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Sigur Rós

Post Rock/Math rock

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Sigur Rós Ágætis Byrjun album cover
4.13 | 615 ratings | 66 reviews | 45% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1999

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Intro (1:36)
2. Svefn-g-englar (Sleep(walk)ing Angels) (10:04)
3. Starálfur (Staring Elf) (6:46)
4. Flugufrelsarinn (The Fly's Savior) (7:48)
5. Ný Batterí (New Batteries) (8:10)
6. Hjartað Hamast (bamm Bamm Bamm) (The Heart Pounds (boom boom boom)) (7:10)
7. Viðrar Vel Til Loftárasa (Good Weather for an Airstrike) (10:17)
8. Olsen Olsen (8:03)
9. Ágætis Byrjun (A Good Beginning) (7:55)
10. Avalon (4:02)

Total Time: 71:51

Line-up / Musicians

- Jón Þór Birgisson / vocals, guitars
- Kjartan Sveinsson / piano, keyboards (Roland Juno 106, Hammond B3, Yamaha VSS30, Yamaha SK20)
- Georg Hólm / bass
- Ágúst Ævar Gunnarsson / drums, percussion

- Gerður Jónsdóttir / double bass (3)
- Samúel Jón Samúelsson / brass (5)
- Snorri Sigurðarson / brass (5)
- KK / harp (6)
- Pétur Hallgrímsson / slide guitar (7)
- Álafosskór / choir (8)
- The String Puppets / strings
- Szymon Kuran / strings leader

Releases information

Artwork: Gotti Bernhöft

2xLP FatCat Records ‎- FATLP11X (2009, UK) Remastered

CD Smekkleysa ‎- SM 79 CD (1999, Iceland)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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SIGUR RÓS Ágætis Byrjun ratings distribution

(615 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(45%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(31%)
Good, but non-essential (16%)
Collectors/fans only (6%)
Poor. Only for completionists (3%)

SIGUR RÓS Ágætis Byrjun reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by FloydWright
5 stars Of the two SIGUR ROS albums, I would characterize Agaetis Byrjun as the more orchestral of the two, using fuller, more sweeping arrangements. There is also more use of ambient sound effects. It's also, in spite of the darker cover art, the brighter and more optimistic of the two. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this evokes in me the beauty I might imagine in Heaven. Yes, there are some dark places here, but overall, this is a very comforting work to listen to.

Probably PINK FLOYD's album Meddle is one of the best comparisons--especially to "Svefn-G-Englar", which seems to have been heavily influenced by "Echoes". Although "Svefn-G-Englar" is not an epic on the scale of "Echoes", it manages in its own way, the same kind of relaxed beauty found in the opening and closing sections of the PINK FLOYD song. The classic rock influences also show in SIGUR ROS' reliance on more traditional instruments rather than allowing it to be completely synth-driven. The Hammond organ is clearly audible in "Svefn-G-Englar", and the Rhodes electric piano is featured in "Hjartad hamast". Also, the haunting backdrop common to most SIGUR ROS songs is not created by a synth, but instead by an electric guitar played with a cello bow. JONSI's voice, rather than conveying any message, is an instrument in and of itself, even higher than RADIOHEAD's THOM YORKE, and even more melodic.

While it is all quite good, my absolute favorite tracks, without a doubt, are "Staralfur" and "Hjartad hamast". A gorgeous piano riff in "Staralfur" serves as the backdrop to a beautiful string section. This is the sort of work with which I would love to be greeted in Heaven--especially the final great orchestral solo. "Hjartad hamast" is a very interesting combination between a melancholy-seeming blues-influenced piece and a sequence so beautiful that it evokes a sense of flying. In light of that section, even the more brooding sections no longer seem so dark.

Other highlights include the percussion work on "Ny batteri" and the piano on "Vidrar vel til loftarasa", as well as its innovative orchestral outro. The last two tracks seem to move in a less orchestral direction that foreshadows the work on ( ). "Avalon" even takes on a somewhat minimalist approach not unlike TALK TALK's later work. Lately, this album has even been a comfort in trying to deal with a recent loss. Others' perception of the music may differ, but the overall effect of this album is to uplift. While I respect both Agaetis Byrjun and ( ), I must say that this is the strongest of the two.

Review by Chris S
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This is a very good album coming from a band who decided to enforce their own originality...Icelandic in nature and some fine vocal/musical interlay. This in my opinion is their strongest offering, the other albums being somewhat self indulgent. There have been comparisons made between this band and Pink Floyd, especially this album. I have to counter that by saying that there is nothing comparable to Floyd here from Sigur Ros. Give them credit for originality sure but apart from the psychedelic era of PF, PF never went errant in the form of pompous meanderings where Sigur Ros do occassionally. Worth checking out though especially this album.
Review by Eetu Pellonpaa
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Yes, this is a very good, laidback chiller album, with moody, emotional music. You can survive through it even in a bad hangover, listen it on the background or meditate through it intensively. The rhythms are slow and soft, and the instruments have smooth, pleasant tones. The mishmash language they sing is also soft and beautiful, so it doesn't matter even if you wouldn't understand the lyrics. Vocals work as an instrument, in the way I understand Jon Anderson tried to do in the golden days of Yes. Buy it, and try even if you're not into prog music!
Review by frenchie
5 stars This album will go really well with "( )". They are both great albums to own and they go together well. I feel like "( )" is sigur ros' sad, downer album, whilst this album is the uplifting happy album. Depending on what mood your after, they will both serve you well.

The intro on this album is a little sum up of sounds on the way. The second track is an odd one, althought it doesn't progress much and lasts 10 minutes i find it very listenable. It has a captivating spacey atmosphere and the vocals are positive and lifting. The track ends with a cool dark side of the moon-esque heartbeat that adds to the atmosphere of this piece. This piece is very warm and fills you with a good feeling. It may require patience as it is a bit long winding but this is one of my fave pieces by Sigur Ros.

Track 3 however, is definitely my favourite of all their tracks. It has an amazing orchestral score to it and the vocals are at their best. When the violins and vocals pick up it sounds amazing! A truely spectacular moment, followed by a really amazing guitar to link it together as it then starts to build back up. A brilliant piece of music.

This album has some looming basslines and the guitars are played with violin bows to get that effect. The sound they get is very reminiscent of "The Dead Flag Blues", from Godspeed You Black Emperor's debut, this is most noticable on the second track of this album.

Other amazing tracks are the title track which offers some amazing melodic string work and atmosphere. "Bamm Bamm Bamm" is very different to the others, adding more upbeat work to the album. tracks 4 and 5 deserve honourable mentions as these continue to build up one incredible album. "Agaetis Byrjun" is definetly in my list of landmark post rock albums along with "F#A#oo" and "Skinny Fists" by GYBE!, as well as "Born Into Trouble..." by A SILVER MT ZION.

The whole album follows a warm and spectacular journey with great vocal and orchestral work. It doesn't matter if you can't understand Hopelandic because the tones of the vocals themselves is what make their music work best. I highly recommend any fans of post rock, experimental music to check these out. If you aren't into this genre its still worth getting as it would appeal to fans of symphonic rock. This will leave any listener with a warm feeling as it really is something incredibly unique and touching. Try and get your hands on this album and its follow up album, "( )".

Review by Trotsky
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Sigur Rós plays a strange sort of psychedelic New Age-y minimalist rock that was a natural extension of some of the more creative moments of the mid-90s Britpop "movement". Obviously influenced by Pink Floyd, they cover the same ground (at various different times) as contemporaries Air, Portishead, The Verve and Spiritualized, although Sigur Rós is probably the least song based of the lot.

Most of the tracks on Ágætis Byrjun run from between 7-10 mins, and there is a strong, sweeping feel that can overwhelm you when you are listening to the album. The lack of vocal hooks and luxuries such as instrumental solos may make it hard to differentiate between the various tracks, and the fact that Jónsi Birgisson's high-pitched vocals are sung in a made-up language called Hopelandish (not that I think singing in their native Icelandic would have made Sigur Rós any more accessible) doesn't help either. But somehow it doesn't seem to matter.

