It is a pet hate of mine when people say: “there are no words to describe….”. That is literally all we have. The problem is that when it comes to Sólstafir, it is a mighty tricky proposition. They are stunning. They are masters at what they do. Now explain why. And all you can do is kind of jibber and go “well, urmmm, just watch them….”
They are by turns hypnotic, as they are on “Köld” and visceral on “Rismál” and they are everything in between. It is 25 minutes before singer Aðalbjörn “Addi” Tryggvason says a word, but they are not po-faced and there’s a sense of fun about them, Svavar “Svabbi” Austmann, the bassist waving cheerily.
The band began as a black metal outfit back in the day, these days “Bloodsoaked Velvet” is as abrasive as it gets, but they have so much flexibility. “Addi” eschews his guitar for “Rökkur” and prowls the lip of the stage as if he’s marking out territory, while “Fjara” exists in the heads, some kind of collective hypnosis.
Solstafir are not a folk band (that said, they are most definitely hewn from the rocks of Iceland) but there’s some kind of traditional elements to “Ótta”, which takes it into some totally different place.
Even if the bass had some problems there’s no doubting the power of the metal of “Goddess of the Ages”, which sees Sæþór Maríus “Pjúddi” Sæþórsson kick out the soaring riffs time and time again. It is, reasons “Addi” “a romantic love ballad” (it is Valentine’s Day after all). That’s not exactly how you would normally think of the band, perhaps, but my goodness there’s so much love for Solstafir. They are a force of nature, a one off. And the band who’s name translates to “Sun Letters” (or at least it does if my Google Translate is correct) shines here.
It is an interesting fact that Katatonia began as a band in the studio only. They’ve morphed over the years and they are here on stage to celebrate a couple of things. 30 odd years as a group for one, and a wonderful new album in the form of “Sky Void of Stars”.
It’s only been out a couple of weeks, but its clear that the Swedes are fully behind it as they play nearly half of it. They begin with its opening song “Austerity”, before Jonas Petter Renkse utters a simple “hail Satan” as they launch into “Colossal Shade”.
What follows is truly brilliant. “Lethean” from the “Dead City Kings” record (the one they were touring when I last saw them) and the solo Roger Öjersson plays is stunning.
That tour saw them open for Paradise Lost, and there’s more than a touch of Nick Holmes’ and the troops about “Birds” while there’s a classic metal strand to “Behind The Blood”.
Those tracks and others like “Opaline” – another of the stand out moments on the new record – are signposts to what the band is about. Metal, but on their own terns and with their own colours and a real immersive, widescreen sound.
They groove too. Massive, thick riffs abound, but with “Buildings” the peak, and the backlit stage adds to the austere atmosphere of the show all round, but especially “My Twin” (“its our hit” says Renkse). Indeed, there’s a whole understated feel to the group, more than once the singer, who seems to relish hiding in the shadows, says “I hope you like it” as if seeking approval. Maybe its an inner confidence? There certainly should be given the way “Old Heart Falls” changes gear so effortlessly.
Interestingly, when the band leave the stage after “Untrodden”, Öjersson remains in situ, bridging the gap with a solo, before the thunderous drums of “July” and the bass driven “Evidence” ends things.
Two bands who, despite not sounding the same, compliment each other extremely well, and two bands that forgo the chest-beating bombast in favour of something else, something that comes from another place. A place not visceral, not immediate, but utterly and totally compelling.