Good thing I didn’t have to rely on Google Translate to find out what the title of Sólstafir’s new album Berdreyminn means – I’d be utterly stymied otherwise. It translates to an approximation of ‘true dreamer’ (at least that’s what I gathered from the several interviews I read, which all had different translations of the term) and describes someone who dreams of actual future events. This title is fitting, given that the band’s singer/guitarist Aðalbjörn Tryggvason happens to have experienced that phenomenon himself a few times in the past.
Berdreyminn comes three years after after the band’s critically acclaimed fifth album Ótta; many would think that the ensuing outside pressure would’ve forced the band to play it safe this time around. Those people seem to forget that Sólstafir have always been a courageous, mutable band, though (they’ve gone from straight-up black metal to post rock over the span of four albums!), and so it comes as no surprise that their new material is as unpredictable as ever.
True Dreams and Living Nightmares
You want proof? Listen to the first single for the record, “Ísafold”, and then tell me you saw that coming! Well, perhaps you did, if you’re a berdreyminn yourself that is (huehuehue). Anyhow, the song is, with its straightforward structure and classic rock riffing, initially disconcerting. But looking past that initial impression, it’s quite the memorable hit, and offers some interesting instrumental sections, like the main riff and the solo bass around 2:25. And even though the cheesy 70s keyboard sound is not for everybody, it fits the track and its overall vibe exceedingly well.
The confident delivery of this album is at variance with what must’ve been a waking nightmare for the band. I’m talking, of course, about the less than amicable split between Sólstafir and their now-former drummer Guðmundur Óli Pálmason. The departure didn’t make either party look too terribly good and brought with it a massive shitstorm against the band. Without taking sides at all, it’s good to see that this unfortunate episode didn’t macerate the band’s commitment to their music.
The Good, The Bad and the Everything in Between
Okay, hand on heart: who else here thought that the main vocal line to “Bláfjall” is eerily reminiscent of Depeche Mode’s “Precious”? It’s just me? Oh well. The organ-laden, bombastic introduction makes this number an instant favorite, and when the stomping drums and almost country-style guitars kick in, the song’s mood switches from somber to belligerent in a heartbeat. During its middle portions, there’s a neat slide guitar part over a surprisingly heavy groove. But before long, the organ takes the reins once again, leading the track (and the album) into a mesmerizing, compelling psychedelic-post-punk-rock finale.
And thus ends Berdreyminn; on a decidedly high note, I might add. This record has a lot going for it, musically speaking, and yet there are some elements that, even after repeated listens, left me dissatisfied with the overall experience. Allow me to discuss those concerns in detail in the following.
All of the album’s eight songs have moments in which they are truly engaging and enjoyable, but they are oftentimes held back by endless and unnecessary repetition. Condensing those great moments into more compact structures would’ve combated this problem perfectly, as proven by “Ísafold”, which is the most up-front rock song the band ever made, and one of Sólstafir’s finest creations at that. I’m aware that we’re still dealing with a post rock record here, but that doesn’t excuse the apparent lack of tension and weird pacing that the contrast between the classic rock elements and the ‘post-‘ tropes creates. In short, Berdreyminn suffers from its unnecessarily lengthy songs and their lopsided placement in the tracklist. Does that make it a bad record? Absolutely not, but one that doesn’t deliver on the plentiful promise it displays at times.
Notable Tracks: “Ísafold”; “Hula”; “Bláfjall”
FFO: Katatonia, Pink Floyd, Sigur Rós