Ágætis Byrjun is widely considered to be the best album Sigur Rós made and there are lots of beautiful melancholy moments lurking around this seamless work. I particularly like the string-heavy Starálfur and the strangely euphoric Olsen Olsen (replete with choir!) as well as the darker pieces Flugufrelsarinn and Hjartaõ Hamast (Bamm Bamm Bamm) , but none of the tracks are weak. Still, I must say that while I know many people who love this album, Sigur Rós' music isn't exactly what I look for in a prog band. ... 62% on the MPV scale

Review by Yanns
5 stars As I listened to this album more and more, I came to the undeniable conclusion that this is a five-star masterpiece album. From the first time I put on Svefn-g-englar, I knew this was certainly something different. A parallel I made at first was to Pink Floyd, but on further listening, I realized that they couldn't be compared. Sigur Ros has their completely own, unique style, and comparing them to any group, any person, is unjust. This album is something that must be heard to be believed, because words do not express the feelings one derives from merely listening to this album.

Beauty like you've never imagined before. However, it isn't beauty like you may hear in songs like I Talk To The Wind or Epitaph from King Crimson's debut. Its beauty in a completely different way, while delivering just as strong a punch.

From the moment I put on the first song (just accepted as (Intro), seeing as it wasn't given a name), I fade into another world. It succeeds in doing an extraordinary thing, something that not many pieces of music can do. It makes me forget everything. It takes me somewhere else. Somewhere where things of this material world do not matter. It's a wonderful place.

Some people have said that this would be the kind of music played as they marched into the Gates of Heaven. Definitely understandable. Listenings to this album will show you this. Again, I can not put into words properly everything I want to express.

Also, this band is classified under Experimental/Post-rock. I do not disagree with this categorization. However, this might put an idea in your head about the band. You might be comparing them to bands like Radiohead and The Mars Volta, which are also in this genre. Forget all comparisons, forget everything you may be thinking. This is completely different from those bands. Completely. I do not argue the classification because there is no other place to put them. They are truly experimental, seeing as no one else has ever done or achieved anything like this before.

Some standouts: Every song. Ha, yes, I'm serious. I can't single out a song or two or three as weaker than the rest. I could name every song and rant and rave about it for extremely long periods of time. Simply put, this album is an 70 minutes of incredible, shattering the rules of music, much like The Mars Volta has done, only in a much, much different way.

I challenge every single person reading this, male or female, black or white, young or old, stupid or smart, to give this album a listen. And then another. And another. And then see what you think. I have no remorse, doubt, or problems with giving this a masterpiece rating. 5/5.

Review by Neu!mann
4 stars Judging from the number of reviews posted about them here at Prog Archives, I'm obviously not the first person to fall so completely under the spell of this otherworldly Icelandic band. And there are plenty of other, already well-established fans who could tell you a lot more about them than I ever could. A week ago I barely recognized their name; as recent as yesterday I had not heard a note of their music. But now I offer, for your amusement and/or instruction, my first impression of SIGUR RÓS, gleaned from one initial spin of what looks like their most popular album to date.

I still can't tell you a thing about the track list or personnel: the CD I borrowed (from a very forward-thinking but typically cash-challenged Erie County library system) is missing its booklet. So all I have to work with is a Xerox reproduction of the spooky cover art (the embryonic winged infant looking like a cross between Stanley Kubrick's 2001 star child and the twisted thing in David Lynch's "Eraserhead"), and of course the music itself.

And what music it is. Brooding, melancholy post-rock dirges, with sheets of processed guitars churning like slowly cooling magma underneath a lot of subtle, ENO-influenced ambient synthesizers, and with a restrained but powerful rhythm section adding a measure of heat to the sub-arctic chill of each song.

One beautiful moment follows another for a generous 71+ minutes, and the whole thing moves like a slowly advancing glacier of psychedelic Scandinavian sound, saturated in reverb and conjuring images of Iceland's stark, uncompromising natural beauty. That feeling is only enhanced by the breathy, evocative vocals, to the groups lasting credit sung in their native tongue (no Anglo-American cultural imperialism at work here).

The extensive studio manipulation is reminiscent of RADIOHEAD's weirder sonic excursions off the mainstream rock 'n' roll path. The opening introduction (which I now understand is simply titled "Intro") in particular is a pitch-perfect, affectionate plagiarism of "Everything in its Right Place", backwards singing and all. Elsewhere the album hints at the stately Prog adagios of Landberk circa "Indian Summer" (I'm thinking here mostly of the simple but always elegant drum work), and at darker local influences too obscure to identify.

The music demands a patient set of ears, and works best when listened to in its entirety, late at night alone in a darkened room (headphones are optional).

It's always a thrill to discover uncharted musical territory for the first time. And after only one brief exposure to a single album, I'm ready to pack my bags and begin exploring the SIGUR RÓS sound more deeply.

Review by Carl floyd fan
4 stars Another incredible album by the folks known as sigur ros. This is a more upbeat album than ( ) and again, largely instrumental. I have the same complaint as ( ), the buildups last a little to long, tending to transition to nothing in particular at times and the climaxs (this is post rock after all) are short lived. The vocals are just as lovely as ever and a made up language. What they mean we may never know but hopefully they aren't evil. The musicain ship is top notch and quite unique as well. No one else sounds like these guys...or should I say, Sigur ros doesn't sound like anything that came before them in the world of music. A 4.25 effort.
Review by GoldenSpiral
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars After careful consideration, this album is definitely recommended to all progressive rock fans. Sigur Ros are the poster boys for the post-rock movement, and this album is their crowning acheivement. The music is more diverse than their previeous efforts, but still true to their sound. What sound is that? If I were to review this album in one word, that word would be "lush". Thick orchestration, diverse instrumentation, plenty of atmosphere, an overall very rich sound. Don't look for anything technical, but musical innovation abounds. Also, the vocals come from one of the most unique singers in modern rock music. His voice is perfectly emotive, so much so that you need not understand a single word of icelandic to know exactly what he's trying to get across. While the record is ambient in nature, the melodies are so beautiful and strong that they still manage to hold attention firmly. At times it is difficult to believe that the sounds are being made by a rock band. The stand-out tracks on this album include #3, 4, and 8 (I'll refrain from trying to type out the actual icelandic titles). So, this is without doubt for me a five star album that should be experienced by one and all, regardless of their pre-disposition toward post-rock or ambient music.
Review by Zitro
4 stars 4.1 Stars: Creative minimalist beauty

This is an album very difficult to describe as I don't think I've ever heard anything like this. This album is ambiental and minimalist (as in using repetition) and barely rocks. You might call it new age, but it is different from that. One example is the lack of synthesizers. Here, the music is played by symphonies, extremely reverbed electric guitars played with a cello bow, and standard rock instruments. The tone of the music is generally bright and happy and can really uplift you even if you don't understand the icelandic lyrics. Just like the way Radiohead depresses you instrumentally with "Kid A", this album instrumentally lifts you up because the band knows how to make the music emotional.

The reverbed guitar is introduced in the first epic "Stefn-g-englar" and is used in many other songs such as "Hjartao". The vocals are very unusual and makes me wonder if the singer is a man or a woman. They certainly work in this album for me, though I might understand if someone does not like the vocalist since some of the vocal approaches can be a bit overwhelming and repetitive ("It's Youuuu" in Svefn-g-Englar).

I don't think the intro has much to offer besides a preparation of the next track called Svefn-g-Englar which is a song that represents the band's sound. All of the elements discussed above are present here, though the song ends into an surprisingly unecessary electronica beat. Star Alfur is the happiest song of the album and also probably the band's most accessible track in their career. It features gorgeous orchestration that fits perfectly into the poppy sound of the song. There are also some unusual elements such as a distorted acoustic guitar (?), and stop-start part that introduces the initial melody with symphonic percussion. Due to the genius use of the Orchestra and the brilliant melodies, I think that this is one of the most beautiful modern songs I've ever heard. Flugufrelsarinn uses the laid back atmosphere and soaring reverb guitars from "Svefn", though I believe this song is stronger because it avoids having an irritating vocal hook like Stefn's "It's you" and is not as repetitive. Ný Battery starts as a subdued horn arrangement and mysterious bass line until it crushes you with a simplistic, yet perfect drum line. Hjartaõ Hamast is the next main highlight of the album: an uptempo song driven by a masterful ascending riff. The choruses of this song are extremely powerful with the soaring guitars going louder than metal. Viõrar Vel Til Loftárasa uses a great melancholic piano melody and builds from there. A very minimalist piece, but very effective overall and one of the highlights of the album. Olsen Olsen begins as a laidback song and ends with bombast and euphoria. Ágaetis Byrjun is probably the least memorable track of the album, yet still stands as a good song with excellent piano work. Avalon is the outro, just like the intro serves as the beginning of the album.

