Icelandic heavy metal giants, Sólstafir, released their sixth studio album in May of this year, Berdreyminn, following a 3-year time period since their last album. Their most recent European tour brought them to Tavastia in Helsinki on the 13th of November, 2017, and we were there to see if they would live up to the hype.
Sólstafir has been one of those, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of ’em,” bands to me for years now, but for reasons unknown, there was never a pressing enough concern to remedy this. However, this gap in general knowledge had to be filled, so what better time and place to listen to moody music than darkening autumn nights in the legendary Tavastia club?
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Arriving around a quarter hour after the doors had opened, the venue was still only sparsely populated, with some small crowds assembled here and there. Climbing upstairs to get the best view of the stage once again, I grabbed a beer from the counter and prepared myself for the evening.
Opening the show was Helén, the brainchild of Kimmo Helén, known also from Hexvessel. The start was slow and atmospheric, the intro setting up the stage for this post-rock quintet. Right off the bat, the dedicated guitarist and bassist were feeling the music, swaying and obviously enjoying it. After their first song, the frontman picked up a violin from his stand and let loose. He seemed much more comfortable with an instrument in his hands, since he had a tendency to sway and stay low, posturing in some kind of battle crouch without something to play. Every now and then, a shamanistic vibe was heard and felt from the music, even somewhat Twin Peaks-y at times, otherworldly and channeling primordial feelings. Outside of their performance, none of the artists said a thing. The only word heard outside a song was “Kiitos” after their last song. Satisfied with, and even a bit enlightened by Helén, it definitely was worth the time if post-rock/ambient rock is up your alley.
Grave Pleasures, a local post-punk/Gothic rock line-up was up next. Their intro reminded somewhat of a 1920s radio broadcast, scratchy and distorted. The first song started straightforward and the group seemingly a bit tentative about their performance, yet was still a joy to hear. Around the second song, a security guy crept on stage, snooping around for something, probably checking some wires or other assorted audio stuff, likely making some minor changes and fixing things up. By the third song, everyone had set into their groove, with frontman Mat “Kvohst” McNerney climbing on the monitors for dramatic effect, using every available inch of space to move around, occasionally stopping to interact with his bandmates. While being much more subdued in performance than their predecessor under the spotlights, Grave Pleasures delivered stylish Goth rock with catchy songs, including “Genocidal Crush” by Beastmilk (their previous incarnation), and almost none of the space in their catalog was wasted.
The meat of the evening, Sólstafir, thus prepared for us, the band took the stage during a proggy intro and to a completely packed Tavastia. Frontman Aðalbjörn Tryggvason praised the crowd for coming out on a Monday evening and they kicked their performance off with “Silfur-Refur” from their newest Berdreyminn album. Singing in Icelandic, the songs were unintelligible in word but not in tone, with Tryggvason’s voice perfectly embodying distress and deep emotion. Immediately at home in front of the audience, Svavar Austman was lively, playing his bass with vigor and enthusiasm, almost slapping the disobedience out of it. “Ótta”, from the album of the same name, was their second song, and very rarely have I seen or heard music with such flawless build-up to its crescendo, the mid-song interlude giving an opportunity to enjoy sorrowful melodies. Goosebumps probably weren’t rare. Tryggvason, during one of his speeches, told us about the first time he had ever been to Tavastia, “Around 2005 or so, I came in here completely hammered and thought to myself, I’ll play up there some day.” I bet there were a lot of people who were happy that he had made that declaration. On the subject of speeches, his way of talking and interacting with the audience must be applauded. Taking the time to listen to the fan’s jokes from the mass of people, to answering and joking along with them. Even after the show, the guys from Sólstafir were touring the venue, giving fans autographs and taking photos. Kind and charismatic don’t seem to embody these fellows enough.
The way Sólstafir brings their soundscape alive is absolutely amazing, and while their albums have it, they don’t do justice to it the way a live performance does. The bass that shakes your core, that all-enveloping wall of sound that makes you feel what the song is about, the absolute contentment brought on by music that is alive and has a soul. A lot of concert-goers were touching each other in the audience, happy to have been able to share such an experience with each other. They even performed “Hula”, apparently for the first time live ever (again from Berdreyminn). “Goddess of the Ages” from Köld was the last song of the evening, performed during the encore. Had I been a bigger fan of the band beforehand, I guarantee that I wouldn’t have left the venue with pants on because they would’ve burst right off me. At the start, Tryggvason put down his guitar and equipped with only his microphone, jumped off stage, jumped back on, and did a crowdwalk, held aloft by fans. The absolutely sublime build-up to the finale of the song and the concert as a whole, Sólstafir lit feelings on fire that night.
Once again in uncharted territories, each and every band surpassed expectations. Helén, the tad unoriginal name aside, was creative and brought out their sound very well with the limited timeslot and number of songs. Grave Pleasures, being the most straightforward of the evening, was enjoyable and Goth-rock definitely being underrepresented in the world is a wrong that must be rectified. Sólstafir met, and indeed, easily surpassed the mental image I had of them. Grab some candles, pour a glass of wine, dim the lights, and put Berdreyminn on. That’s when you realize that late autumn isn’t that bad a time of the year.
7. Hula (live debut)
9. Goddess of the Ages
Photos: Marco Manzi