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  • Review by Faye Coulman

Solstafir + Myrkur @ Heaven, London

Above clubbing hotspot Heaven’s faintly fermented and unmistakable aroma of many a misspent Saturday night, Myrkur’s sumptuous vocals seamlessly unravel with an airy, crystalline purity utterly removed from this earthly realm. Stripped of instrumental backing, her lone, crooning verses are stunningly expansive in scope, while the band's blackened numbers see the songstress dabble in intermittent bouts of gargling screams atop an insanely paced hail of bone-scraping tremolo and pummelling blasts. But such is the seamless polish and poise of the flawlessly manicured Dane that a nagging lack of spontaneity and feeling fast begins to emerge. The solution? None other than the savagely arresting beauty of Icelandic visionaries Sólstafir.

Flooding the senses with a veritable deluge of cascading organ notes and dusky atmospherics that leave every nerve and fibre crackling with adrenaline, theirs is an indescribably absorbing presence. Amidst turbulent whorls of distortion and pounding, ritualistic blasts, frontman Aðalbjörn Tryggvason’s rugged verses are as heady and well-rounded as fine, barrel-aged bourbon. Borne aloft on a luscious swell of angelic choirs and sumptuous strings generously interspersed with wintry flurries of piano, the utterly transporting ‘Hula’ displays all the cold, humbling majesty of a drifting primordial glacier. Elsewhere, long-time favourite ‘Lágnætti’ sees exquisitely delicate piano notes and elegant slivers of violin writhe and accelerate into a breakneck frenzy of percussive battery. Atop an immersive undertow of smouldering and subtly abrasive bass, Tryggvason’s deliciously weathered howls are rife with the restless spirits of the wilderness, his features contorted with concentration and feeling beneath a heavily grizzled beard.

Punctuating these intensely haunting numbers with more than a smattering of easy and unpretentious banter, Tryggvason elicits a scream from the audibly euphoric crowd on the count of three before laughingly exclaiming, “Ah, that sound is like Belgian chocolate to my ears!” Playful jesting dispensed with, there’s a sudden, sobering change of pace as the charismatic frontman delivers an emotionally charged preamble to “a song whose title means ‘Black Mountain’ in English.” He continues, “It’s a painful struggle many of us know well and have fought long and hard to overcome. I’m speaking, of course, about depression,” the vocalist adds, his voice audibly tinged with emotion.

But it’s ensuing epic ‘Bláfjall’s’ marrow-chilling fusion of craggy, frenetically paced tremolo and lingering atmospherics that speaks infinite volumes for the raw agony and deathly beauty from which this newly-crafted masterpiece is forged. And as Tryggvason’s ragged, rallying cries amplify and accelerate into a great, agonised howl of grief atop a towering climax of lacerating tremolo and velvet-rich melodies, it is here that Sólstafir have ascended new summits of stunningly ethereal brilliance.

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