I highly recommend this album as it is something very different. Voted as the best album from Iceland in the 20th century, there is a lot to like about this album.

Highlights: Star Alfur, Hjartao Hamast, Viorar Vel Til Loftarasa.

Let Downs: None, though the music after Viorar Vel is not as strong as the rest

My Grade : B

Review by Australian
4 stars "Ágætis Byrjun"is yet another otherworldly album from one of the leaders in Post-Rock. The feeling of otherworldliness is stronger here than in any other album from Sigur Rós, I guess its because the use of strings is more prominent in "Ágætis Byrjun" than any Sigur Rós album yet. The presence of the strings, guitar played with a cello bow as well as the misty keyboard sounds and twinkling percussion here and there conjures a floating, beautiful atmosphere which few bands can produce. It is for this reason that "Ágætis Byrjun"is such an efficient, moving album and to this day remains Sigur Rós' defining album.

The musical feeling of "Ágætis Byrjun "captures the spirit of some of "Tales From Topographic Ocean" (by Yes) for me, while not being quite as good. Also the fact that all the vocals on "Ágætis Byrjun" are sung in Icelandic adds another element of otherworldliness, as I am left wondering what the lyrics mean. The vocals are usually repetitious with the same words being repeated several times, with instrumental interludes. Basically all of Sigur Rós' stuff follows this pattern; I have to admit that it does sometimes get rather annoying.

The most rewarding material on "Ágætis Byrjun" is "Starálfur","Svefn-G- Engla"r, "Ágaetis Byrjun","Avalon" all of which display the same characterizes. That said the true stand out for me is "Starálfur"which was used in Wes Andersons' fantastic film "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" at the climax of the movie. None of the material on "Ágætis Byrjun"is disappointing, what I love about this band is that when they release an album, everything on it is at a high standard. Even 'Von' wasn't too bad, it just didn't have as full a sound as following albums and the compositions where a bit weak.

"Ágætis Byrjun"has been voted the best 20th cent. album by an Icelandic band, that is a great achievement. I don't know much about Icelandic music but I do know that "Ágætis Byrjun"is some good quality music. The album reached a top charting of 52 in the UK (far below Takk) and set the scene for the band's following works. From the Thunderous soundscapes to the mellow string instrumental sections "Ágætis Byrjun" is highly enjoyable. The one thing I don't understand are the angel-fetus creatures on the cover and in the CD booklet, what are they supposed to be?

"Ágætis Byrjun" is a very rewarding album if listened to under proper circumstances. One day when your alone, and you have a good pair of headphones handy take a good long listen and soak in all the goodness of this album. A very good album and truly deserving to be considered among the most amazing Post-Rock albums ever. I'd recommend "Ágætis Byrjun"to any fan of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, or anything similar. I'd also like to say to everyone that "Ágætis Byrjun" is a very interesting listen and.come on, try something different.

Review by Mellotron Storm
4 stars The title of this album apparently means "A good beginning" and this really is the record that made them famous. So much emotion and atmosphere on this recording. Very powerful.

"Intro" is spacey with vocals then it turns very atmospheric and blends into "Svefn-G-Englar" where the sound is so mighty that it almost vibrates. Guitar 1 1/2 minutes in is monstrous. Vocals after 2 minutes. Drums are more prominant after 6 minutes then violin. "Staralfur" opens softly and builds with piano and strings. Vocals before a minute. Pure emotion 2 1/2 minutes in. Some brief acoustic guitar and reserved vocals then back to previous melody. Classical music 4 1/2 minutes in. Themes are repeated and then it gets experimental after 6 minutes. "Flugu Frelsarinn" sounds so good with that powerful undercurrent. Vocals 1 1/2 minutes in. Great track ! "Ny Batteri" is minimalistic with horns coming and going until we start to get a melody around 2 minutes.Vocals follow.This is very laid back but I really like it. Lots of atmosphere. It kicks into a higher gear before 5 1/2 minutes with drums. Horns are back a minute later as it calms back down.

"Hjartao Hamast (Bamm Bamm Bamm)" opens with piano and harmonica. This is SIGUR ROS ? A fuller sound before a minute followed by vocals. Some back up vocals on this one as well. An interesting song. I like the experimentation 6 1/2 minutes in to the end. "Viorar Vel Til Loftarasa" opens with feedback and other sounds. Piano after a minute and it builds. Strings after 3 minutes and it gets spacey. Vocals 5 minutes in. It settles after 7 minutes then builds to an emotional and powerful soundscape 8 minutes in. Some dissonance late. "Olsen Olsen" opens with vocal melodies that sound far off. Drums and a fairly deep soundscape take over. Vocal melodies are back. This all sounds so amazing. So rich and full. "Agaetis Byrjun" is uplifting to start. Vocals before 1 1/2 minutes. "Avalon" is 4 minutes of spacey sounds.

I personally feel that SIGUR ROS improved upon this album with "( )" and "Takk" but this is the foundation, and many feel this is their best. It's hard to argue against that.

Review by TRoTZ
5 stars Considered, by many rock reviews, as one of the most acomplished rock albuns ever made, i can not agree more with it. The album is completely different, taking the listener to new boundaries, transporting to the dreamy-pop atmospheres of nowhere, or perhaps, to the freezing celestial nature of Iceland, home country of the band.

This could be made possible by the extreme intelligence of the band on using their respective instruments. The combination of Kjartan Sveinsson inspirate dreamy creations, with the Jónsi Birgisson cutting-tearing guitar, not forgetting to mention the celestial aspect of his voice, and the surreal bass lines of Georg Holm, allied with varied orchestration all through the album, from violins, percussion to saxo, all of them seem to be made to elicit the complete magnitude of the magical and surreal aspects of music. Here and there, if we want to be perfectionists, whe can find ocasionally some immature studio arrangements, but not enough to touch the symphonic magnificiency of the album. Particularly high point of this album is the musical moment from track 6 to 8, with no weak points, showing an almost "above-human" sensibility.

When everyone questions where rock can take us more, if there is much more space to discover, Sigur Rós proved everyone with this album that new boundaries for rock are possible, even more heartbreaking and intriguing. Evolution is at the corner, rock is not dead!

Review by James Lee
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Do you remember your first Sigur Ros experience? I do. It was characterized by thoughts such as "get to the point" and "her voice is kinda annoying after awhile".

I am so happy I kept at it. My last few years with Ágætis Byrjun have been bliss. I get shivers from the first few harmonized vocals of "Intro" and the wonder and respect continue through the remainder (though I must admit that the slowed-down rehash that is "Avalon" is more or less optional).

If you have no experience with Sigur Rod, or Post-Rock in general, expect atmospheric washes of organic sounds at a deliberate (one might say glacial) pace. However, background music it ain't; intensely emotional, the depth of the songs are belied by an apparent simplicity and restraint. While you don't get the socio-political sound sculptures of GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR and A SILVER MT. ZION, or the (relatively) heavier rock buildups common to MOGWAI, you do get a more defined and personal sound identity. The Hopelandish lyrics place the vocals into almost intrumental space; translations add but a fractional enhancement to the full emotive capacity. The near redundancy of the refrain to "Svefn-G-Englar" completely fails to grate like it used to, and I'm even almost over the embarrasment of discovering that the singer is male.

Ágætis Byrjun is by no means all airy-fairy sweetness and light; though the overall feel is one of floaty serenity, there's an undercurrent of urgent intensity that especially comes to the fore in "Ny Batteri" and "Hjartaõ Hamast". At times, Jonsi seems on the verge of despair; at others, such as "Flugufrelsarinn", there's a creeping, insidious quality that appeals as much to my gothic sensibilities as do the more common hints of mournfulness or melancholy. It is precisely complexities and contrasts of this nature that keep Sigur Ros from being lumped in with banal New Age or Head Music comparisons.

Ágætis Byrjun features more symphonic texture than other Sigur Ros releases, which leads to such delights as the soaring, heartbreaking "Starálfur" and the triumphant finale to "Olsen Olsen", which adds a hint of playfulness in its brassy Nordic fanfare. Still, much of the album is built around the heavily reverbed bowed guitar and breathy, compressed vocals of Jónsi. If these don't do it for you, none of the other (slightly more experimental) albums by the band are going to win you over either.

