Sólstafir prepare to play their string-laden Ótta masterpiece in full

Sólstafir press photo 2016, by Falk-Hagen Bernshausen
(Image credit: Falk-Hagen Bernshausen)

Hold on to your hearts – Sólstafir’s nine-date tour playing their sublime Ótta album in full, complete with strings and piano, kicks off this Saturday in the elegant setting of London’s Islington Assembly Room, and we have some exclusive rehearsal footage, along with an insight into what to expect from frontman Aðalbjörn ‘Addi’ Tryggvason.

Released in 2014, and voted number six in Metal Hammer’s albums of the year, Ótta was the sound of a wilfully unique band adding even richer, otherworldly detail to their metal roots, but with a vast scope and unguarded emotional honesty that had a universal resonance. Having already turned the world’s attention to their native Iceland’s burgeoning metal scene and the spectacular landscapes their open-ended pilgrimages were mapped on to, the band’s fifth album broke down further barriers, uniting metalheads and rock fans of all stripes under their ever-expanding banner.

As well as playing Ótta in its entirety for the first time – alongside musicians who have played with the likes of My Dying Bride, Cradle Of Filth, Anathema and Hexvessel – Sólstafir will also be playing an hour’s worth of fan favourites, and below we talk to Addi about what to expect from the tour.

Often, when rock and metal bands play with known orchestras, it can come across as a bit pretentious, like they’re tying to claim some kind of cultural kudos. You’ve gone more for people with a metal background.

“Yeah I guess they’re all into metal and rock’n’roll as well. I’m pretty sure none of them just wake up and put Tchaikovsky on! We’re not really going classical, because it’s not like we had to write a score around our songs, this is the way they were recorded originally. It’s not like Metallica did, have some guy write a symphony on top of Battery. We wrote the songs like this, so this is more like the songs dressed up in proper clothes. It’s more genuine. We would always do this if we could afford it.”

Islington Assembly Room is a beautiful venue. Have all the venues on this tour been specifically chosen to be in keeping with this set?

“When this was first brought up, what sold me the idea, was like holy shit, are they going to allow a band like us in there? The first gig we did in London was the Purple Turtle, and we were like, ‘Holy shit, we’re playing at the Purple Turtle!’ They charged me £10 for 10 drops of whiskey and they gave us shit catering. I loved it, but the standard was not high. We go from there to the Underworld, and I thought, ‘Holy shit, we’re playing the Underworld, where all these bands I look up to are playing!’ After that they allowed us into the Electric Ballroom. I used to live in Camden and go to gigs there, and I dreamt that one day I will go there with my own band and there were 1,000 people when we played there, so again, what the fuck. Then someone told me, ‘You’re going to play a posh venue’. I’ve never been to the Assembly Hall, and if it’s a little bit better than the Purple Turtle, I’m delighted.”

Why choose this album to play in full?

“I don’t think we’ll do this again with another album, because so many bands seem to be doing it now, and we’re old and grumpy and we don’t like doing things everyone else is doing. This is album is the first one that we’ve used strings on, and they ended up on half the album. So it makes sense doing this album, because we can add so much more life to it. This is the closing part of the Ótta tour, and after this we’ll do a few festivals over the summer and start recording a new album.”

Can you see where you’re headed with the next album?

“It’s quiet music, it’s heavy music, the lyrics have similar topics – it’s always the same but never the same. What I can tell you is that some ridiculous ideas have come to light and the ridiculous ideas are always the best ones. We made a sad banjo on the song Ótta. Fjara was a ridiculous idea when we wrote it. It’s a fucking pop song, we thought people were going to hang us high for it, but we wanted to do ridiculous stuff because it pushes us further. It’s out of the comfort zone, and when you get out of the comfort zone, that’s where the magic happens. So once the soundscape was our comfort zone, and we want to explore new soundscapes, even though they’re still in the same world.”

Have you noticed the audience changing over time?

“Yeah, we have way more younger girls now. I don’t think anyone complains about that because if you get younger women, the boys will follow. I’m aware that we’re not an extreme metal band today, like we used to be. But we have that in our hearts, and it’s still weird because it used to be mature guys screaming ‘Slayer!’ between songs, and going from there to having maybe 20-year-old girls crying in the front, you can’t really fuck with it, it’s sort of their holy moment. If you can have a person in that state, you’re doing something correct, and you can’t buy that or sell that. You can’t bottle goosebumps.”

Sólstafir play Islington Assembly Hall on Saturday May 14

Check Sólstafir’s Facebook page for full tour dates here

And buy tickets for Saturday’s show here!

Jonathan Selzer

Having freelanced regularly for the Melody Maker and Kerrang!, and edited the extreme metal monthly, Terrorizer, for seven years, Jonathan is now the overseer of all the album and live reviews in Metal Hammer. Bemoans his obsolete superpower of being invisible to Routemaster bus conductors, finds men without sideburns slightly circumspect, and thinks songs that aren’t about Satan, swords or witches are a bit silly.