more in common with that band and even their fellow countrymen Sigur Rós. The album has a killer 8 minute closer in “Bláfjall” which starts with some bad ass organ and Tryggvason pleading with the listener. Well it sounds like he is anyway.
“Berdreyminn” makes me wish I knew Icelandic but as with any Sólstafir album, it’s not really necessary. The human voice is another instrument for this band and it fits perfect with everything they do. This is truly forward thinking music which transcends language. Sólstafir are able to transport you INTO their music and guide you through magical places and return you safely to your homeland. They have done it yet again.
5. Hvít Sæng