(Almost exactly one year ago we published Gemma Alexander’s great interview of Guðmundur Óli Pálmason, the drummer of what is today probably Iceland’s best known metal band, and a huge NCS favorite: Sólstafir. And today we present his list of favorite releases from 2013, with our thanks for participating in this year’s Listmania series.)
When the awesomely named I.S.Lander (Íslendingur) asked us Sólstafir boys to write a short best of 2013 list there was no way I could say no, even though I should have. I suck at making lists, and I suck even more at making year-end lists. I really can’t decide what’s my most favourite and what’s my second favourite, and third and so on. So the albums I’m writing about here are in alphabetical order, and this year the alphabet only contains 3 letters. Good for me. Also, in later years I have become a lazy consumer, I should be making a best of 2009 list, and the first album on my list will tell you why:
Alice in Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here
A month or so ago I decided that maybe it was time to check out the new Alice in Chains albums, and by new I mean 2009’s Black Gives Way to Blue, and this year’s The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here. It took a few listens to get into both albums, and I must say there aren’t as many instant hits here as on Dirt, but both albums contain a great “wholeness” and are great for old fashioned isteners like me who listen to an album as a whole.
The atmosphere seems to me a bit darker on these new offerings and less 90’s Seattle grungy, which is a good thing in my books. The title track of The Devil… is especially pleasing to my ears.
Autopsy – The Headless Ritual
Another band making a comeback. Autopsy has been one of my all-time favorite bands for roughly two decades, so I was very pleased to see them return in 2009 with the quite good Horrific Obsession EP. But after the disappointing comeback album Macabre Eternal two years later, I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Headless Ritual. The 2009 EP had proved that Autopsy still had it in them, and luckily The Headless… proved to be the return of the real old school Autopsy I know and love.
Hallur Ingólfsson – Öræfi
I doubt many NCS readers know Hallur Ingólfsson, but you should. Hallur started his musical career in the late 80’s as a drummer in Icelandic rock bands Gipsy and HAM. In the early 90’s he formed XIII, playing all instruments on their sophomore album Salt before recruiting other members and turning XIII into a full-fledged band. But Hallur also continued making music on his own, mostly for theatre, movies, and dance compositions. It’s that soundscape that Hallur draws upon on Öræfi, his second solo album.
Hallur plays all the instruments here himself, except the piano, which is played by Þorbjörn Sigurðsson. Although Öræfi (Icelandic for Wilderness) contains 9 instrumental songs, it runs through like one composition, somewhere in the same ball park as later time Earth and Yawning Man. Fat, semi-acoustic guitars with more reverb than drive roam the sonic wilderness, only contained by the grand piano that rises up from the plains like unpassable mountain ridges.
Saktmóðigur – Demetra er dáin 7″EP
Saktmóðigur, Iceland’s only true punk band. The band with the unprouncable name, even for Icelanders. Probably the only punk band in the world that sports a lawyer on the vocals, with a licence to practice in his country’s highest court. Saktmóðigur is truly a band of many contradictions.
Although having been active non-stop since 1991, Saktmóðigur seems to have been lost in a fog of uncreativity from 1998 (when they released Plata (Plata means Album in Icelandic – great name for an album!)) until they released the awesome Guð hann myndi gráta (God He Would Cry) in 2011. That 2011 release seems to have lit the creative fires within Saktmóðigur again, and one and a half year later they return with their strongest, albeit most accessible material yet.
Sigur Rós – Kveikur
Kveikur is Sigur Rós´ first album after long-time member Kjartan left the band. Kjartan’s departure allegedly made the remaining 3 members go back to basics in their garage, where the band simply rocked out. The result being a lot less introverted and more rock’n’rollish than ever. Songs like “Brennisteinn” are the heaviest Sigur Rós has ever done, and in my opinion also their best.
Strigaskór Nr. 42 – Armadillo
Ok, it seems like I’m stuck in some sort of come-back albums “best of” list. Nineteen years after Strigaskór Nr. 42 (Sneakers No. 42 – ok they formed the band when they were 13 or something, hence the stupid name) released their critically aclaimed debut Blót, they return with Armadillo. Blót is a hard act to follow. Considered by many as THE best metal album ever released by an Icelandic band, despite all its avantgarde qurkiness. Armadillo is much more straightforward, but still contains all the unmistakable Strigaskór quirkiness.
Daft Punk – Random Access Memory
What can I say? I like good disco. It wasn’t the mega hit “Get Lucky” that reeled me in on this album, although it’s a happy-go-lucky song to drink to. I got totally hooked on “Moroder by Giorgio”, a kind of a tribute song to analogue synth composer Giorgio Moroder.
Dimma – Myrkraverki í Hörpu – Live DVD
Dimma celebrated the release of their album Myrkraverk in Iceland’s new music house Harpa and subsequently relesed the concert on DVD. Dimma’s rock hooks can sometimes border on the lines of cheesy, without ever going full blue-mold-cheese, so it’s hard to get the melodic sing-along lines to stop resonating in one’s skull. Myrkraverk would have made my top 2012 list if NCS had had the decency to ask me for one!
Mammút – Komdu til mín svarta systir
Another Icelandic band on my list, what a surprise. I really love the band’s second album Karkari, but the follow up Komdu til mín svarta systir (Icelandic for Come to Me Black Sister (black as in dark, melancholic – not dark-skinned) hasn’t captured me as much – yet. Mammút has always been a band I need to listen to quite a few times before crossing the like/love line. I hope the stupid title, awkward lyrics, and ugly album cover won’t prevent me from crossing that line after a few more listens.
Skepna – Tætt er sú sál
I need to start listening to non-Icelandic music! Skepna is a garage rock band formed by aforementioned Hallur Ingólfsson and XIII/Dimma drummer Birgir Jónsson with the intent of being a, well, garage rock band. So, all instruments were played “live” with no overdubs. It’s a nice idea but eventually comes down on the quality in my opinion. I hope the boys rock this idea out of their system and return to the studio some day with an open mind for a shitload of overdubs and over-prduction. Well, maybe not quite, but you get my drift.
Note to self: Tomahawk and Voïvod released albums in 2013 that I will probably like. Must check out before I re-write my best of 2013 list sometime in 2017.
Guðmundur Óli Pálmason