Solstafir at Heaven, London - live review

Icelandic gloom merchants team up with Myrkur for their only UK show

live shot
(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

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Fittingly for a gloomy November evening, tonight is all about embracing the darkness, which makes Denmark’s Myrkur – aka Amalie Bruun – the perfect support act. There’s something slightly studied about Myrkur, who has an electric fan carefully aimed to keep her hair billowing dramatically while she sings. But what a voice!

Backed by three hooded musicians, she begins with the drama of The Serpent from new album Mareridt, launching her vocals up into the heavens. Ulvinde showcases the contrast between Myrkur’s angelic singing and the post-black metal riffage pumped out by the band. The dark folk influences of the records are less prominent live, with the set favouring the heavy side of her output.

It’s very much a one-woman show, with no guitar solos to distract from the vocalist, and the musicians stand firmly in place, nodding their heads in time to the music. Myrkur uses her scream very sparingly, but when she does on Skøgen Skulle Dø, the effect is fairly blood-curdling. The riff of Onde Børn has a Celtic flavour, while Måneblôt is a snarling display of menace. She finishes her set with a brief “Thank you” and a curtsy, which is certainly charming, if not very black or bleak.

You have to admire the guts of the self‑described ‘Antichristian Icelandic Heathen Bastards’ of Sólstafir for singing in their native tongue: given that their country has a population of around 334,000, it’s not exactly the world’s lingua franca.

Tonight marks the band’s biggest London show to date and the room is full to capacity as they jump into Silfur-Refur. The song sets out their musical stall, and the rest of the performance essentially follows the same blueprint. They set up a droning post-metal riff, play it loud, play it soft, play it louder, then finish.

There’s not a lot of musicianship or chops – drummer Hallgrímur Jón Hallgrímsson plays very simple beats and completely eschews fills and flashiness. Aðalbjörn Tryggvason’s voice is pure Marmite, likely to be received as either heartfelt and keening, or grating and thin. Guitarist Sæþór Maríus Sæþórsson intriguingly plucks a banjo on Ótta, but it struggles to cut through the wall of ambient noise.

There’s almost a trance-inducing quality to tracks like Ísafold, with the emphasis on pummelling repetition, churning out a riff slathered in guitar effects until it becomes hypnotic.

Long breaks between songs don’t help the band maintain the momentum: it’s unavoidable when bassist Svavar Austmann breaks a string, but too much fiddling about dissipates the mood.

Sólstafir finish with Goddess Of The Ages, the perfect song for anyone who finds Katatonia too cheery or Sigur Rós just too rock’n’roll.

David West

After starting his writing career covering the unforgiving world of MMA, David moved into music journalism at Rhythm magazine, interviewing legends of the drum kit including Ginger Baker and Neil Peart. A regular contributor to Prog, he’s written for Metal Hammer, The Blues, Country Music Magazine and more. The author of Chasing Dragons: An Introduction To The Martial Arts Film, David shares his thoughts on kung fu movies in essays and videos for 88 Films, Arrow Films, and Eureka Entertainment. He firmly believes Steely Dan’s Reelin’ In The Years is the tuniest tune ever tuned.