It's funny how something that annoys the shit out of me coming from one band can really appeal to me coming from a different source. Earlier this year I tore into the new Alcest record for being a dreary, boring piece of shit. Primarily, the band's continued push into shoegaze territory had, in my opinion, stripped them down to nothing but directionless jangling. Yet here I sit, listening to a one-time Viking metal band that has just produced a slow-paced post-metal album that leans almost as heavily on shoegaze as Alcest currently do, and I love it.
So am I just being erratic or hypocritical, simply because I (consciously or not) want to like Sólstafir better than Alcest? I won't deny the possibility, but I don't think that's what is going on in this case. Rather, there are some key differences between these albums that I think matter a hell of a lot more than the general stylistic shift toward post-metal.
First, Sólstafir haven't forgotten who they are. Tasteful splashes of acoustic folk instrumentation ranging from violin to what sounds like a banjo still tie them back to their traditional roots. The Icelandic-language vocals establish that link even more firmly, demonstrating that while the band's general style has evolved, their soul remains uncompromised. To me, that is important.
Second, those vocals I just mentioned are delivered with such passion and sincerity that I can't help but feel drawn to them. The mystery of what he's actually saying only adds to the intrigue, causing the vocal performance to take on an almost mystical quality while remaining deeply human and sincerely compelling.
Third and finally, while Ótta is a generally slow album, it still has energy and a sense of direction. The quiet passages feel beautiful and contemplative, and the music rises and falls, with active passages that build to crescendos before rolling back down into gentle valleys. The gorgeous piano plays perfectly into this flow, playing a truly vital roll rather than existing as window-dressing. It's okay that the music is mostly very mellow, because while Alcest was just quiet for a lack of anything to say, this is quiet because sometimes a soft word is the strongest. Music doesn't have to be heavy and aggressive to be engaging, as long as it's purposeful and passionate: a truth which this record demonstrates wonderfully.
I'm not totally convinced that this is really classifiable as metal rather than some form of alternative post-rock. Whatever you want to call it, though, I think it's wonderful.