Rain on wild fjords and aurora borealis. Vast open lands leading to crevices of malice. Dark murmured passages, the realm of dead kings. These are a few of my favorite things. When the wolves howl. When the ice stings. When I’m feeling satanic. I simply remember my favorite Icelandic things. And then I don’t feel so bad. I’ve never actually been to Iceland, but a visit there is situated firmly at the top of my list of places to go. Videos and images cannot do justice to the country. Its untouched ruggedness coupled with awe-inspiring beauty must be seen in the flesh. It will be a long time before I can afford to visit, so I rely on music created by the likes of GlerAkur, an instrumental project of National Theater of Iceland sound engineer Elvar Geir Sævarsson, to deliver hearty wedges of this magical land to my adoring ears. Sævarsson’s seen its sights, breathed its air, and felt its magic, and from this he’s carved his vision of Iceland into a solid block of music.
Five lengthy tracks – the shortest trickling just under eight minutes and the longest surging at above fifteen – make up The Mountains Are Beautiful Now and each flows from one to the next with an organic fluidity that makes the album feel more like a 48-minute cinematic experience. Typical of post-rock flavored music, there are many steady build-ups that lead to some sort of crescendo or release. GlerAkur clearly know how to subtly layer sounds to the point of bursting, though not always to profound effect. Opener “Augun Opin” flutters into existence with soft avenues of sound carved by layered acoustic guitar arpeggios and delicate background ambiance. Tenderly, guitars die as a glistening wall of ambient noise smothers the mix. This then builds to a wonderful end of vast electronic chords and shimmering guitars. “Augun Opin” flows into the choppier waves of “Can’t You Wait,” an eight-minute storm of industrial noise and morose electronics. Harsher ambient sounds are anchored by thumping drums and bass that rapidly push their way to the front of the mix. Cranking, fizzing, throbbing, it’s a world away from the subtleties of the opener. “Can’t You Wait” is an excellent example of vastness and aggression.
The remainder of the album fails to climb to the peaks reached by the openers. “Strings” builds reasonably well, but it’s solemn approach failed to grasp my attention, especially because of its fifteen-minute run-time. Five minutes is given to the beating of a singular drum and the luscious drifting of electronics and reverberating bell sounds. A further three-minutes traces the former with wishy-washy guitar and bass tones. The song explodes, then, with post-rock mildness at the eight-minute mark, layering heaviness upon heaviness but failing to get beneath the skin. Regrettably, “Strings” falls into the vast graveyard of tedious post-rock soundscapes, infested by a lack of uniqueness and direction. Thus it drifts into the ether with little else but a whimper, a brief flash that fails to ignite.
“Fagurt er á fjöllunum núna” rolls off the tongue as well as rolling through throbbing soundscapes akin to “Can’t You Wait.” Folk guitar melodies circle pleasingly before the song moves into a rich and calming tapestry of electronics and male choir vocals. Abruptly, the song turns. The organic harmony of the past is crushed to dust as huge industrial drums creak, crank, and grind everything into oblivion. It sounds fantastic, the instrumentation fizzes with ferocity, and the monstrous turn into this industrial nightmare works excellently when contrasted to the fairy-tale fragility of the opening. “Hallalone” follows this. It acts as more of an epilogue or after-thought, achieving little but prolonging the album into bland atmospheric territories, numbing the potency of “Fagurt.” An underwhelming end.
Through vast post-rock soundscapes flavored with cinematic ambient and drone landscapes, GlerAkur, with The Mountains Are Beautiful Now, capture the spirit of Iceland at its most mystical and alluring. GlerAkur have constructed an album of vast imaginative scope that sounds fantastic. Though slipping into forgettable territories on more than occasion, the expertly constructed sequences of the opening songs and “Fagurt er á fjöllunum núna” will stay with me for a while. GlerAkur could carve a nice little niche in the Icelandic glaciers if they begin to stray into more abrasive industrial territories. The lands of ice have provided another burning gift for our feeble ears.