The Radio Cure
Where Music Makes Friends


June 19, 2013

Sigur Rós – Kveikur


Last year’s Valtari was a beautiful, drifting, and maybe slightly uneventful album by Sigur Ros standards. It’s not that it wasn’t enjoyable (it just barely missed my top ten), but it didn’t possess the grandeur that every release leading up to it tended to showcase. Even by Sigur Ros side project standards – namely Jonsi’s poppy Go and the euphorically minimal Riceboy Sleeps project – Valtari was still comparatively sleepy and understated.

With that in mind, the band wastes no time posing a question with the release of new album Kveikur:

“You guys still awake out there?” 

If you aren’t, give this thirty seconds. You will be.

“Brennisteinn” kicks off the wild rumpus with some extremely fuzzy bass, thundering percussion, and the ominous drone of a cello-bowed guitar. Let me just say, I’ve missed that cello bow. As a die-hard Sigur Ros fan, it is simultaneously familiar and alien, and when it roars to life here it is one of the most goose bump inducing moments of 2013. This track (and it’s accompanying video) are metallic post-rock perfection. Hell, even the die-hard Deftones fan in me got chills.

Kveikur is that kind of album. It’s loud, it’s heavy, it’s beautiful. It is the yin to Valtari’s yang in all the right ways. Actually, as I think about it, Kveikur and Valtari are great companion pieces because of being so different. They are polar opposites, and even a quick look at the track title translations will show as much. It’s interesting to think of how the departure of multi-instrumentalist Kjartan Sveinnson may have initiated such a drastic turn. As a trio, this is the first time the group has embraced the notion of “rock band,” at least for the duration of an entire album. Drum, bass, and guitar are all very well represented, which could be refreshing to those who nearly forgot the band even had a drummer. Maybe Kjartan didn’t like drums? I dunno. Whatever it is, finding themselves as a slightly different entity seems to have provoked a beast from within. And it is monstrously glorious and wildly invigorating.

Tracks like “Hrafntinna” utilize a mesmorizing choir of Jonsi’s, while the title track channels an industrial swirl of biomechanical fuzz around the brain like we’ve never heard from them before. But what makes it so good is that despite the metamorphosis, this is still very much a Sigur Ros record. After all,  Ágætis byrjun and especially ( ) had some very heavy moments. And their typical melodic beauty hasn’t been washed aside. Kveikur simply finds them harnessing these powers from their purest elements and magnifying them into something else. Like I said, simultaneously familiar and alien.

In other words, if Valtari was the sound of a tranquil cocoon, this is the sound of a new, slightly sinister form emerging from its boundaries. Don’t be afraid, kids. It won’t bite. Hard.

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