"some music was meant to stay underground..."

Solstafir - "Berdreyminn" (CD)

Solstafir - "Berdreyminn" CD cover image

"Berdreyminn" track listing:

1. Silfur-Refur
2. Ísafold
3. Hula
4. Nárós
5. Hvít Sæng
6. Dýrafjörður
7. Ambátt
8. Bláfjall

Reviewed by on May 24, 2017

"There are unquestionably segments across these eight tracks where the band's epic, melancholy feeling is strongly presented that drew listeners to previous releases, but on the whole this album feels like the magic is starting to fade."

I've been following Solstafir for quite a few years now, with my interest initially being most piqued by “Köld” when the band was transitioning from black metal to something more atmospheric. Moving forward from there, the full-lengths “Svartir Sandar” and “Otta” are easily some of my favorite albums of all time. I could listen to either of those discs through from beginning to end probably once a day or more and not get sick of them.

Now here we are with anticipated follow-up “Berdreyminn,” which follows in the same vein as the previous album in terms of the basic song writing formula. There's long stretches of low key, building sound before the heavier or more emotional parts hit, and each song follows a similar pattern. Musically, the album frequently feels like the cover art – a wide, open shot of the cold, bleak wilderness that seems to go on forever and sort of fades off into the distance. I've never been to Iceland, but after listening to “Berdreyminn” I get the impression that I've felt parts of it in spirit.

The differences here from the previous couple of releases are on length and tone. The song lengths are more cohesive and uniform this time around – none of those 11 minute tracks sandwiching 4 minute interludes - with most sitting between a stable 7 to 8 minute mark now. More immediately noticeable is the tone shift, which perhaps has even less of a metal feel than “Otta” did, frequently utilizing classic '80s rock, more laid back sounds, and even some country twang.

Although the track lengths are more uniform, there is a disjointed feel to some of the tracks. “Hvit Saeng” for instance starts with a piano piece and then shifts away entirely to a completely different melody on the guitar. Parts of this track are frankly too low key for their own good, with just vocals, occasional piano notes, and a sound along the lines of those percussion egg shakers in the background. It does get much more interesting and upbeat at 3:10, but its a bit of a slog to get there.

Likewise, “Ambátt” takes 5 ½ minutes to reach the crescendo where the trademark Solstafir vocals come out, starting off with a very odd easy-listening feel that I'm still trying to wrap my head around. “Naros” on the other hand has a sudden tempo shift at 2:56 that makes it feel like a whole new song and significantly increases the energy quotient. On the whole, it feels like the quieter, less exciting parts are more dominant this time around.

There are unquestionably segments across these eight tracks where the band's epic, melancholy feeling is strongly presented that drew listeners to previous releases, but on the whole this album feels like the magic is starting to fade. There's more work for less payoff. I'm not sure if the formula is just getting played out, or I've grown away from the musical style in the intervening years, or maybe if there's just less heart put into this release, but either way it feels like “Berdreyminn” is one of the weakest modern Solstafir releases, even if long time fans might still enjoy the experience.

Highs: When Solstafir fires on all cylinders you can get lost in the music, even when its extremely low key or less heavy

Lows: It feels like there's more work for less payoff this time around, with less heart and less reason to slog through the building soft segments

Bottom line: Solstafir follows a similar pattern to the previous two releases, but with less of the magic that made those albums worth listening through from beginning to end

Rated 3 out of 5 skulls
3 out of 5 skulls


Key
Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)