Eleanor Roosevelt once said “Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” What do I mean by this? Bands, they’re damned if they reinvent themselves or change their approach from one album to the next and they’re damned if they don’t. Their music, because it’s so personal, while we want new material, at the same time we want each new release to maintain some microscopic aspect of what drew us to the band in the first place. Berdreyminn is Sólstafir‘s sixth much awaited release, coming to us on the heels of Ótta, my first and only 5/5 score here at AMG. Anybody familiar with Sólstafir‘s discography, knows that they’re agents of change. Where Í blóði og anda was steeped in abrasive black metal, Svartir sandar signaled a turning point for the band, showing signs of the post-rock/metal that Sólstafir would ultimately refine on their later releases. Do I have high expectations for Berdreyminn? Hell yes! How could I not, three years on, Ótta‘s post-metal Icelandic melancholy feels as though it hasn’t aged a day!
“Silfur-Refur” gets off to a strong start, a siren effect drawing you inward, just as the strangeness of Bauhaus would. The fuzzy guitar tone, the peaceful elaboration, all indicators screaming that this is a logical progression from Ótta. A full two minutes pass before the spell’s broken, and you come to realize that Berdreyminn is an entirely different hard rocking beast with a contradictory energy, elation and level of hope. I say this because the album focuses on battles against one’s own mind, self-destruction and harm directed at loved ones, as frontman Aðalbjörn Tryggvason conveys the tortured emotion of his own harrowing and seemingly never-ending struggle with alcoholism. While I enjoyed the progression of the track, the crescendos and the well-placed lulls, things feel as though they’re coming at you all on one level, with an uncomfortable brashness (particularly affecting Hallgrímur Jón Hallgrímsson’s drum-work) I don’t remember being in any of Sólstafir‘s past albums. Where their tracks are normally built on nuances and subtleties, it feels as though “Silfur-Refur” is one-dimensional with an unnecessary jolt that I find quite off-putting.
Across the remainder of Berdreyminn, there’s no particular song that stands out as an absolute “must have,” though there are some good, catchy moments that would certainly prompt me back to the album from time to time. “Ísafold” opens with some synthy 80s era new-wave reminiscent of Split Enz (later reformed as Crowded House) before spiraling off with more hard rock catchiness. “Ambátt” dabbles in an a capella approach, and “Hula” combines electrical crackle with an usual intro I expect would be just as at home on a Rotting Christ album. It’s around the back end of “Hula” that I’m struck by the irony that the band have used a buzzy electrical effect in a track so completely devoid of actual electricity. Thanks go out to Mr. Ted Jensen for this sonic abortion. As the man in charge of the final step of Berdreyminn‘s audio post-production, balancing the various sonic elements for optimized playback, he done fucked up good! It’s never going to be alright taking an album built on beautiful vocal subtleties, gorgeous piano melodies and showstopping violins and mastering it to the compression level of Death Magnetic.
Though I’m used to getting lengthier tracks from Sólstafir, There’s some serious song bloat across Berdreyminn. Most noticeably on “Nárós,” “Hvít Sæng,” “Ambátt” and “Bláfjall.” Stealing from their overly repetitive mid-sections, or perhaps even just eliminating “Nárós” and “Hvít Sæng” altogether, could have done a lot to tighten up the album.
Despite the heavy subject of Berdreyminn, the fact that the album is sung in Icelandic makes it tough to really pick up the true effect of these hardships and because of this, I bought into and enjoyed the seemingly upbeat hard rocking style Sólstafir pulled together. This is probably going to make a better road-trip album that any of the bands previous works. Aðalbjörn Tryggvason puts on a great vocal performance, and both his and Sæþór Maríus Sæþórsson’s guitar riffs drip with the emotional siren-like quality I’ve come to associate with and crave from Sólstafir. Being that I had to conduct this review from two promo packs, both riddled with production problems, I’m left hoping that a new and less hyper-compressed version of Berdreyminn finds it’s way to market… surely I don’t have to rely on Guitar Hero to do this.