Somehow, Icelandic’s superstars SIGUR RÓS must have confused the titles for their recent records. The overwhelming ambient playfulness of last year’s Valtari certainly didn’t transfer the sound of reckless brutality that a title like Steamroller implies. Now, we’re just a year further and the cover of Kveikur fiercely looks upon us, haunts us in a sublime and disturbing way, yet the title translates as something harmless like Wick. Well, just to adjust the title’s implications: this is no slowly, steadily burning bunch of ethereal anthems, it’s – especially for an output by SIGUR RÓS – stunningly aggressive, focused and explosive. After long-time member and multi-instrumentalist Kjartan Sveinsson announced his split with the band in the following of the Valtari-release, the remaining three must have gotten to a point that longed for somekind of renewal. And they seem to have found it in the rejection of joyful celebration of life, which some of their most recent work delivered. Now that they rediscovered their sense for devastation, the music of SIGUR RÓS is free to act against their image of being the incarnation of beauty and peace. In fact, Kveikur reminds us of nature’s inherent chaos, the entropy as well as the brutality of forces that are far beyond our imagination. Or, as the great German director Werner Herzog once put it: “There is somekind of harmony in nature – it’s the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder.”
Opener Brennisteinn quickly establishs the mood that the bleak cover-art hints at: some feedback, a beat of destruction and a bass that turns your insides out, accompanied by an enigmatic, yet fascinating video about, well, something? Surely an impressive statement and a perfect way to introduce this album. Needless to say, that it’s always a joy to reencounter the otherwordly falsetto of singer JÓNSI and the skillfully domestictated, yet unpredictable squeaks of his bow-played guitar. In heavily breathing noise-attacks, a massive arc of suspense lets the seven minutes of Brennisteinn ebb and flow; somewhere between the exhalation of despair and an intoxicating inhalation of brimstone. Surely, what lacks in instrumental depth here and there – obviously because of Sveinsson’s missing – is compensated by the work of Orri Páll Dýrason on the drums. Where mean walls of sound and vibrating bass-excesses comment each other, his remarkably precise percussion works as both the driving force and archaic counterpart to JÓNSI‘s vocals. As a result, here and there, one could possibly be reminded of APHEX TWIN for the first time in the history of SIGUR RÓS.
Despite all, this is of course not something like a SUNN O)))-reminiscence (although in parts it is, really, at least in terms of the physical experience). No, SIGUR RÓS still love their harmonies and their heaven-assailing layers of sound. The difference to the positivity of albums like Takk… is, that they now usually dissolve the pathetic arrangements into a bleak vision of their own universe. That is why even the most friendly track Ísjaki celebrates its noises like they’d be the last rock to hold on to in the presence of an apocalyptic flood. In short, Kveikur stays with its unsettling paradigm – be it the reward-singing in Yfirborð, or the fact that the title-track Kveikur manages to even push the dystopic vibe of Brennisteinn a little further, alienating JÓNSI‘s voice to the fullest, or that even the contemplating piano-piece Var at the end, refuses to let this heavy piece of art close peacefully because of its underlaying dissonance.
All in all Kveikur feels a bit like the remaining members of SIGUR RÓS got sick of getting carried away – by their own beauty-standards, by the clichés about Icelandic harmony and peacefulness and by the comfort-zone of their own success. So, their seventh record is maybe best compared to a compromised version of ( )‘s dark side. But, before all, it underlines one thing: there is no other band out there, that is as able of catching our feelings at such an abstract yet exact level as SIGUR RÓS do. The universality of their music is what made them big, right, but what makes them outstanding is their will to deconstruct courtesy, to hail beauty within minacious circumstances – a discipline in which Kveikur fully suceeds. And in that sense, it feels awfully good to see them back in shape.