A Collection of Icelandic Album Reviews by Wim Van Hooste

Sunday, August 26, 2012

HAM "Svik, harmur og Dauði"

If you think about ham, you don’t expect to get an Icelandic rock band on your plate. Yet HAM (Happy, Angry, Mad) is a well known phenomenon on the Icelandic music soil since 1988. Björk is a huge fan of this cult band with a solid fan base in their home country. Several times HAM was the supporting act for The Sugarcubes in the United States (1988). In 1989 the album "Buffalo Virgin" was released on One Little Indian, the successor of the controversial album "Hold". In 2011, then came a full-fledged sequel with the title "Svik, Harmur og Dauði" (Betrayal, Sorrow and Death). In the meantime there were several live albums released. HAM claims to play no metal and is most comparable with Rammstein. Only these Icelanders were a decade earlier than the Germans, with their bulldozer sound with gothic influences; Rammstein avant la lettre. This guitar workmen create a wall of sound, complemented by the shrill sound of singer Ottarr Proppé and the deep voice of singer-guitarist Sigurjon Kjartansson. Best tracks on the album are: "Dauð Hora" (dead prostitute), "Alcoholismus chronicus," "Gamlir Svikamenn Á Ferd" (old betrayers on the road) and "Ingimar".

Hellvar "Stop that noise"

Once upon a time there were 2 Icelandic philosophy students in Berlin: Heiða Eiríksdóttir (former singer of the band Unun) and Geir Elvar Sævarsson (member of the anarchistic group DYS). With the guitars around their neck Heiða & Elvar decided to start performing with their beloved laptop annex drumcomputer under the name Hellvar, Heiða + Elvar. Together with bassist Flosi Þorgeirsson, of the famous group HAM, they worked on their debut album back in Iceland. This album "Bat out of Hellvar" was the first release on the new label Kimi Records in 2007. In the following years the trio transformed into a quartet and a quintet eventually. On their second album "Stop that noise" (Kimi Records, 2011), the band found a solid sound, resulting in 9 poppy postpunk rock songs. The sound refers to Garbage and Republica, with a dash Sugarcubes, but with more balls on Björk's body. In other words estrogen singing with guitars & drums driven by testosterone firework. There's even a song in French on their repertoire: "Morceau the gai (e)té". Chanteuse Heiða has a tradition to uphold as Icelandic girl speaking & singing in French. My favorite song is the philosophical "Ding an sich." But the other 8 tracks will probably also appeal to you. The album was also released in an acoustic version, with the songs of the 2 releases in a summer jacket: "Noise that stopped".

Ghostigital "Division of Culture & Tourism"

Six years after "In Cod We Trust" (2006) the dynamic duo Einar Örn Benediktsson (ex-Kukl, former Sugarcubes singer) and producer Curver Thoroddsen, is back with a third studio album: "Division of Culture & Tourism" (Ipecac, June 2012). In the meantime they performed "A quiet afternoon/Sirkus Requiem" live at Airwaves 2009, this time along with partner in crime Finnbogi Pétursson. Live the band consists of minimum 2 performers, sometimes growing to a gang of 9 or so artists together on stage. For this third release, they could count on the help of a large group of musical friends (Damon Albarn of Blur/Gorillaz, King Buzzo of the Melvins) in creating their experimental, avant garde potpourri. A mix of vocals (David Byrne of Talking Heads, for example), spoken word and rap (Dälek, Sensational) on top of the fluffy carpet of industrial noise and beats, is the revolutionary result. The album starts with a tune for Ghostigital specially written by Stilluppsteypa. Despite working with a bunch of copains I find the tracks without this additional contribution still the strongest: "Dark in here", "Bursting", "Numb" and "Hovering Hoover Skates".

LEGEND "Fearless"

In Iceland it is also back to the 80’s with the electrosynth-goth-doom-pop duo LEGEND. Krummi "let's get a tattoo" Björgvinsson, the frontman of post-hardcore band Minus, and keyboard player Halldór Bjornsson form the group. The band, named after the Ridley Scott film (1985), produced their first album "Fearless" (april 2012). The 2 friends share a passion for the music of Depeche Mode, Bauhaus, Ministry and Throbbing Gristle. Krummi is the son of pop legend Bo (Björgvin) Halldórsson. Krummi and Halldór are as well members of the country band Esja. Krummi's sister is a singer of the band residing in the States Steed Lord. Another Icelandic musical family ... In 3 years time the duo wrote 10 songs. Song numero uno "Amazon War" begins with a doom-goth tune. Track 2 "Benjamite Bloodline" is based on an electronic body music beat. Number 3 "City" on the album made me immediately think of a meeting of Billy Idol with the Pet Shop Boys. Number four and five bath more in a Depeche Mode atmosphere, when Dave Gahan decided to make his skin a tattoo art landscape. The other songs are echoing tributes to their idols. This album is not original, it dabbles in the rich tradition of 80's new wave and dark wave, but LEGEND does so with aplomb.

Sudden Weather Change "Sculpture"

Sudden Weather Change is a rock band consisting of students from the art academy. They started as a 11-piece noise band which then transformed to the classical 5-in-a-band. About a year ago Benjamin M. Stacey left the group. So the quartet worked diligently to a successor of the debut album with the impossible title "Stop! Hand Grenade in the Name of Crib-Death 'more about? "(Kimi Records, 2009). Before this 1st disc they released a home-made EP (2006), followed by a mini-Tour de France. Three years ago they were already named one of the most promising Icelandic artists. With the support of producers Ben Frost, Icelandic famous Aussie, and Þorbjörn G. Kólbrúnarsson, they created a "Sculpture". This sculpture was by the band released late July 2012. Location for the shooting were the Greenhouse Studios of renowned Valgeir Sigurdsson, a Bjork protégé. This second full release sounds completely different than their previous work. In the old days the group was often compared to Pavement and Sonic Youth. The new album has a bit of a concept album: it invites you to listen to the whole album in one take, because the 9 songs almost blend into one another. The guitars, drums and vocals make this sculpture more polished than the grenade, and the harmonies are now at their best. However, it remains fortunately many sharp edges. All songs are fantastic, cinematic Ennio Morricone-like intros, often supplemented with creepy noises. I hear clear similarities with the third album by the group Reykjavik!, "Locust Sounds". And last but not least it is a good live band.