Originally written by Jordan Campbell
Admittedly, this album is far from a new release. In fact, it was initially released over nine months ago, on a record label that has inexplicably ceased to distribute adequate promotional material. However, a band should not be punished for their label’s lackluster support, especially when the band in question is as captivating as Sólstafir. And Köld, quite surprisingly, is one of the year’s most stellar albums, so protocol be damned.
While we’re breaking rules, Sólstafir are as well. Opening a record with an eight-minute instrumental would be dismissed by most as madness, but most don’t possess the capability to expel something as gripping as “78 Days in the Desert.” This slow-boiling scorcher sets the stage for Sólstafir‘s oddity. The band seems to exist in some fucked-up, ethereal timewarp, where Fields of the Nephilim created black metal in the early 60’s and then went on to become The Doors‘ primary influence. Sólstafir are corpsepainted Jim Morrison’s drug-addled, suicidal spawn.
Wielding their implements and intoxicants somewhat recklessly, Sólstafir meanders without caution through lengthy corridors of decay. At stages, the trek can get a bit rocky. After the gorgeous swell of “78 Days,” vocalist Aðalbjörn Tryggvason struggles to find solid footing on the amorphous title track. His drunken, half-shouted warbling (in Icelandic, no less) is a tough gutpunch to weather at times. And until the Hammond kicks in at about 4 minutes, clouds of doubt gather dangerously. Too many excellent albums have been killed by lackluster pipes, and at this juncture, Köld seemed primed to become another casualty.
“Pale Rider” rebounds in stunning fashion, however. Tryggvason adopts a dangerous swagger, and his roar of “…come taste the venom, it’ll bleed from my eyes” is whiskey-fueled and startlingly real. The song is another eight-minute masterpiece (only one song of nine dips below the seven-minute mark), a shard of black metal that’s so slowed and chopped, its roots aren’t immediately obvious. Their blackened influence is ultra-deceptive, masked from cliche by the phenomenal drumming of Guðmundur Óli Pálmason. His creativity is the driving force behind Köld‘s success, and his dynamic attack is the leading factor that propels the band far outside the suffocating atmosphere of the black arts, effectively carving out Sólstafir‘s private corner of the universe.
Such transcendence is crucial to lasting impact; almost as crucial as iconic songcraft. Sólstafir bring both in spades. “She Destroys Again” is a manic, punked-out shoutalong, craggy and desperate in its delivery. “Necrologue” swings around in stark contrast, draped in the velvet of bleak intropection and laced with the lingering haze of spent smoke. Haunting vocals and wailing leads spiral this thing into the void, the band’s blood-warm yet deathly-cold guitar tone glowing with life before quietly killing itself. Köld‘s only misstep is the straightforward basher “Love is the Devil (And I Am in Love)” and its stumbly, marble-mouthed chorus. Fortunately, psychedelic seances “World Void of Souls” and “Goddess of the Ages” are swollen-full with electric fog, completing a sonic voyage that begs for retracing, reliving…immortalizing.
Interestingly, the most impressive albums of modern heavy metal can’t be easily plugged into our beloved slots of crude categorization. I’m not talking about the spastic collages of subgenre-splicing currently masquerading as pseudo-prog bullshit; rather, I’m refering to albums that are simply unclassifiable as anything other than brilliant: October Rust, Black Seal, Tonight’s Decision, The Gathering Wilderness. These albums simply thrive–free of scrutinous dissection, monolithic in their relevance, iconic in their maddening brilliance. Köld is crafted with similarly unquantifiable materials,but only time will tell if its mortar will withstand the brutality of the elements.