Despite losing a band mate, Sigur Ros are still headstrong, producing their most aggressive record to date.

The new Sigur Rós record is defined by difference – January 2013 marked the departure of multi-instrumentalist Kjartan Sveinsson, with a now three-piece Sigur Rós signed to XL Recordings for the release of Kveikur.

Last year’s Valatari fully realised the ethereal, ambient murmurs that past works such as ( ) exemplify. Kveikur is thus not a departure – it could be said it’s a realisation of other elements of the Sigur Rós sound. If Valatari takes place in the clouds, Kveikur is situated down on earth, exploring violent terrains and the chaos of natural phenomena.

It begins with prickly white noise, disrupted by a giant thud. Drums and heavily distorted bass bring Kveikur into being with ‘Brennisteinn’ (translation: ‘Brimstone’, fittingly evoking both elemental processes and a mythos of wrath). As the first notes come crashing down, we experience the emphatic sound that will drive the album. The next track, ‘Hrafntinna’ (‘Obsidian’), is opened and driven by busy cymbals.

Jónsi’s voice is still as warm as ever, amongst a very prominent rhythm section. He steers the more upbeat ‘Ísjaki’ (‘Iceberg’), with background vocals sounding like howling wolves. ‘Stormur’ (‘Storm’), ‘Rafstraumer’ (‘Electric Current’), and ‘Bláþráður’ (‘Thin Thread’) continue at quick-tempo, each developing into tremendous peaks.

The title track ‘Kveikur’ (‘Candlewick’) is matched only by ‘Brennisteinn’ in heaviness, again with a thunderous rhythm section. ‘Yfirborð’ (‘Surface’) is closer to Sigur Rós’s recent sounds, fuelled by volume swells and ambience, and driven by Jónsi’s voice. Subtract the drum track, and it could fit neatly into 2012’s Valatari. The closing track ‘Var’ (‘Shelter’), a piano wind-down, might be a final sanctuary, ending a pilgrimage through fierce landscapes.

4.5/ stars


Kveikur is out now through XL Recordings.

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