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Solstafir - "Ótta" (CD)

Solstafir - "Ótta" CD cover image

"Ótta" track listing:

1. Lágnætti (8:44)
2. Ótta (9:38)
3. Rismál (4:24)
4. Dagmál (5:39)
5. Miðdegi (04:18)
6. Nón (7:47)
7. Miðaftann (5:39)
8. Náttmál (11:15)

Reviewed by on August 29, 2014

"This is an album that's all about the journey and not the destination. There are no quick payoffs, and you have to pay attention for the full duration, but it's well worth the effort."

A peculiar curse afflicts yours truly: if I absolutely love an album to the point that it's something I have to spin at least once every few days, then I'm almost always disappointed by or even outright hate the band's next release. I loved “Watershed,” and didn't care for “Heritage.” Was blown away by “After,” but felt “Eremita” fell just a little short. Couldn't stop playing “Night Eternal” and was let down by the lack of atmosphere on “Alpha Noir.” Giggled all the way through “Feel The Steel” but was left only occasionally chuckling on “Balls Out.” Adored “Weather Systems,” but wished for something more compelling on “Distant Satellites,” and so on.

It is with a very broad smile on my face that I report Solstafir has finally broken the curse with “Ótta.” The Icelandic heathens have done this one right – it's not identical to the last album “Svartir Sandar,” but also doesn't go so far off the rails that I can't tell I'm listening to what is clearly Solstafir. This is an album that's all about the journey and not the destination. There are no quick payoffs, and you have to pay attention for the full duration, but it's well worth the effort.

Each of these eight tracks utilizes a rising and falling mechanism that builds up and then lays back down. Somewhere in the track will be a slow build up, followed by an explosion of sound, then a draw down to another slow build up, which usually adds an extra element or two not present in the last round. For instance, there's a sudden appearance of keyboards on closing track “Nattmall” layered over all the elements that have been building throughout the song.

The end result is a very organic sounding album, and while this may sound like a contradiction, “Ótta” is positively epic in an understated way. It's overall a very melancholy and mournful experience, but without going too deep into dirge-like depressive tunes. There are also tracks like “Non” that take a break from the gloom for an energetic rock vibe.

This album ends up more unified and cohesive than the double disc “Svartir Sandar,” even when there's very non-traditional elements being used. Take the presence of banjo on the title track. Unlike with say the banjo experimentation on Sonata Arctica's “Stones Grow Her Name,” here the instrument is much less a novelty and more blended into the music in a way that truly makes sense; it's not out of place and doesn't drastically change the feel of the song. During it's run time the track seamlessly blends banjo, violin, and distorted guitars all together in a way that makes logical sense and sounds good, and without giving up the heaviness to boot. On a similar note, there's an interesting Western twang to the guitars on “Medeggi.”

As with previous album“Svartir Sandar,” Solstafir is no longer on the extreme end of the spectrum. It's still metal (there's no doubt about that), it's just not screeching black or brutal death metal at this point. Honestly it's not clear even what to call Solstafir or what genre tag would fit. You could call it post-metal, but that only scratches the surface. Atmospheric metal is accurate, but also inadequate. In my review of the previous album I said it's what would happen when a “heavily atmospheric and totally evil act like Abruptum somehow ended up writing music with a rock band like Bush,” which the band had a good laugh over on Facebook, but which I still totally stand behind. Whatever we call it, it's an undeniably well textured album with a very full feel, and absolutely worth the hour long run time.

Highs: Solstafir keeps up it's odd mix of atmospheric metal, adding in new sounds and refining the experience.

Lows: Perhaps the lack of overt extreme metal or screams, but it's not missed much.

Bottom line: Solstafir continues to defy conventions, blending a rising and falling sense of ambient atmosphere with just the right amount of metal.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

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)