‘Brennisteinn’, the opening track on the seventh studio LP from Sigur Rós, establishes the dark ambiance of Kveikur, further confirming the Icelandic band’s progression to fiercer stylings from the stadium shoegaze of 1997’s Von. The operatic, otherworldy soundscapes that perfectly accessorised Attenborough’s Planet Earth have been replaced with a soundtrack more befitting a hunting deity or Viking warfare. Drums pelt against rumbling metallic, electro sounds which contrast with Jónsi’s haunting, perfectly pitched howls to lend to the song a distinctly sinister tone.
There’s something almost malevolent about how absorbing it is. Tracks like ‘Hraftntinna’, ‘Rafstraumur’ and the appropriately-titled ‘Stormur’ are bound together by a rumbling rhythm section and embellished with experimental textures. Swirling requiems rise from percussion that sounds like thunderclaps. There are dissonant, clattering chimes, layers of watery vocals, sombre brass and bristling bass. The title track in particular is a coalescence of dark industrial distortions and the band’s characteristic cinematic lavishness.
Sigur Rós have taken the playfulness and energy of early offerings and subverted it with the heavy metal influences of Jónsi’s adolescence. (he still listens to Metallica when drunk. Like listening to Metallica when sober, just with slightly less coordinated thrashing.) Kveikur is no more or less a visceral listening experience than () or Ágætis Byrjun, but is abrasive and urgent where they are sprawling and airy. It is a gurgling Gothic romance, kindling a fire (the album’s closest English translation is, appropriately, Candlewick) that was decidedly lacking in last year’s somewhat uninspiring Valtari. Sigur Rós have mined the murky depths of their signature sound and unearthed a beautifully constructed, quintessentially extravagant, glittering black.