Five years ago, Iceland wasn’t my number one travel destination. What drew me there this past winter was the sound of the cold, the dark, the grey, but also some epic presence. Sólstafir’s music held the edge and darkness of heavy metal, yet hung in some other-worldly balance. I wanted to see the country where this music came from. Knowing only three things – little horses, cold, aurora borealis – I booked a trip to Iceland.
photo by Falk-Hagen Bernshausen
(click here to listen to Sólstafir – Ljos I Stormi)
Most American’s are familiar with Sigur Rós, whose music evokes the melancholy mists and whispers of the fabled hidden people (elves) in the mountain’s stones. Sólstafir is the sound of the environment—gentle snowfall that becomes a wall of white-out blizzard, majestic glaciers throned on deadly, dark mountain slopes, black sands that cover shores bitten with cold—that is Iceland. A place where the environment holds a thrall of its own, working against you as you try to find your place in it.
Sólstafir sounds like the craggy, dark lava fields dusted with snow. Waterfalls lure you with the savage grace of their mists and crushing sounds. It is the music of the expanding and contracting volcano laden terrain, met with the serenity of down-like moss and still glaciers. Steam rises from the geysers like sulfuric ghosts, the pools portals to another world. Sólstafir makes an environment that is equally harsh and awe inspiring into music.
When Sólstafir came to Philadelphia in 2014, I witnessed the power of their music in the small, close basement of Underground Arts on Callowhill Street. I still felt that there was some element of Sólstafir that I hadn’t quite grasped. Two years later, and still having barely left the south-eastern corner of Pennsylvania in my life, I decided to go to Iceland. Exploring the waterfalls, witnessing the power of the Black Sand Beach’s rogue waves, I heard their music in this place. I saw their music in the landscape.