Fans of Sigur Rós, rejoice! You have a new album to listen to, and to call it amazing is to sell it short. It’s been a long time in the making, but it is finally here, and we can all listen to it over. And over. And over…
This is a collaboration between the band, Steindór Andersen (a traditional epic narrative expert), and Hilmar Hilmarsson, a famous Icelandic musician. It is going back to the roots of the band’s knowledge of orchestral and choral music to wonderful effect. This is a huge shift from what most people would think of the band, but if the distinctive singing of Sigur Rós is what keeps you coming back, worry not! There is more than enough of that to get your teeth into. It is enough of a Sigur Rós album to be recognised as such, but different enough to grab people’s attention.
Hilmarsson is the head of the Pagan Norse religion in Iceland, and it is his knowledge of the Norse Edda which drives the subject matter of the album. This particular part of the Edda deals with prophecies of Ragnarok, the end of both men and Gods alike. The title of the album, in fact, comes from the title of the Edda chapter – Odin’s Raven Magic.
The result is a mash-up of traditional Norse chanting and music (including the use of a five octave marimba created especially for the work). Sigur Rós already had an unearthly sound – that is hugely enhanced here with the addition of an orchestra and chorus.
Hilmarsson thinks of the Edda as being a very visual poem – it speaks of death and destruction, and he tried to bring that feeling of an apocalypse into his work. Each track is both sad and defiant. The mixing of traditional chanting and Sigur Rós’ own patent sound keeps that mix going in each track. The album itself seems to speak of accepting that apocalypse is coming, and yet resolving to go on, which is a good assessment of our current situation regarding climate change, and is perhaps why this album appeared now, rather than before.
For fans of traditional music, the chanting in tracks like Dagrenning are particularly enjoyable and to hear Jónsi’s distinctive singing style weaving in and out of the chorus in the various tracks is a treat.
The way the music fades in at the beginning of tracks like Prologus and Áss hinn hvíti gives the music a huge sense of foreboding, and really adds to the sense of grief and impending doom. It enhances the visual image that the composers clearly want their listeners to have.
Listen to the album. If you don’t, you are really missing out.