Last year’s Valtari wasn’t a particularly disastrous move for the Icelandic post-punk band, but at times it felt like the sound of a band, six albums into their career, coasting. However, it seems as though the departure of multi-instrumentalist Kjartan Sveinsson was enough to shake Sigur Rós out of predictability, for Kveikur is the band’s most sonically adventurous record since Ágætis byrjun.
Reviewers have made the habit of a lifetime describing any and all Icelandic music using ornately elemental language, but here it feels necessary. Album opener Brennisteinn begins with the bubble and hiss of molten lava before bursting with urgency, all apocalyptic guitar drones and hardcore-influenced percussion. Sigur Rós have never been averse to volume, but for the first time in their 19-year lifespan, they actually sound angry – even frontman Jónsi’s angelic vocals are forced into a sombre lower register which, for him, is angry enough.
They haven’t lost all their mass appeal though – the only difference now is that their penchant for the epic isn’t permitted time to meander. The glacial hymn ‘Isjaki’ doesn’t just come close to pop, it knowingly nestles inside of a traditional verse-chorus structure, riding in on a wave of gorgeous strings. But it’s the soaring ‘Rafstraumur’ that remains Kveikur‘s biggest triumph, containing all the arena-rousing jubilance of a U2 song. Kveikur‘s release was even followed by the band’s cameo appearance in an episode of The Simpsons, for which they contributed a rendition of the opening theme (look out for their upcoming appearance in Game of Thrones too).
Eclectic and elegantly executed, Kveikur is the sound of a band reinvigorated, and easily the most consistently strong record in their back-catalogue.