I’ve been mediating on Sólstafir’s Berdreyminn for a while now. Anyone who listened to their haunting 2014 masterpiece Ótta has likely been hankering for more as they re-devour the album time and time again. It’s one of those things that never really left rotation for me after hearing it. And you know what? Berdreyminn has very little in common with its predecessor.
Berdreyminn (translated: dreamer) is an album that showcases evolution gone right. Making a second Ótta would have been beautiful but would likely have underscored Sólstafir as a band. Some can churn out the same album time and time again, but if you’ve been listening to the band for any amount of time, you know they don’t wanna hang around with a sound for too long.
Berdreyminn is a faster paced with proggy and ambient influences. It’s a new ambition that bares itself with opener “Silfur-Refur.” A quiet, droning two-minutes that build the mood before the song gets to rocking. The sound of the organ keeps your ears afloat over the thumping of the drums and the driving guitar. It’s a song that sounds like a declaration. You’d think it’d even be a mood-setter for the rest of the album, but no. Berdreyminn isn’t so much a single experience as it is eight experiences.
Every song is stand out, there’s nothing that blends together. So, what’s the deal then? Are the songs consistent? No. They’re all wildly different and emotive; that’s what really ties this piece together. Sorrow, relaxation and anxiety follows at infrequent intervals, but the strength of emotion that pours from the band is undeniable. Tracks like “Nárós” with its gentle guitar melody over Aðalbjörn Tryggvason’s vocals is haunting. Later, it picks up, distorted and heavier than it was. Tryggvason’s vocal delivery becomes punchier but still cracks and breaks at times.
Perhaps Berdreyminn’s greatest strength is that it just doesn’t hold alliance for genre preference. Sólstafir blend plenty, yes, but instead of moving in and out of genres the band hits the puree switch and lets things fly. And it is gorgeous. Tracks like “Dýrafjörður” blend the beautiful with the bleak. A guitar wails over a casual piano progression. Later the track moves into an ambient drone, then picks up in energy without ever hitting the aggressive notes. The gloom and fog feeling shift but the beauty remains.
The closer track “Bláfjall” is one of the most interesting ones on the entire album, and put the album to bed on a truly epic note. Eight-minutes long and it beings sounding like a funeral dirge. The organ begins the procession as the drum steadies the march, and then picks up as the guitars begin to slide. It’s on this track that Tryggvason’s vocals sound like they’re reaching a breaking point. Around the six-minute mark the drums get very punk rock-y, while the rest of the instruments sound like they’re heralding in a doom. And truly there is one: waking from this album.
Sólstafir have crafted another gorgeous album, possibly their most emotional yet. New drummer Hallgrímur Jón Hallgrímsson sounds right at home on the record, almost like Guðmundur Óli Pálmason was never replaced. And love this album as I do, it’s still something that requires meditation. Is it better than Ótta? Measuring the two against each other may not be fair, but for many will be inevitable. Regardless, when you turn on Berdreyminn, let it consume you again, and again, and again.