Sólstafir – Ótta (Season Of Mist)

Thursday, 4th September 2014
Rating: 9/10

Isolation is a hell of a boon for evolution and experimental growth, no matter the subject. I recently read an article on BBC documenting the long history of Iceland and its relationship as a literary muse, whether within or beyond Iceland proper and couldn’t help but think of the handful of bands I keep familiar with from the tiny country that embody the same exemplary features. Among these, of course, is the vaunted (in small circles) group Sólstafir and the evolutions continues here on Ótta, a largely metal-less but reflective journey through texture, mood, and many, many feels.

For those unfamiliar with the band Ótta will give a very imprecise picture on the kind of changes the band has gone through over the last decade and change since its initial release to this modern entity of post-rock success. The works featured here are typically on the longer side, encompass multiple transitions across shades of light and dark (notice, that does not mean heavy and soft), and on a whole, get along at a fairly languid pace. The title track, used also as the initial ‘single’, is particularly indicative of the ‘post’ half of post-rock, being based on a core melody that the rest of the song revolves around, whether in band-mode or involving the use of strings and long-periods of instrumental meandering. Conversely “Miðdegi” ups the pace and the focus on the rock half of things and is particularly bouncy, with a thick bass-line and an often beautiful melodic-atmospheric focus, especially in the second half of the song.

Much like the environment from which the band hails, the music on Ótta is a study in the sometimes-soft-sometimes-loud tensions that undermine extreme differences in place and presence. The transitions the band have undergone have brought them to a place noticeably more reflective than even their last release, 2011’s fantastic Svartir Sandar, though here it’s a bit more honed in and even with the songs often stretching quite long, there’s little in the way of excess to any of them. Sometimes in the moment of post-peak tension, like on “Nón”, gives way to a quiet wash of keys before the band kicks it back into gear to give life in a genre where there is often none. It’s particularly haunting at times and especially here.

If singing along is your thing, of course, you may or may not run into trouble with Ótta for all things continue to be sung in the band’s native Icelandic. It suits the songs, however, so it’s hardly a means for complaint, now or ever. Ample tension, within and between songs, makes for a continuously compelling listen, whether it’s the first time or the thirtieth. The most lush sounding release by the band yet, it’s also easily the most ‘progressive’ and mature, a band on a path unlike most others yet not wholly removed from them. A stellar release to kick off the death of summer, Ótta is an exercise in the power of isolation and the many benefits it can bring.

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