I’m going to say something that’s going to shock you. First I will mitigate what I’m about to say by making sure you’re aware that Sigur Rós is my favourite band and probably always will be. If you put my iPod on shuffle, every other song will be Sigur Rós. If I had to destroy all other music to save theirs,I’d do it. I don’t really want to write this review to be honest. But now I’m going to ruin it all by saying…
I don’t like Kveikur.
What I love about Sigur Rós is their gorgeously ethereal quality. I love the lush layers and the bizarre poignancy of a language that doesn’t mean anything. I love the haunting falsetto and the strange strains of a bowed guitar. The tickle of the cymbals which becomes cataclysmic in a frantic explosion of sound. I even grew to like Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, the band’s 2008 offering. I say ‘grew to like’ because the brass instruments didn’t really work in my concept of the band and their music at first, but I’ve seen live footage and I can see why they tried that experiment and I can appreciate it for that reason. But all of that seems to be missing from Kveikur. The violence has gone. It’s angst. The sadness is there in form but not in function. The experimentation is there, but this time it’s gratuitous and doesn’t contribute a lot (I suppose Hrafntinna is the best example of this I can give).
I saw Brennisteinn, the first track from Kveikur, performed live at Brixton (above is a video from that very show), and that was fantastic because it was so different and so un-Sigur Rós. It felt like such a departure from everything else in that show that it was very welcome. The manic green strobe lights punched a hole right through that show and I think it made everyone a little bit uneasy but in a good way. But a whole album? With nothing heart-crushing? I suppose my main problem with Kveikur is… where is the beauty? It’s like Iceland has been ripped out of their sound.
I love the dark side of Sigur Rós. The second half of Untitled 8 is one of the most magical moments in music for me. I love the ferocity of the drums and the violent guitar juxtaposed with those soaring, aching vocals. But I like it because there is some feeling behind it. Kveikur feels very comparatively hollow. Even the truly freaky Von, despite its weird experimental nature and unstructured sounds, there is a meaning there. Listening to Kveikur, I just don’t hear it.
It’s deeply unsettling to listen to the music of Sigur Rós and feel nothing. Even Isjaki (above), which feels like one of the most ‘Sigur Rós’ tracks on the album, feels a bit hollow. When you’re used to feeling ripped to shreds by a band’s music, it’s incredibly disconcerting for nothing to be stirred up in an entire album. I suppose the best example of this is Stormur. It feels almost like it could be chart music. Replace the vocals with a pop voice and you’ve got Radio One fodder.
Valtari, which was released in May 2012, was always going to be a hard act to follow. After Með suð…, Valtari was deliciously dark and atmospheric and ambient, so to have that ripped away so soon by Kveikur is heartbreaking. I love it when bands try something new, but in a sense Valtari was that something new. Með suð was something new. Kveikur is certainly new, but in my opinion, it’s not an improvement. This is Sigur Rós without the soul. It makes me sad, but for all the wrong reasons.