Words: Wouter B.
2017 has almost ended. But not without seeing one of the best performances of the year in perhaps one of the weirdest places. On December the 15th, we drove off to visit the Maassilo in Rotterdam (Netherlands) for a package that ought to provoke interest for many: Sólstafir, Myrkur and perhaps less well known, Árstíðir.
Held in an old grain silo, dating back to 1911 (!), this location did not host events until after 2003, when the last stored goods finally left the silo. Having the grain hopper funnels and outlets some 4-5 meters above your head did wonders for the sound however, as was directly audible with opening band Árstíðir .
Although a bit of a strange band within the mix of post/rock and black -metal, it was still a wonderful sound to hear the two acoustic guitars assisted by keyboards and drums of Árstíðir. The music was beautifully composed, singer-song-writer styled (blues) rock. And, as with most things in Iceland: they did a lot more and better with much less. (Just look at Audn , Iceland’s national soccer team or the black metal youngsters Misþyrming to see that this is true). Most of that also held for Árstíðir, although it was lyrically much too sweet and pop for my personal taste.
Next up was something I had been both hoping and dreading to see: Myrkur. I personally loved her (Amalie Bruun) self-titled debut EP, her debut full length M and second album Mareridt. When I first saw her however, during the Close Up – Båten festival (somewhere on the Baltic Sea, between Stockholm and Turku), I was thoroughly disappointed. The sound was off, the guitars sloppy…well suffice to say that I really doubted the ability to perform live as good as on the album.
None of that was true tonight: the performance was almost magnificent as her voice. The vocals where spot on, which I can only assume is no mean feat when combining the soprano with her characteristic nightmarish screams. Nightmares indeed, both the central theme of her latest album and opening track of tonight: Mareridt, followed by The Serpent, coming to crawl down your spine. A mesmerizing moment when Onde børn (Evil Children) set in, with the long, stretched tone riffing and laid back yet vengeful drumming. The song was followed by the more threatening, almost bi-polar Jeg er guden, I er Tjenerne (I am a god, you are a servant). Closing song, De Tre Piker (the Three Peakes), showed both simplicity and beauty: a single frame/shaman drum and the voice of Amelie. Aside from a few live imperfections any band suffers from when playing on stage, this show was brilliant. If anything, it left me somewhat overwhelmed – which is what I expected after the studio albums.
Main act Solstafir, although in varying states and quality of live performance, I have never seen playing bad, and tonight was no different. While not being a big fan of their latest, Berdreyminn, this Icelandic formation does have a distinct layer of magic on top of being just a really good band. A large part of the magic is in both the (mostly) dual guitar work by Aðalbjörn Tryggvason and Sæþór Maríus Sæþórsson and the floating, sometimes falsetto voice of Aðalbjörn. That and their outlandishly (Icelandishly) good song writing. Clearly, this magic was picked up by the crowd, with many a head nodding and looking far away, mesmerized by the music. After opener Silfur-Refur, the previous and more to my liking Ótta passed on the setlist, warming me up to the show. The connection these ‘Icelandic Heathen Bastards’ manage to make during this very intimate club show was strengthened when stepped down from the stage into the audience, in mid song. And kept singing, although the mic wire was only just long enough in his hike through the crowd. He at least took his own message very serious, about the need to talk and interact with people, whether they are suffering from some sort of depression or not. The show was a very good one, maybe one of the best I have yet seen from them.