Review by OpethGuitarist
4 stars Emo is not emotional. This is.

In the band's finest offering so far, Agaetis Byrjun is a compelling album with soft textures, atmospheric qualities, and despite its tortoise like speed, proves that slow and steady really does win the race. This is an astounding achievement in the field, and despite the lack of followable vocals, proves that the bands ability to craft a variety of gripping soundscapes makes it a leader of the genre.

What makes the music so great is its ability to capture the human spirit, the emotions deep within us, all while using a minimalistic approach is quite inspiring. There is actually very little "rock" here. Do not expect any blues-based riffage or awe-inspiring melodies. The keys here are texture and atmosphere, timbre, to create the sound and the experience. Sigur Ros's Agaetis Byrjun is as much a listening experience as it is a visual one. The star track for me is the 2nd one, which I would not even attempt to pronounce for fear of humility.

Many would like to claim the prog has lost its passion, that its soulless technical music. I would like to offer this piece as a counter to these claims, that prog has never been about technical virtuosity, though it has always been more present in prog than in contemporary rock. Prog is about substance over style, about art over image. Agaetis Byrjun is a triumph in this regard.

Review by obiter
5 stars Etheral

A truly great ambient experimental work which is balanced and beautifully paced. A superb and unique sound with a fabulous mix of distinctive vocal, tempered mellow bass, brushes on the drums, and synth with plenty of strings.

Balancing and softening the experimental aspect to the music is the retention of familiar rhythms through subtle bass (Ny Batteri) and drums (Flugufrelsarinn) which serve to ease the listener gently into the amazing world of Sigur Ros.

There are suprises: hjartad hamast has a simple repeating bass riff over which there is a doleful whispered vocal. Vidrar returns to the bleak ambient sound before keyboard and bass combine in a pleasant romantic vein backed by strings.

it's hard to imagine my collection without this album: thoroughly recommended for all.

Review by Prog Leviathan
5 stars Incomparably beautiful music from what is, in my opinion, the finest post-rock band around, featuring a lush symphony of unique, elegant sounds which spoil the senses in a one-of-a-kind experience. There is so much to enjoy-- much of which will no doubt vary from person to person, given the intimate nature of the music-- that it belabors the point of describing it, suffice to say that each listener will be transported to an airy, powerful, sometimes dark and brooding world of their mind's own fabrication.

The ambiguity, both in gender and in meaning, of Birgisson's seraphic voice is utterly memorable, as is the unique sound of his guitar. There is nothing quite like the textures and emotive power of Sigor Ros' music, and Agaetis Byrjun is the perfect place to discover them.

Songwriting: 4 Instrumental Performances: 4 Lyrics/Vocals: 5 Style/Emotion/Replay: 5

Review by Prog-jester
2 stars Call it a blasphemy, a blindness or whatever, but I see little difference between SR's debut and AB. They even follow the same scheme (intro ambiences for 15 minutes or so - couple of songs - long ambience in the middle - couple of songs again, including the eponymous one). Yep, they've matured in songwriting. Yeah, there are some nice melodies and enjoyable tunes, but for me AB says nothing really - apart from almost excellent ( ) and enjoyable ''Takk...''. But hey, could the eponymous track be a bit shorter? I'd definitely enjoy it better. Anyway, while ''Von'' represented dark side of SR and had 1.5 from me (rounded to 2), AB gets 2.5 for its lighter side ...but again rounded to 2 due to massive disappointment - I thought this is really a Masterpiece, but I got the same stuff again, a little re-worked and improved though. If you're a SR newbie, begin with ''Heima'' DVD or ( ) to know SR from a better side
Review by Dim
3 stars Sigur ros is one of those bands that sadly falls into the category of great band, but doesnt have the masterpiece album, like Isis, or porcupine tree. Obviously, I'm in the minority of of people who think that, considering the album is the #1 album of our post rock/math rock sub genre. My belief on the idea behind the music of Sigur ros is that they take the imperfections of the many instruments they play, and the falsetto Icelandic vocals, and make it into something beautiful, and they do an extraordinary job of it. The music of sigur ros is, and will always be some of the most beautiful of our time, this album is no exception, but I feel that unlike ( ), They put the most beautiful/easy listening songs at the front, and the more experimental stuff towards the end, on a 70 minute long album, that is almost impossible to make a five star album with.

With the famed Svefn-G-Englar opening after the intro song, you are set up for quite the treat. With it's mesmerizing e-bowed guitar and almost anthemic chorus, the song could almost be considered an epic. Don't be fooled though, that's not what the albums comprised of, soon to come, are beautiful string songs, up toned horn songs, and even quirky bluesy songs. Through all this though, the album is dominated by a melancholic feel, and a sleepy atmosphere. At first listen, the album is quite a chore to get through completely without either falling asleep, or just needing to break up the monotony with another disc. It will break into you over time though, even if it doesnt come full circle, songs like staralfur and Olsen Olsen are sure to be absolute musts in your post rock archiving.

I really do enjoy this album, but like I said, it's song placement led to it's three star making. The last four songs all carry the same mood/atmosphere, and song structure, though they are great songs, placing them all in one big clump in an hour+ album is not the way to make THE post rock masterpiece. If you are more of a song person rather than album person, you will love this album, no questions asked, every song has one part that makes you lean back open jawed in amazement. I'm an album person though, and as far as album making goes, execution of song place is key, Aegetis Byrjurn didn't quite execute.

3 stars

Review by DamoXt7942
FORUM & SITE ADMIN GROUP Avant/Cross/Neo/Post Teams
4 stars As I should say in a tiny phrase, Really incomplete wave and atmosphere of music. At first the sleeve of the album knocked me out (to tell the truth, this is the second album that I saw the front face and at once bought without listening to the content). The monotone sleeve gave me massive imagination and feeling...And once I put this album on the turntable, it made me feel like turning together. What feeling!? Mysterious transmigration of the soul and body The album always brings me such a feeling. The atmosphere is fuzzy and floating, and caught me tightly and rigidly. This unexperienced sound and beat, after the play finished, might let us weep calmly, and might let us replay the album again and again...
Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "Ágætis byrjun" (English translation "A good beginning") is the 2nd full-length studio album by Islandic post-rock act Sigur Rós (not counting the remix album "Von Brigði" (1998)). The album was released through Icelandic label Smekkleysa in June 1999, and became a highly successful release in their native country, leading to the album being picked up by independent English label FatCat Records for an international release in 2000.

Sigur Rós 1997 debut album "Von" is an ambient affair, featuring uncompromising and not particularly accessible post-rock, but Sigur Rós opted for a more compromising approach on "Ágætis byrjun". The music is still highly ambient, ethereal, and dreaming in nature, but it also features both vocal and instrumental melodic hooks, making it a much more asseccible release than its direct predecessor.

Drums/percussion are used sparingly (and when they appear they are typically subdued and placed low in the mix, although there are a few exceptions with louder more dominant drumming), and much of the music is build around lead vocalist Jónsi Birgisson's emotional vocal delivery (both tenor and high pitched falsetto) and his cello-bowed guitarwork and occassional use of orchestration (mostly strings, but also the occassional use of horns). bass and keyboards are also instruments used on the album to create the ambient soundscape. The lyrics are in Icelandic (except for the lyrics on "Olsen Olsen", which are performed in a made-up language), but the deep melancholy and burning passion are impossible not to be affected by, regardless if you understand what is being sung.

I hear many different influences on "Ágætis byrjun", but I´d mention artists like Radiohead, Talk Talk (listen to the first couple of minutes of "Ný Batterí" to hear that reference), The Cure (listen to the opening section of "Olsen Olsen") as some of them. A couple of times I was also strongly reminded of Robert Wyatt.

"Ágætis byrjun" features a gorgeous, detailed, and very well sounding production job, courtesy of Ken Thomas, who were introduced to Sigur Rós through his previous work with The Sugarcubes. Kudos must be given to Thomas for creating such a perfect sounding environment for Sigur Rós music to shine to maximum effect. Upon conclusion "Ágætis byrjun" is a giant step up on quality and accessibility compared to "Von" (1997) and it deservedly put Sigur Rós on the international music map and ignited their career. A 4.5 star (90%) rating is deserved.

