Sólstafir, Live in Bristol

Atmospheric Icelanders conquer yet more territory

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When they claim the name of their Earthlight EP is “meaningless but it sounds pretty cool, like our music”, local band LAMBHORN [7] are selling themselves short. Their instrumental prog may just equate to one long jam after another, but the exceptionally energetic rhythm section propels the songs along from frantic bouts to soothing melodic passages.

Expectation is high with SÓLSTAFIR’s [9] first visit to this corner of the country, with the packed house testament to the appeal of last year’s rapturously received Ótta album. However, the Icelanders don’t get off to the best start, with Köld feeling starved, Aðalbjörn ‘Addi’ Tryggvason’s vocals battling in vain against a brittle sound and last-minute stand-in drummer Karl Petur Smith still finding his feet in just his second gig.

But by the time Lágnætti cloaks the crowd in mesmerising tones, the band’s sense of grandeur makes itself known. With the delicate strings and piano of the backing track largely lost in the mix, the exuberance of Smith, bassist Svavar Austmann and the frontman help propel the song from a gorgeous epic on record to red-blooded passion in the flesh.

Meanwhile the effortlessly cool Sæþór Maríus Sæþórsson, with his distinctive cowboy getup and mutton chops, seems content to sit back and strum away on his guitar as if he were in a blues bar on Beale Street rather than a cramped venue in the West Country. After all, it’s hard to top the born showmanship of Addi who, when not pouring everything into each note with veins visibly throbbing in his temples, is effortlessly joking with the crowd in his self-deprecating manner.

Crowd silence is demanded and granted for the delicate majesty of Rismál before the banjo-led Ótta builds to ever-increasing peaks. Despite the obvious hindrance of most of the lyrics being in a foreign tongue, the emotional impact of Dagmál’s haunting textures and Þín Orð’s pained vocals traverse any language barrier and leave the crowd spellbound. Fjara’s slow-burning melancholy is eerily hypnotic before the mournful 12-minute glory of Goddess Of The Ages ends the night on a breathless note.

The men from Reykjavik may make for unlikely flag-bearers for metal, but it’s hard to think of many bands that are as captivating live or on record./o:p

Adam Brennan

Rugby, Sean Bean and power ballad superfan Adam has been writing for Hammer since 2007, and has a bad habit of constructing sentences longer than most Dream Theater songs. Can usually be found cowering at the back of gigs in Bristol and Cardiff. Bruce Dickinson once called him a 'sad bastard'.