Island, zum Ersten:
Heralded by a eurodance beat, 'Yfirborð' ascends to dizzying heights with warped effects, pounding rhythms and tearjerking vocals; parts of Jonsí's voice are reversed/pitch-shifted/absorbed by effects that it sounds like the death rattle of a once mighty hero. 'Stormur' is piano-led, recalling the isolated fragility of the opening to 'All Alright', before careening into a monolith of resentment and agony - the percussion is fantastic, not since 'Gobbledigook' has Orri (Páll Dýrason, drums) had a time to shine. Potentially the darkest, most menacing moment available on Kveikur - yes, even surpassing 'Brennisteinn' - is the title track. It opens like an anthem of demons: child choirs with Exorcist-level creepiness, more industrial stabs of mechanical bass and goth drums, Jonsí's voice is swallowed whole - he's always able to showcase a breadth of emotions from his vocal chords, but this could be the first time we hear anguish. He hoarsely groans like he's grasping for his last breath.
Most - but not all - of what you can glean from this record is tinted with negativity (sorrow, anger, terror), 'Ísjaki' attempts to defy that. It's the aural equivalent of the girl in red in Schindler's List. Perhaps one of the most aorta-pulverising tracks Sigur Rós have ever fashioned from mere instruments, it's got an overt sense of hope and pop-glazed anthemic optimism. However, it's still a devastating cut when slammed into the ranks of the rest of Kveikur. Despite its positivity, the rest of the album's innate gloom drags it back into the sinister depths - it becomes a monument to what the rest of the album isn't. Starkly contrasted against the backdrop of perfect misery, it's just as soul-sucking to listen to, knowing that it's actually a symbol of dying hope and waning optimism.
Sigur Rós have dabbled across an array of genres, but have always stuck fairly close to their home turf. Tonally and timbre-ly, you can always pick out an effort by them from a line-up; although that's no bad thing, and the reaction they garner anywhere they go proves that they're pleasing a lot of people. Kveikur sees them potentially delve into a different territory for the first time. It's plagued by shadows, complex textures and frantic will-o'-the-wisp rhythms that dart and weave through the music - when Hólm described this as an "anti-Valtarí", he was spot on. It's unsettling, chaotic, vengeful, astounding, invigorating and forces you to feel a plethora of cacophonous emotions concurrently. It's their loudest record. It's their darkest record. It's their best record in a long, long time.
Crucially it feels alive where last year’s Valtari, as beautiful as it is, seemed frozen: from the opening notes of 'Brennistein', guitars swelling like a warning siren, there’s the sense that this could go anywhere, that this could - whisper it - actually surprise us. And it does, repeatedly, from the dynamism of its songwriting to the ferocity of its percussion - particularly the ferocity of its percussion, the artillery shelling of 'Bláþráður', of 'Yfirborð' and 'Kveikur' itself. Over the 50-minute-runtime there’s very little respite, as though having been all but irrelevant on the last album drummer Orri Páll Dýrason is making up for lost time, fearful that Jónsi might take his sticks away again.
That’s not to say this is mere noise, of course: Kveikur is as melodic and, in places, as fragile as anything the band have released before. Album closer and sole instrumental 'Var' is a sparing assembly of piano and droning reverb, pretty yet mournful, whilst second single 'Ísjaki' soars on its chorus, catchy and emotive without being mawkish. But even here it darkens by its close, the poppy traits supplanted by a rising drone and background scratching that seeps into 'Yfirborð', windswept and cloud-wracked, its fringes haunted by séanced voices.
Sigur Rós in Deutschland:
19.06.13 Dresden, Jung Garde
24.11.13 Frankfurt, Jahrhunderthalle
25.11.13 Düsseldorf, Mitsubishi Electric Halle