I’m a prime example of being caught in a rat race, a cog too much a part of the corporate clockwork and maybe that’s why on some basic level I identify so strongly with the timeless concept behind Sólstafir‘s fifth and much anticipated release. Ótta comes three years after the release of Svartir Sandar, with the concept of the album staying close and personal to their Icelandic roots. So much so that that the album flows according to an old Icelandic form of time-keeping similar to the monastic hours or Eykt (one eighth of a solar day), And so, Ótta consists of eight tracks, beginning with a representation of midnight, moving through each Eyktir in the day, coming to a close in the period between 9 pm and midnight. Hardly a riveting concept on paper, but thought provoking nonetheless.
Much like the post-metal genre being built on rising crescendos, so “Lágnætti,” “Ótta,” “Rismál” and “Dagmál” are the slow and steady climb before you reach the boiling point of “Middegi” and “Nón,” only to have their power stripped away quite dramatically with “Midaftann” and “Náttmál.” Now stop for a moment, close your eyes and feel “Lágnætti” (low night) wash over you. The intro rises up, uncoiling with slow deliberation, pure atmosphere at first, culminating in an isolated and memorable piano melody that along with frontman Aðalbjörn Tryggvason’s vocals, would fit right in on Coldplay‘s Viva La Vida. “Lágnætti” quickly settles in and gives you that familiar feeling that Ótta is indeed the next logical progression from Svartir Sandar. The album grabs hold of and builds on the very same subtleties and charm, the same enveloping moodiness and even the same delicate eccentricities of the earlier release, rather than following on with the bolder adolescence like Köld and Í Blóði og Anda (In Blood and Spirit).
Aðalbjörn Tryggvason’s vocals have been perfectly matched to each track and at times it’s tough to imagine it’s the same vocalist. For much of the front-end of Ótta and then again towards the back-end, our intrepid frontman dabbles in the same instrumental, minimalistic style he used on Svartir Sandar. In “Lágnætti” and the title track, he could take the place of Chris Martin fronting Coldplay, and then in “Rismál” and “Midaftann” he creates a new and fantastical beast seemingly from leftover parts of Shining and Katatonia. Giving the release more time to soak in, you’ll find hints to the glory of the past, like his screamy shouts leftover from Köld‘s “Love is the Devil (and I am in Love)” and then in “Middegi” and “Nón” there are hints of the glory locked and loaded in Svartir Sandar‘s “Þín Orð.”
Instrumentally Ótta feels like a swirling melting pot of flavours, colours and textures. The title track stands out, surely competing with Ulver‘s “Not Saved” as one of the most addictive pieces of music I’ve come across, all thanks to its bluegrass-like banjo frivolity playing with the violins. And while I have no idea whom to credit for the piano arrangements on “Lágnætti” and “Midaftann” and they don’t don’t hold quite the same dizzying quirk of Svartir Sandar‘s “Æra,” they’re beautiful, melodic, well played and hold just the right amount of tragedy and atmosphere. Aðalbjörn Tryggvason, Sæþór Maríus Sæþórsson and Guðmundur Óli Pálmason go minimalist on the guitars and drum lines, only playing what’s absolutely necessary. The guitars are delivered with a tasty distorted fuzz that takes away from the cleanliness of the album, and while solos are used sparingly, stand-out moments do filter through on “Nón” and “Miðdegi.”
The production used on Ótta sounds largely like what worked so well on Svartir Sandar, and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. There’s enough fuzzy warmth and focus of dynamics to keep the album an interesting and comfortable listen. What more can I say here, I’m unable to find fault with this album. It’s not one you’re going to skip around and listen to in bits and bites and needs to be experienced as a whole. Ótta is a serious piece of art and yes, it does indeed stop time!