Review by Rune2000
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars I never thought that post rock from Iceland could be this uplifting while still maintaining a decent level of challenge! Ágætis Byrjun features many stand-out compositions like the wonderful 10-minute chill-out anthem Svefn-G-Englar and my personal favorite Ný Batterí which, just like UMUR pointed out in his review, starts off with a definite nod at Talk Talk's two final studio albums.

The best thing about this release is that its incredibly smooth and by that I mean it offers a great feeling of the overall theme without a single lesser or dull moment. This 70+ minute album of music just flows by and it's easy to get absorbed by the who experience.

If you haven't heard it then please do because it's not often you'll get to to hear such a solid album! My only possible reason for not going all the way and rating it as essential is quite personal. Simply put it's not an album I can pick on just any day and listen to without being in a certain relaxed state of mind to begin with. So Ágætis Byrjun gets a definite 4+ from me and I hope to hear more from this exciting band!

***** star songs: Svefn-G-Englar (10:04) Starálfur (6:46) Ný Batterí (8:10) Olsen Olsen (8:03)

**** star songs: Intro (1:36) Flugufrelsarinn (7:48) Hjartaõ Hamast (7:10) Viõrar Vel Til Loftárasa (10:17) Ágaetis Byrjun (7:55) Avalon (4:02)

Review by EatThatPhonebook
5 stars There were moments in this album that made me wanna cry. Albums this original and this moving are rare nowadays. I'm not too familiar with post rock, but what I've heard so far was fantastic. AB brings you into another world, a beautiful and peaceful one(not many dark or creepy moments here), an incredibly light and ethereal album that makes the listener feel like he has just reached the gates of heaven. Therefore a happy album, different from the creepy, tense and anxious atmospheres that reign in Godspeed you! Black emperors album " F#A# infinity". I could easily say that this is one of the best albums of the nineties and one of the very best of the whole post rock genre. An essential masterpiece for anybody who loves music.
Review by snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Without doubt Sigur Ros best work. Ambient aerial liquid down tempo sound with deep roots in Talk Talk later experimental albums. Great female vocals, with some The Cranberries echoes in its. Absolute Nordic atmosphere, only the best bands from area can build such authentically (not only in post-rock, same in Nordic jazz and fusion). Long compositions, some folksy flavours and plenty of electronics which never sound as synthetic electronics.

Too different album from what we expect from great prog albums. Easy accessible, but not always truly accepted. Simple and important as cornerstone of new sound. Post rock was exploded and burned very fast, but till now myriads of post-rock bands sound "as Sigur Ros".

And I prefer such, Nordic post-rock gene against loudly twin-guitars driven American one. Because there in Sigur Ros music you can hear all spacey Pink Floyd legacy and ambient Fripp legacy, and Nordic ECM minimalistic aerial jazz of Jan Garbarek. In fact, this Sigur Ros album is their concentrated sound which will stay in history as Nordic post-rock example. And it's not such a small thing...

Near all these importance and influences, this album is real pleasant to listen. Dreamy atmospheric one - listen it, and if you're not a big fan of post-rock, you just will need a very few more albums to know what post rock is all about.

My rating is 4+

Review by BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars I can think of very few albums in the last 20 years which feel and sound as if they come out of nowhere--are unlike anything else that came before them--are so unique that they stand out so starkly from the rest of music of the day. KARDA ESTRA's Eve, THE MARS VOLTA's De-loused in the Comatorium, ULVER's Shadows of the Sun, and MAUDLIN OF THE WELL's Part the Second are a few of the others that come to mind. Several songs on this 1999 album are to this date among the best ever made in the Post Rock/Math Rock sub-genre: "Svefn-G-Englar" (10:06) (19/20), "Flugufrelsarinn" (9/10) and "Starálfur" (6:46) (9/10). "Ny Batteri" (8:12) (15/15) still never fails to leave me stunned/in awe every time I hear it.

1. "Intro" (1:36) let's you know you're in for something new and unusual. Kind of psychedelia-BEATLES-esque (4.5/5)

2. "Svefn-g-englar (Sleep(walk)ing Angels)" (10:04) So simple. So amazing. Organ, bowed electric guitar, brushed snare drum, and Jón's unusual falsetto. (19.5/20)

3. "Starálfur (Staring Elf)" (6:46) strings and keys open this classic. Jónsi uses a lower octave range for his voice. He sounds like a normal kid. It sounds like a song of reverence or worship. Awesome arrangement. (13.5/15)

4. "Flugufrelsarinn (The Fly's Savior)" (7:48) back to the sounds and styles of song #2 with a little more emphasis on moving and screeching of the "whale" guitar. Again, Jónsi chooses a different singing style--more mid-range--deeper and fuller voice. I like the bass and organ lines on this one. (13.5/15)

5. "Ný Batterí (New Batteries)" (8:10) simple one of the most unusual and powerful songs of my life. It gets me every time, from start to deep brass to crashing drums to finish. (15/15)

6. "Hjartað Hamast (bamm Bamm Bamm) (The Heart Pounds (boom boom boom))" (7:10) has a little DOORS/classic rock feel to it with the slow-bouncing organ chords--but then Jónsi's guitar enters to tell us otherwise. The vocal section truly harkens back to the psychedelic blues-jazz of the late 1960s. The chorus section sound more BEATLES-like--though more psychedelic than John, Paul, George, and Ringo ever went. Love the prominent strings in the second half and final section. (13.75/15)

7. "Viðrar Vel Til Loftárasa (Good Weather for an Airstrike)" (10:17) the title tells you exactly what it feels like you're hearing in the opening minute. Piano and deep bass eventually take over playing a pleasant, almost familiar ELTON JOHN-like piece--even when the full strings join in. Pedal lap/slide guitar joins in. Jónsi doesn't start singing till half way into the song--and then it feels/sounds secondary, extemporaneous, almost stream-of-conscious/demo-like. Slows to a standstill for just a few piano notes/chords before the whole "orchestra" unleashes it's crescendo of sound. Sounds like famous end of the HOLLIES song ("All I Need Is the Air that I Breathe"). Spectacular! Beautiful! One of the best endings I've ever heard of any song! Too bad the rest of the song didn't quite live up to that standard. (18.5/20)

8. "Olsen Olsen" (8:03) rolling bass and slow drum beat provide background for Jónsi's far-in-the-background falsetto vocals for the first two minutes. Strings join in in the fifth minute with male choral vocalise. The first and only weak song on the album. (12/15)

9. "Ágætis Byrjun (A Good Beginning)" (7:55) bass, slow drums, and piano slowly open this one before electric piano gently solos over the top. At 1:20 electric piano stops as Jónsi's high pitched voice enters (up front) singing with those long, sustained vowels. A second, higher octave piano arpeggio is added between the first and second verses and continues throughout. Electric piano (glockenspiel) arpeggio is added after the second verse. By now Jónsi is using a broader range of octaves. Okay song. Might mean more if I knew the lyrics. (12.5/15)

10. "Avalon" (4:02) opens with low end electronica filling the sonic field. Pitch-mobile "horns" join in and take over during third and fourth minutes. Great ending to a great album. (9/10)

Total Time: 71:51

A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music and a genre-defining album and gut-wrenching listening experience (especially the flawless first half).

Review by zravkapt
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars The second album from this Icelandic band is one of the more popular post-rock albums. Next to Mogwai and GYBE, Sigur Ros are probably the most influential post-rock group. They sing in their own made up language called Hopelandic. I don't see what the point is as most non- Scandinavians probably think they are singing in Icelandic anyway. The vocals generally sound like some kind of Bjork/Thom Yorke hybrid. I can hear influence from 1990s alternative rock on this album. I haven't heard the debut yet but those influences are supposed to be even greater there. The songs are generally long and don't change much throughout their duration. Although this is a band with typical instrumentation, the presence of string and wind instruments seems to stand out a lot of the time.

The album starts with a spacey intro with lots of backwards effects. This leads directly into "Svefn-G-Englar." I guess you could desribe this as ambient-rock. I like the change after 6 minutes, very Floyd sounding. "Staralfur" sounds influential to some later post-rock. The piano part sounds like U2 and also sounds similar to some of the piano playing you would hear later with bands like Muse and Coldplay. "Ny Batteri" begins with some random noises from different instruments. Gets more atmospheric and a bassline starts. Vocals join in. Halfway some awesome sounding drums come in.

