Imagine for a moment, if you will, that PRIMORDIAL and ENSLAVED had a child whom they raised in Dimmuborgir (the lava field, not the band) and who learned to appreciate a SABBATHian understanding of rocking.
That child is as close to a sound alike to SÓLSTAFIR as I can think of. And this album bearing a precocious yet true title may just be my coveted album of the year for 2005. The albums range from short (3:16 for “Náttfari”) to over 14 minutes (“Ritual Of Fire”) and 19 minutes (“I Myslef The Visionary Head”), so ready yourself for a real listen instead of background noise.
Okay, brief bit of band history. SÓLSTAFIR was formed in 1995 and released a series of Viking/Black Metal demos and promos, which culminated in their debut full-length, “Í Blóði Og Anda” (recorded as early as 1999 but released in 2002) on the now-defunct Ars Metalli Records. From everything I’ve read, SÓLSTAFIR’s earlier work is typical BURZUM worship. A change took place at some point, as this is far from Varg’s stamping grounds.
This album is just awe inspiring. Constantly alternating between the sort of Epic-Pagan-Doom we last heard on PRIMORDIAL’s “The Gathering Wilderness” (it helps that guitarist/vocalist Aðalbjörn Tryggvason sounds almost exactly like A.A. Nemtheanga), Black Metal and what can best be described as a kind of 70s rock run through the collective grim mind of the Norwegian Inner Circle, “Masterpiece Of Bitterness” stands as a triumphant work of creativity. Despite the striking contrasts, the music is always coherent and always communicates perfectly the bitterness described in the title. But we run across the entire spectrum of bitterness; that which undermines triumph, that which poisons the mind, that which leads to self-destructive depression, that which makes a life so hollow in retrospect.
I’ve said this in a few other reviews. Words don’t do this album much justice. Not because it’s so weird, but because it is an emotion befitting the eerie heaths of inner Iceland and the blasted regret, anger and (there it is again) bitterness of man. So much of this album is instrumental—the band is perfectly willing to let the instruments talk for them and they speak so well, as though they gave PELICAN AGALLOCH’s worldview and mixed it with the above influences. The musicianship is excellent, but never flashy or terribly technical. It’s all about nuance. I have tried to sketch out the most bare of frameworks, but I feel any description would truly be inadequate.
This album is one that gets better each time I listen to it as I begin to appreciate more and more the non-Black elements and pick up on more of the nuances.. The torrent of darkness pulls me further in each time and it’s not going to be long until I let go, surrendering myself to SÓLSTAFIR’s tenebrous spell of acrimony. I will repeat my common entreaty that you try something new. As they say in Iceland: Heimskt er heimalið barn (“Stupid is a home-grown child”). (Online March 6, 2006)