Album Review

Kveikur

Kveikur

by Sigur Ros


XL
8.8 / 10
21st June 2013

Reviewed by Max Walker


On track one of their seventh album, Iceland’s most acclaimed musical sons Sigur Rós perform a great feat in modern music; they make you think you’ve put on the wrong record. With trillions of digital files floating round cyberspace, surely every now and then things must get a bit mixed up and someone ends up scoring a lawnmower off Trade Me when they really wanted an ice cream maker. ‘Brennisteinn’, which appropriately translates to ‘Brimstone’ in English, seems at first, like the aural equivalent of the aforementioned scenario. The song begins with crunching, churning white noise, then huge, monstrously heavy bass and drum hits kick in. It’s only when frontman Jónsi Birgisson begins his unmistakably vocal you realize that no one’s screwed up and you’re not listening to Rammstein’s latest offering. The listener is then further reassured when the trademark bowed electric guitar and soaring string section arrive. After a couple of huge choruses and verses, a breakdown reveals the angelic howl of Birgisson alone and unaccompanied before the band crashes into a massive bridge/outro section. ‘Brennisteinn’ could be one of the most disconcerting, enthralling, signal-of-intent openers since Radiohead’s famous curveball ‘Everything In It’s Right Place’.

It is perhaps best at this point to state that things have changed for Sigur Rós over the last couple of years. Most importantly, after 2012’s slightly disappointing Valtari, core-member/keyboardist/arranger extraordinaire Kjartan Sveinsson left the band. The remaining members, guitarist and vocalist Birgisson, bassist Georg Hólm and drummer Orri Páll Dýrason were left to reinvent themselves. And reinvent they did, Kveikur is Sigur Rós playing as a three-piece rock band, but not as we know it. Whilst the previous records featured Sveinsson’s ascending and classically trained piano work, the new album is mostly wall-of-sound chord work, white noise and pummeling rhythms. The bass and drums are the real highlight of the record, with the duo playing at their fastest and most aggressive.

The record is no one trick pony however, as the group return to some of their more characteristic mellow and orchestral roots with a somehow renewed ferocity. Although the record is heavy in sections, songs like lead single ‘Ísjaki’ is typically grandiose, featuring beautifully chiming guitar work coupled with scattering drumbeats and a euphoric chorus which the band have all but trademarked. ‘Stormur’ sounds like it could be one of the highlights of breakthrough Ágćtis Byrjun before the title track returns to the more of the industrial bleakness that populated the first song.

Kveikur is sound of a truly reinvigorated band. Not attempting to struggle along on the same route after losing an important member, the trio has instead forged a new path for themselves whilst still somehow crystallizing the best elements of their sound. After creating such a varied and dynamic piece of modern music, even Sigur Rós’ harshest critics will have to admit that their best years, and perhaps their best work, is definitely not behind them.




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