"Hjartao Hamast" has an awesome electric piano sound (Wurlitzer?) and some harmonica. Jazzy drumming and some atmospheric, feedback-y guitar. Sounds like upright bass is being used. Some great ethereal singing here, backed by symphonic strings. "Viorar Vel Til Loftarasa" reminds me of Floyd's "Great Gig In The Sky," except there is strings instead and no female vocals. Gets more Radiohead sounding when the vocals enter. The ending reminds me of Sgt. Peppers. "Olsen Olsen" has a very post-rocky bassline that wouldn't sound out of place on a Mogwai or Tortoise album. More child-like ethereal vocals. Nice flute parts in this song. Some "la-la" harmony vocals. "Avalon" is a atmospheric, moody instrumental. Nice way to end the album.

I was never a big fan of this group, nothing they did ever really grabbed my attention. I haven't heard all of their albums, but I enjoy this one the most of the ones I have. I've heard better post- rock and I've heard worse post-rock. I would give this a 3.5 but can't push myself to give it 4 stars. 3 stars then.

Review by progrules
2 stars Sigur Ros' music has always been from another planet for me. And I'm afraid I'm a bit too much down to earth to understand or appreciate this kind of music. PA's guidelines expect us to remain civilized and respectful to the bands we review so I will do my very best here. Of course I could have stayed away from this band (or even the entire sub genre to be honest) but as I stated before I feel a prog reviewer has to reveal where he or she stands with all kinds of prog. So here we go.

The short intro has nothing to offer so that's already a downside. Svefn-G-Englar was the track that gave me the shivers (but not down the spine really) first time I listened to it. Besides the fact it sounds pretty creepy I also noticed it gets repetitive halfway. The song drags on for too long and the useless fade out last minute doesn't help either. After six minutes suddenly Radiohead comes barging in it seems but since I'm not a big fan of them either it's another minus for this first (real) song. Next up is the highly praised Starálfur and I have to say it's indeed one of the better on this supposed masterpiece. The vocals are less annoying and the melody is dreamy and somewhat captivating. But also here a strange ending obviously was needed to make the song more special. Flugulfrelsarinn goes on in the same vein but sounds a lot more boring to me. Ný Batterí opens with weakish flute and other wind instruments. Creepy keysounds give the impression the trip in outer space continues. I can't get used to the vocals either. Jonsi's voice is probably meant to mesmerize the fans but I'm afraid it doesn't work with me. Well, I will not go into the whole album. The tone is set, both by Sigur Ros as by me and I fear we will not be a match at any moment in time.

Leaves the final rating as a bit of a problem. Somehow I can hear this is a bit of a special album, that is if I try to be as open minded as possible. But this band's music is so extremely far away from my musical taste and interest that two stars is the very maximum I can do (1,5). Unfortunately I have many more albums from this band because they were for sale here at that moment so I don't exclude the possibility I will review more of their albums. I hope for the band I will not and actually I hope for myself the same ...

Review by Warthur
4 stars Sigur Ros' second proper album (not counting the preceding remix album) finds the band hitting on their distinctive style - a blend of majestic post-rock and ethereal vocals inspired by the gorgeous work of the Cocteau Twins, which comes together to create the cold, shimmering soundscapes collected on this release. Leaning more on synthesisers and crystal-clear studio production than Mogwai or Godspeed You Black Emperor, the other two giants of post-rock in 1999, the band create a sonic approach which at points could do with a little polishing but otherwise presents a marvellous musical voyage. Recommended for all post-rock fans and for anyone interested in beginning to explore the genre.
Review by AtomicCrimsonRush
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Mesmirising haunting ambience.

This album was always at the top of my lists of a must hear Sigur Ros due to the high regard among proggers and in particular the write up in a well known music magazine. I was also drawn in by the beautiful cover art of an angelic embryo floating in a neon glow. The iconic emblematic art signifies the floating music that Sigur Ros emanate. As the album begins one is immediately transported to the Icelandic chill of the frozen tundras. The incomprehensible language adds to the mystique. The music sounds cold and distant but somehow comforting. The album title "Ágætis Byrjun" means "A good beginning", which is apt as it was the beginning of greatness for the band that went on to become major successes worldwide.

It begins with an Intro of backwards strings and synths. Then is followed by 'Svefn-G-Englar', one of the more serene tracks; virtually a one note piece with very high register spaced out vocals, along streams of violins and patient measured percussion. The dreamy synths are meandering slowly and everything slows inexorably from this track on.

The highlight of the album that resonated with me from first listen is 'Staralfur' with gorgeous chimes, violins, and tearful vocals. The melancholy that is built with stirring violins and organic atmospherics is stunning. This is highly original music designed to touch the emptions at the deepest level. It ends with cold static leading to the next song.

'Flugufrelsarinn' is a haunting soundscape adorned with ominous strings and keys. The vocals are more middle register and no less wracked in emotional longing. 'Ny Batteri' has an Oriental feel, and features slow paced horns, a relaxed feel on keyboards, with some intense moments on loud drums, that are released into pleasant calm and almost silence. The vocals are ultra high falsetto and sung in a laid back but beautiful melody.

'Hjartao Hamast (Bamm Bamm Bamm)' utilises harmonica with piano embellishments and then the trademark vocals chime in. There is a degree of experimental work to generate unusual rather creepy atmospheres. 'Viorar Vel Til Loftarasa' begins as a distant zone of feedback loops and spacey atmospheres. The infinitely patient piano is heavenly and is joined by symphonic strings and some psychedelic vocals. It builds to a crescendo of interlacing violins and improvised melodies that overlap and become chaotic along with sporadic drumming.

'Olsen Olsen' begins with distant spacey vibes on vocals and some percussion, with a repeated guitar phrase and ambience at the low end flows along. The majestic ending with multitracked choirs and uplifting melodies is very unusual in comparison to the ambience previously.

'Agaetis Byrjun' has a powerful scape of uplifting beauty with piano augmentations and some scraping sounds with a moderate percussion. The chimes add to the dreaminess, and then high falsetto vocals mixed to the front glaze over the freezing landscape. 'Avalon' is a trip into space with keyboards and winding ribbons of cello sounds. The exploration of ambient textures is striking and it builds until some experimental twangs are heard to end the journey.

This is certainly one of the best Sigur Ros albums and may take some out of their comfort zone such is the starkness of the extreme ambient music. It takes a degree of patience to endure the full 70 minute journey but makes nice dreamy relaxing music at the end of a busy day to kick back to. It is a full immersive atmospheric journey that has the power to relax the senses. The band built up a very solid fanbase from this album to present day.

Review by LinusW
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The sounds of wind, water and light.

Having dipped my toes in the world of post-rock on numerous occasions with a feeling of nothing more than mild and polite admiration of both the musicianship and general ideas behind it, it is really rather nice that the first experience is the only one I keep coming back to. Sigur Ros and more specifically Ágaetis Byrjun: an album of meticulous, yet unkempt beauty that lifts you up and takes you away on a lovely journey for as long as you allow yourself to be spellbound by it.

Being rather eclectic if you delve a bit deeper into the songs, it is first and and foremost a supreme tour-de-force in building and cherishing atmosphere, regardless of the methods used to get there. Despite a lot of detail and at times rather busy arrangements, what stays with me is a sense of space and a lot of room to breathe. A cool and breezy morning by the sea. The air still fresh from the rain during the night, with glimpses of light appearing here and there under the sullen, departing clouds. One reviewer described it as Nordic. Being Nordic myself, I can somewhat relate to that, however unspecific it may be, even though I would describe the feel of the album as something more universal.

Slow-to-glacial, cottony rhythmic foundation serves as the bedrock upon which soothing, gently swirling layers of ambient, moody keys and guitar make up much of the main structures, quietly painting a shifting soundscape of pale, refreshing colours. These are in turn lovingly adorned by crisp, clear and often a bit sparse (almost percussive) melodic details from a distant guitar lick and the odd, high-pitched piano/e-piano notes. Undercurrents of bass, warm horns (or is it woodwind?) and other goodies quietly pass by beneath. And out of the blue a sudden or gradual build-up of forceful, noisy and ringing guitar shoots out of the layered soundscape like a mountaintop. Awe-inspiring.

