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Solstafir - Ótta CD (album) cover

ÓTTA

Solstafir

 

Experimental/Post Metal

3.91 | 43 ratings

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Gallifrey
4 stars "So, you know how post metal seems like a great idea in concept, but the vast majority of it is overlong and dull atmospheric sludge? This one like, isn't." - me, on the discovery of Sólstafir's 2009 album Köld, circa 2013

The whole debate that is continuously raging about post-metal/atmospheric sludge metal and whether or not post-metal is a genre or if it's all atmosludge or whatever really begs a big, glaring question - if all post-metal is atmosludge, then why doesn't actual post-metal exist. All it needs to do is take a good post-rock album and add some heavy guitars to it, why is it that every notable band in this area feels the need to fill their music up with godawful vocals and repetitive as hell riffs straight out of the sludge metal camp? It's not as if post-metal and sludge are intrinsically linked, you can certainly have one without the other, but it seems that in order to be a post-metal band you either need to be instrumental or have sludge metal vocals and riffs thrown all over the place. Where is the metal equivalent of Sigur Rós? Or even just Explosions in the Sky?

While Köld did sort of attempt to answer my question, by playing heavy, texture-oriented metal music that had an appreciated shortage of sludge metal elements, instead electing for clean vocals a good deal of the time, and even bringing some faster, non-doomy riffs into the fold for the heavier sections, I was never fully grasped by it. Stylistically it was nearly what I wanted from post-metal, but compositionally it fell short in a good number of ways. It was overlong and repetitive, and the semi-harsh vocals bordered on cringeworthy and annoying, not to mention that the sheer density and heaviness of this sort of music gets very draining as a listener.

Ótta, admittedly, is only my second encounter with this band, so any comparisons are a bit uneducated and are only really with regards to Köld, but I definitely feel that at least some of the compositional troubles I had with that record have been remedied here, even if they have been replaced with some other problems. The most obvious stylistic changes that Sólstafir have made with this album are the overall reduction in metal elements and the choice to sing all lyrics in their native Icelandic, which, combined with the fact that string group Amiina appear on this record, gets a few hundreds of people screaming "SIGUR ROS WORSHIP" at the top of their lungs. But despite the similarities, and my honest wish for a heavier, darker version of ( )-era Sigur Rós, this isn't really all too similar. The quiet moments with piano and strings that feature Ađalbjörn singing Icelandic in a softer and more emotive voice do kind of sort of bring them to mind, but the influence is nowhere near as clear as some are claiming.

As for the dropping of the metal elements, I am all for it in this instance, despite my well-known love for crushing crescendos. It does feel that every timbre and sound that the band build their softer sections out of sounds excellent and smooth and well placed, but I can't say the same about their heavy sections - the guitars are still linked too heavily to sludge, and have a tone that is so over-distorted that it loses power, so I find myself being drawn to the softer parts far more. The standouts on this album happen around the bookends, with the opening and closing tracks being my particular favourites. "Lágnćtti" is pretty much a classic long-winded post-rock-with- vocals build track, steadily raising the intensity every minute or so to a slightly elevated level. But what really makes it fantastic are the piano melodies, especially when accentuated with Amiina's strings. The motif melodies throughout this album are excellent, and along with some of the ambience in the softer sections, is definitely the album's best point. Although it does get a bit crescendocore, "Náttmál" is the albums culmination and highest point, carrying a wonderful energy throughout the track starting with an awesome section at around 2:30. The album's title track is another interesting one, with a rather strange lead motif that sounds straight out of Devin's Casualties of Cool album, ambient and driving, with a bit of a country twang to it. And as corny as that might sound on paper, it works quite well, with some of the strings soaring around the top reminding me of the way country artists use harmonicas for atmosphere.

However, as much as I enjoy some of the compositions here, and I do think Sólstafir have somewhat remedied the long-winded and boring parts I've found from them in the past, the one thing I just simply can't enjoy too much are their vocals, and despite my love of Sigur Rós, they seem to have gotten even more irritating with the change to full Icelandic lyrics. When Jónsi sings in Icelandic, it's ambient and ethereal, and you can barely hear any of the syllables he makes. But on Ótta, Ađalbjörn's vocals have to change between relatively clean sung to ferocious bellowing, and it really makes you realise what a hard, consonant-heavy language Icelandic is. And it just doesn't fit, at all. The softer vocals are tolerable, but the loud, intense, semi-harsh vocals just don't work at all. Similar to a language like German, there are just too many hard sounds and changing syllables to properly get any impact. And it doesn't help that I'm not the biggest fan of his vocal tone, either.

The only other major problem with this record is one that many others have pointed out, and is one that is common with a lot of music in this area - it runs out of steam rather quickly. I can say that every song has a motif or idea that I like, and the band have no shortage of melodic skill, but this is very tiring and draining music to sit through, and this album's 58-minute length can feel like 80 sometimes. I wouldn't call much of this 'filler', but a song like "Dagmál" could have been easily dropped with no loss, especially given the fact that it just sounds like a shoegaze-ier and Icelandic version of "Love is the Devil" from Köld.

From a melodic and compositional perspective, this is an undeniably strong album, bringing some wonderful and beautiful melodies into the fold. From a stylistic perspective, this is a pretty decent change, the songs feel more concise (but not concise enough), and the sludge metal parts are used more sparingly, although I am definitely not a fan of the Icelandic lyrics shift. On the whole this is certainly a better album than Köld, and shows Solstafir shifting their sound enough to try and stay relevant, but I can't help but feel they have something more in them that they aren't fully giving.

7.4

Originally written for my Facebook page/blog: www.facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog

Gallifrey | 4/5 |

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