REVIEW : ISAFJØRD – HJARTASTJAKI (2022)

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Isafjørd is Aðalbjörn Addi Tryggvason (Sólstafir) and Ragnar Zolberg (Sign/x-Pain of Salvation).

Their name, Isafjørd, literally means ‘fjord of ice’, and is named after the town that both of their fathers came from. The duo shape beautiful and desolate pop soundscapes and release their new album `Hjartastjaki` this month.

The album opens with `Falin Skemmd` which has a constant drumbeat, synth tinges and shimmering guitar riffs with vocals that sound quietly introspective before becoming much more scream like and angst ridden. I read that the song is about freeing yourself from a toxic relationship and moving on to a brighter future . It does have that sense of cathartic cleansing of mind and spirit. A superb marker to introduce us to this release. There`s a heart-breaking sense about `​Mín Svarta Hlið` which begins quietly and remains fairly dreamlike throughout with drums, guitar, and vocals. There`s a stunning guitar solo towards the latter part of this delightfully delicate number that was written about mental illness.

Title track `Hjartastjaki` has an off key piano and rolling shuffling drumbeat allowing a platform for the contemplative reflective vocals to soar. There`s swirling synth chords and a brief string arrangement as the track grows in volume with a near pleading in the vocal delivery as if searching for something or imploring somebody or something. In `Heiðin` we have a more ethereal outing with piano and vocals that seem to awake as the number progresses. The track may refer to heathen or pagan from old Norse or maybe a person who does not belong to any of the major world religions from a Germanic translation. Nevertheless it`s a captivating pensive nigh on questioning submission.

`Kuldaró` is a fairly sparse composition which begins with piano keys before some quite biting vocals join. It becomes quite fragile before dual vocals harmonise and a cello plays in the distance. It later bursts into life briefly as if emerging from a torpor before fading out. Dual vocals lead us through the stripped back `Fjord of Hope` at times with a forlorn piano leading and  skewed guitar chord riffs joining towards the end.  
`Njálssaga` may well relate to “The Story of Burnt Njáll”, a thirteenth-century Icelandic saga that describes events between 960 and 1020. The saga refers to Icelandic blood feuds and this musical composition has a kind of reflective almost profound sensibility about it. We enjoy some spectacular synth/ organ and guitar shredding on this thoughtful journey. The album closes out with `Andvök` and it`s a wonderfully mesmeric submission. There`s a real tenderness to the vocals and musical accompaniment. An enthralling and spellbinding number to finish on.

I found `Hjartastjaki` a pretty astounding listen and although the vocals were sung predominantly in Icelandic I never felt excluded from the breath taking landscapes that the tracks evoke. Yes at times there`s a sense of melancholy, loneliness, and even isolation but there`s also a precarious sense of beauty that will take you almost to the edge of tears.

This is an album that i`m sure you will discover something new each and everytime you return to listen.

Let Isafjørd or this ‘fjord of ice’ melt into your heart.

Rating 9/10

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