The one thing that has been the most consistent about the almost quarter of a century long career of Icelandic giants Sólstafir is their inconsistency. Certainly not in terms of quality, but in their sound. There’s always been a strong tendency to break any semblance of genre rules and regulations and do whatever their hearts desire. This has led them through the labels of black metal, post rock, grunge, art rock and more. But to them, they’ve always just done their own thing, and on their newest effort Endless Twilight of Codependent Love, they’re even harder to pin down.
Since their 2002 debut, Sólstafir have been all about pushing boundaries. Effortlessly switching between black metal and post rock and everything in between has always seemed easy to them, and somehow they always manage to pull it off. They’ve played stages as diverse as Brutal Assault and Taste of Iceland, they’ve garnered international attention and a wide discography of highly acclaimed albums, and they’ve done it all without compromising their vision. On Twilight, the band seeks to stretch that vision even further out, both sonically and lyrically. Twilight features the heaviest songs the band has recorded in a long time, coupled with some of the lightest and most experimental songs they’ve ever jammed out.
The name of the game was writing songs that they wanted to play, and not letting genre define a box for them to sit in. Everything from The Beatles to Kraftwerk to Darkthrone to Smashing Pumpkins was used as inspiration for the music, and the whole effort ends up being their most diverse offering yet. The riff game is exceptionally strong, and tying them all together are bits of spacey atmosphere that utilize texture extremely delicately. Lyrically, the band explores dark themes of depression, alcoholism and other mental illnesses, as well as the effect they have on others watching from the outside. They also touch on the stigma of men speaking out about mental illness and the perceived weakness that comes with it, which I think is incredibly brave and vital. Clearly there is a lot of inspiration caught on tape here, and Twilight shows that they are still going places few others dare trod, even this far into their career.
When I first caught wind of Twilight from the band themselves, I was promised a return to their black metal roots. While we do get that, that’s not all this record is, which is a fact that I think will disappoint the purists, but anyone who knows what Sólstafir is about can see that they would never pin themselves to one sound. More importantly, the fact that they have achieved the highest freedom to truly explore the music they want to make works for them here, not against them. Twilight, maybe more so than any of their other albums, is about pulling from every source of inspiration and making a glorious patchwork out of a lot of different sounds and textures. “Akkeri” and “Dionysus” both do an excellent job of weaving between spacey, rock-oriented atmosphere and pummeling, overtly black metal-inspired riffs. These two songs in particular are clearly inspired by their black metal past, but the way they use those influences as a bridge to link almost bluesy post rock passages is really impressive. Everything flows very nicely, and even though it should come as no surprise that the band practically refuses to conform to the verse-chorus-verse songwriting format, the fact that they can write songs that are this interesting and captivating without repeating any passages is impressive.
Equally captivating are the vocals, almost all of which are sung in the band’s native Icelandic, and delivered in Aðalbjörn “Addi” Tryggvason’s signature style. The richness of the emotion in the vocals is indicative of the heft of the topics that they’re singing about, and none is more evocative than the sole English language song, “Her Fall From Grace.” Maybe it’s because I don’t speak Icelandic that this song hits me the hardest, but the subject matter (watching a friend slowly die from mental illness) is pretty deep and heartbreaking. Still, speaking fluent Icelandic isn’t a prerequisite to enjoying this album. Addi’s vocals force you to feel everything that he is feeling, and the passion he sings with is impossible to avoid. It’s something that triggers a primal feeling within, as does almost everything about Twilight.
Sólstafir try to do an awful lot on Twilight, and overall, it is a pretty big success. The credit all goes to the band’s ability to craft really good songs, regardless of what flavors they pull from. Musically, everything comes together in a cohesive manner, and nothing ever feels like it’s awkwardly placed or incompatible. Lyrically, the band plumbs the depths of emotion much more successfully than ever. There’s an honesty that runs through Twilight that makes it very endearing. Sólstafir are making honest music inspired by the bands they love, and they’re bearing their soul to talk about topics that have, until very recently, been taboo. “You can never foresee band magic,” says Tryggvason. “The whole purpose of this is cooking up magic. And if you’re cooking up magic with four or five weirdos, you can never foresee what’s going to happen. You can’t buy that. You have to live it or grow it.” Indeed, there’s quite a bit of magic to be found here, but what did you really expect anyway? Sólstafir can do no wrong at this point.