Sometimes it turns into a busier, more orchestral affair, again with strings, horns and piano sticking out as more defining features, in often (tastefully) bombastic and uplifting crescendos, where the sounds of the instruments seems to rise upwards - blending the cheerfully melancholic with the painful smile - in a sort of dancing motion that I find damn near irresistible.

Then there is the more familiar rock structures that, while slowed-down and very atmospheric, brings up the drums and bass from the back of the mix adding points of anchorage and a bit of meat to the often floating, fluffy structures on Ágaetis Byrjun. There are a few instances where things even get a bit jazzy, rhythmically speaking. The wall-of-sound-using-especially-guitar-trick that seems to be a defining part of the sub-genre make some appearances now and then, but it is never allowed to dominate, but rather accentuates and act as a form of dynamic catalyst. To great effect, I might add.

Like a smoke or a mist over this invigorating mix floats vocalist Jónsi's mellow, otherworldly and very expressive vocals, further enhanced by a touch of effects. In spite of (or perhaps because of) never reaching for proper emotional extremes in his delivery, they blend exquisitely with the music and feel all the more meaningful and integrated with the album as a whole.

What still strikes me as the biggest feat here is how the album comes together as a harmonious whole. So rich and crafted and yet so free in form and structure, so naturally evolving... It is a very uplifting experience. Happy or cheerful are not the right words, as it is a bit too reflective and cerebral for those two. It has more to do with a strange sense of spiritual peace and purpose the album is simply overflowing with. A quiet, cleansing everyday joy that bubbles just beneath the surface.

Rooted in something familiar and earthbound, expressed through sounds that fly a lot higher.

4 stars.


Review by siLLy puPPy
4 stars After a mostly ambient debut release SIGUR ROS evolved their sound to incorporate aspects of dream pop, chamber music, orchestral classical and post-rock and in the process ended up creating a unique new type of music that would become a huge world-wide sensation. On "Ágætis Byrjun" we get a strange eerie, ethereal flow of sounds that really makes me think of the vast Icelandic landscapes with lifeless volcanic lava flows and drifting glaciers frosting the mountainous terrain. A music that originates from the steaming pots of boiling earthen cauldrons that flow on in a geological time frame and one that requires a calm and serene and even meditative state of mind to encompass.

This music isn't quite rock although it has aspects of post-rock. We don't get any seriously energetic drum playing until track five on 'N' batter' and it rarely shows up afterwards. It isn't quite classical, yet it is superbly orchestrated and violin, piano and bowed guitar playing are aplenty throughout the album. It feels closer to dream pop, but the compositions are too complex to be considered pop, so this could be in fact a new category of something like dream symphonic post-rock or something of the sort.

The lyrics are sung in both their native Icelandic as well as their artificial language Vonlenska which is similar to the nonsensical language used by the Cocteau Twins created to de-emphasize any lyrical meanings and simply use the voice as yet another instrument. No matter which language is used the result is an alienating yet peaceful declaration of some kind of musical celebration. At times it feels like this music may have even been inspired by whale songs and at other times the progressive electronic meanderings of groups like Tangerine Dream.

The album begins with a backmasking effect followed by a kind of volcanic rumbling setting the stage for a kind of slow and dripping percussion sound accompanied by an organ. This is an invitation for a the addition of more instruments to find a niche on this musical landscape and slowly they creep in and out with the angelic falsetto vocals of Jónsi Birgisson finally hitting the stage to lead the eerie orchestration through the sonic wilderness that sounds fragile and haunting. The whole thing reminds me of how life on Earth evolves. How it springs forth from a certain origin and then separates, adapts and finally thriving in a hitherto unexploited niche. SIGUR ROS does just that in their music where certain instruments take advantage of certain musical niches in the larger musical ecosystem that hadn't yet been discovered in popular music.

This is an album that took me a while to warm up to. Being attracted firstly to fast, heavy and eclectic music, I had to divorce myself from any musical expectations and just sit back and be patient and let the music steer me while I let SIGUR ROS do the driving which is never about rushing from point A to point B but rather savoring all the distances in between and in the process able to flesh out possibilities on the sonicscape that are more often than not ignored by other styles of music that put the emphasize elsewhere. After taking the time to adapt to this strange spectral soundscape I am astounded that the music perfectly resembles the cold, harsh and somewhat detached feel of the vast Icelandic landscapes and even more surprised that the beauty of the music like that of the cold and desolate parts of the planet contain untold beauty that is not immediately apparent yet accessible for anyone to enjoy after a slight expectational adjustment.

Review by Conor Fynes
4 stars 'Agaetis Byrjun' - Sigur Ros (81/100)

I think I've come a long way in my appreciation for Sigur Rós. Sometime during high school, I came across a copy of Takk... available for loan in a public library. For all of the great things I'd heard about the Icelandic darlings, I was pretty quickly repulsed by the all-too precious tone and childlike vibe that seemed to have worked its way into every lilting moment of music on that album. I barely made it through a single listen before setting them down for good, passing Sigur Rós off as some sort of moody Alvin and the Chipmunks-type deal. Years (and some eye-opening experience with ( )) later, I've dived into Ágætis byrjun with a more enlightened set of ears. It's probably still too precious, too cutesy, and too childlike for my usual tastes, but the reasons why the album has earned such an honoured place with so many fans have not gone over my head. Ágætis byrjun skirt the uncommon boundary between rock and ambient music; the sweeping textures are vast and effective, and the songwriting underneath is most often inspired. I might still prefer the brooding atmosphere of ( ) over this, but the fact remains: Ágætis byrjun serves everything a listener could possibly want out of a Sigur Rós record.

Even relative to other post-rock, Ágætis byrjun feels incredibly ambient in the way Sigur Rós have arranged and realized it. Most post-rock bands (I'm thinking go-to staples like Godspeed and Explosions in the Sky) revel in this sort of soaring atmosphere, but there's almost always a sense of rock repertoire in the music. With Ágætis byrjun, I would hesitate to say there's even much in the way of guitar riffs. Most of the distinctive sound is brought in waves of texture, delivered by a guitar played with a bow- the sort of unconventional approach Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page would take out during extended live solos as an intriguing novelty. With Ágætis byrjun especially, Sigur Rós have taken the potential of a bowed guitar to its natural conclusion. Beyond a doubt, it's the most innovative aspect Sigur Rós have in their arsenal. The bowed guitar flourishes are larger-than-life, but lack any sort of threatening edge or the grit of traditional riffs. In many cases, I'd cite non-threatening instrumentation as a bad thing. For Sigur Rós, they wear it as an asset. And it works.

As is often the case for the brighter side of ambient music, the atmosphere here is one of soaring. Cheery, hopeful, redemptive feelings are awash in the midst of the indistinct guitar textures, the light string sections and pleasantly dreamy atmospherics. It's interesting (though, for many, redundant) to note that singer Jonsi vocalizes in an invented language called Vonlenska (Hopelandic, for us anglophones). Relative to the surge of positive emotions on Ágætis byrjun, it's quite a thing that the so-called lyrics are about nothing at all. I may be digressing a bit, but it says something about the nature of music when such vivid mental images are conjured when listening to songs with no set or determined meanings. Moreover, at least from my own experience as a listener, it's quite rare to hear a band take such ambitious lengths to portraying the positive side of emotion. Very often, it's the darker feelings that evoke strong artistry. Is it because happiness is seen as unworthy or shallow in the eye of the artist? I'm not sure, but to date, there haven't been many albums I've heard that, at their best moments, convey the sort of positive warmth that Sigur Rós have evoked on Ágætis byrjun.

It feels important, however, to stress that these grand feelings are drawn from moments, rather than Ágætis byrjun as a whole. There isn't filler here per se, but the album's distinctly ambient leaning can make the 70-odd minute length strain a listener's attention. For whatever reason, the album's latter act never really grips me, at least in the same way the first few tracks did. Is it because there is a true dip in quality? I don't think so. Most likely, it's because the magic of Sigur Rós' atmosphere begins to wear off when the somnolent ambiance is pushed past the hour mark. I don't think that's a failure as a listener either; added surprises (like the quaint woodwinds melody on "Olsen Olsen") would have served to alleviate he increasingly lackadaisical impression. Even so, there are songs here that would have sparked my attention no matter where they were on the album. "Starálfur" is an instantly lovely track, alight with piano and strings. "Olsen Olsen" is another nice one, with a similarly light and cheery feel to it. "Flugufrelsarinn" is not a world away from the rest of the album's general cheer and warmth, but compared to "Starálfur" before it, it has a more mysterious, even foreboding atmosphere to it. Sigur Rós are best with arrangement and texture, but they've proven themselves to be capable songwriters as well.

