Personnel: Adalbj?rn Tryggvason (vocals, guitar); Gerdur G. Bjarklind (spoken vocals); S?p?r Mar?us S?p?rsson (guitar); Steinar Sigurdsson (saxophone); Halldor A. Bj?rnsson (electric piano); Gudmundur Oli Gunnarsson (drums); Jon Bj?rn Rikhardsson (gong); Raynheidur Eiriksdokkir, Hallgrimur Jon Hallgrimsson (background vocals).
Audio Mixer: Fredrik Reinedahl.
Recording information: Iceland (05/2011); Studio Sundlaughin (05/2011).
Arranger: Gunnar Ben.
Usually billed as post-metal or post-black metal just for lack of a better moniker, Iceland's Solstafir are a beast of their own, and have been for a long time. They, too, have lengthy song structures, distorted guitars, tortured vocals, and quiet interludes, but none of those are done the Isis or Alcest way. What the sprawling Svartir Sandar (Black Sands) actually sounds like is Robert Smith playing Krautrock in a fjord, or perhaps Ky?ss regrouping in Reykjavik and trading their desert rock for, well, lava-field rock -- equally drawn-out and groovy, but also grim like an Icelandic sunset in November, plowing ahead on steady, dynamic rhythms that induce a sort of trance laden with Nordic imagery. Addi Tryggvason's singing is almost clean, but there's an edge of desperation to his shouting that draws on Burzum, but really recalls the Cure -- while the jagged, acidic, reverb-drained guitars sound close to Shellac's school of alt-rock or, indeed, Ky?ss, only darker than Homme and company have ever been, though the music also feels strangely open and cold, like a glacier or a distant planet. In the past, Solstafir had real stoner rock numbers, such as "78 Days in the Desert," but not here, though the guitar textures are great to brilliant ("Melrakkabl?s" is a particular highlight). The "soft" parts, meanwhile, sometimes utilize sparse pianos, but mostly sound like the acoustic ambient of Norway's Naervaer, a band utterly obscure but also unrivaled in creating the lonesome atmosphere of a nighttime forest. They also sequence into electric fragments flawlessly, mood-wise -- a sure sign of class. At its length of 77 minutes (enough to squeeze on one CD, in fact), Svartir Sandar doesn't keep the attention throughout, but even the drifting moments are the good kind of drifting, keeping the feel set up by haunting, evocative guitar work. In short, a rare treat. ~ Alexey Eremenko