I'm not sure why I've left the most negative thing about Ágætis byrjun and Sigur Rós as a whole until the last, but I also figure my general distaste for Jonsi's vocals are the most controversial(?) thing I have to say about the album. Looking back to the initial disgust I had towards Takk..., veyr little of it had to do with the instrumentation. Every doubt I had was pointed at Jonsi's voice, which was (and still) almost insufferably elfish and precious. Compounded with the Hopelandic lyrical angle, Jonsi's vocals aren't for everyone, and they're certainly not for me. With that said, it's rare to come across a vocalist in any genre who seems to embody their own originality so well. Jonsi's voice doesn't fill me with the joy in which others have felt, but his voice is instantly and irrefutably 'him'. No other singer is quite like Jonsi, which is certainly saying something to the band's credit.

With Ágætis byrjun, Sigur Rós more or less established themselves as the musical equivalent to filmmaker Wes Anderson. It's a regression to a childlike innocence and wonder most of us felt at some point, and ultimately grew past. I've heard this childlike atmosphere in music before (I much prefer the way maudlin of the Well does it) but in that and so many other things, Sigur Rós have, in their own little way, found a slight slice of perfection. It does not have the dramatic intensity of ( ), nor do I find my heart infiltrated by it the way I'd expect from a considered masterpiece or favourite album, but Ágætis byrjun has altogether earned its place in the post-rock canon. Beautiful, it is.

Review by TCat
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
5 stars This would be the album that would bring Sigur Ros out of obscurity not only in their own country of Iceland, but in the entire world. Hard to believe that a band that sings only in their native tongue and also in another made-up language would be so popular in America also, but this band proved that it can happen. This was only the band's 2nd full album, but it is so innovative and beautiful, so well produced, that you would swear these were well seasoned musicians. These feats in and of themselves tell a lot about the artists involved, but it is only a huge plus that this album is one of the most beautiful experiences in modern music today.

People like to compare them to Pink Floyd, but there is no comparison to any band. The techniques they use are unique, like using a cello bow on guitar strings and then adding reverb to create atmosphere. And this album is completely full of atmosphere and emotion. When I listen to it, I marvel how some of this music is even earthly possible. It approaches celestial status at times, lifting you above everything. It is also very immersive music in that to fully appreciate it, you have to immerse yourself and really listen. There is so much going on even at regular levels, but also in many underlying passages. But you don't have to always be immersed to hear it's beauty. For example, the 3rd track "Staralfer", when I first listened to this album, I was not really immersed into it, but the beauty of the orchestration and musicianship pulled me in instantly. Just as another reviewer has mentioned, this album can bring you to tears, and this is one track that does it. It's hard to believe that the topic of the track is a child's fairy tale about a staring elf, but that is why I think it is important that the lyrics can't be understood, because it leaves that track and every song by the band open to complete interpretation. You can paint your own pictures in your mind.

But, the amazingness of the music isn't just limited to that track. It starts off with an "intro" which is simply the title track (Number 8) played backwards. But it prepares you for "Svefn-g-englar" which is also a lovely song, where the lyrics are repeated often, but the lyrics and the vocals are just instruments in the entire band. The birthing process through the perspective of a new born is the topic of the song. The use of the bow on guitar strings is used well in this song to increase volume and emotion of the track. Then the beautiful and heavily orchestrated "Staralfer" comes next and words can't express the emotion in this track. I love how the orchestra builds while Jonsi sings and then just drops off to what sounds like an electric guitar that is not plugged in to an amp being strummed while he continues to sing. An interesting side note here is that the strings in this track are palandromic, or the same forward and backward. I also find the track " Hjartað Hamast (bamm Bamm Bamm)" extremely interesting and amazing, with totally unique sounds and textures, and at times copying the sound of a hammering heart, as is hinted in the title. Throughout the album, there is such an effective use of dynamics, and that is very relevant in this track.

"Viðrar Vel Til Loftárasa" is probably the closest song to a Pink Floyd type sound. It has a very long introduction which features a solo piano and an orchestra crescendo-ing and then a sliding guitar sound very reminiscent of Pink Floyd joins in very tastefully. Then vocals finally start, remaining somewhat subdued and far away this time, but the instruments still swell and ebb around the vocals. The effect is amazing. Then suddenly, there is that huge sound of the treated guitar and bow again, and it is joined by strings which eventually drown everything else out as it builds and tempo and pitch are sped up. Then it drops off suddenly and flows into the familiar drum beat and bass line of "Olsen Olsen". This is another beaut of a song. The far off voice starts sounding like Jonsi is singing from a distance, like from a distant canyon. And that flute melody that comes in from time to time is perfect. It gives the track a definite Celtic feel. When that melody comes back, it is played by the piano with strings chugging underneath, and then joined by the band and the orchestra and chorus. Love the jubilant feel of this one. As brass joins in, things get slightly disjointed and dissonant as it fades out. Before the track is over, you hear the flute far away in the distance. The title track is more acoustic sounding and is probably more of a traditional love ballad sound, but lovely nonetheless. There is still enough ingenuity in this track to keep it interesting. The song is fragile sounding, like it is likely to go wandering off into non-traditional territory at any time, but something continues to keep it restrained to it's boundaries. Everything is finished off with "Avalon", which is simply the strings section and the strumming section from "Staralfer" slowed down to about 1/4 of the original speed, and sounding rather muffled. It serves as an ambient ending to the album.

When you listen to this album, you can see why it was so well received everywhere in the world and also lauded by critics. It is an amazing album, which strongly proves that Progressive Rock is alive and well. This is a definite masterpiece, though it is not universally accepted by all prog-heads, there is no denying that if you let yourself into this music, that it is simply amazing. Some have a hard time liking it, but to some, the love for this music just comes naturally and others need time to listen to it seriously. This is a definite 5 star masterpiece, and in my own rating system, it even gets that very rare 6 star rating. Perfect.

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5 stars I when I heard this for the first time I was actually into some very generic rock music, but this, this is something else! I had never heard something like this, I looked at this like music to fall asleep but is so much more than that, it is music to seek into your soul, music to fly; this absolutel ... (read more)

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Report this review (#166020) | Posted by Herzebeth | Monday, April 7, 2008 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Very incredible album. Emotionally involving yet highly instrumental. The vocals that Sigur Ros does use are used more so in an instrumental sense. A post-rock theme of using the voice as an instrument. hauntingly beautifuly yet lacking in some way. For parts of the album it seems to repeat it ... (read more)

Report this review (#165622) | Posted by shentile | Friday, April 4, 2008 | Review Permanlink

4 stars As beautiful as (). Definitely one of the most beautiful and evocative, and inventive albums ever made. Sigur Ros' masterpiece (along with () ). I especially love the two longest tracks (10 minute for each of them), and the sleeve, very mysterious, is magnificent. Really, a brilliant and magnifi ... (read more)

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4 stars Wow, what a beautiful CD. The first time I heard it I wasn't overly impressed, but now it has grown on me and it is one of few records that me and my dad (a classical fan) can share in enjoyment. So... as for the songs. The intro just gives us a taster of what's to come and the album really kic ... (read more)

Report this review (#161701) | Posted by burtonrulez | Wednesday, February 13, 2008 | Review Permanlink

5 stars I strongly doubt about a true progressive link between post-rock and prog music, but since the genre is here, I'll value this release as it is: a masterpiece of post rock. But still I doubt something else: is Sigur Ros really a post-rock band? I think not entirely, not as Mogwai, GY!BE or Explo ... (read more)

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Report this review (#152795) | Posted by memark | Monday, November 26, 2007 | Review Permanlink

4 stars If music could be seen, Agaetis Byrjun would be like heaven. Icelandic band Sigur Ros belong to a different sphere of existence. They have done things that are truly amazing. The texture of music that I found on Agaetis Byrjun drew me into a landscape of visions and dreams. At the end of my jour ... (read more)

Report this review (#151299) | Posted by anirudh | Saturday, November 17, 2007 | Review Permanlink

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