Sigur Rós‘ newest album, Odin’s Raven Magic, is both the long-anticipated release since 2013’s Kveikur as well as being almost 18 years in the making. Originally developed in 2002 and performed for the Reykjavík (Iceland) Arts Festival, the songs on Odin’s Raven Magic have remained in obscurity—finally receiving a proper recording after an extensive dark age where only hardcore fans of Sigur Rós knew of their existence.
The album is heavily influenced by Icelandic medieval literature, in particular “Hrafnagaldur Oðins” from which the album derives it’s name. The epic poem details how the norse god Odin’s two pet ravens survey the world and inform the god on the state of things. There is a grimness to the orchestral album, due in no small part to the medieval influences that characterize it. Haunting, echoing choirs paired with somber sustained string melodies create an ambience that would be right at home as a part of the “Lord of the Rings” or “Vikings” franchises.
The orchestrally focused sonics deviate from the band’s rock-focused sound, while maintaining its trademark classical and minimalist influences throughout. Each song plays into an ambience of thatch hut villages engulfed in biting cold fog and smoke, with subjects ruled over by feudal lords. It truly feels like the product one would expect out of a fantasy novel. Opener “Prologus” and “Alföður Orkar” ease listeners in with a slow burn of steady strings that are paired with tremolo backing vocals, as the thunderous bass drumming occasionally comes to the forefront to assert the marching on of impending doom.
“Dvergmál” takes on a more playful quality, with its use of marimba and xylophone providing a more optimistic and hopeful feel. It’s in this moment where one may get the sense this was designed to serve as the score to a film or stage production, as if we were introduced to a glum world that maintains a flicker of promise that change is just upon the horizon. Hey! Who knew that Icelandic medieval literature had so much in common with 2020 United States?
We find a similarities in the next track, “Stendur Æva,” although it closes out with some electronic distortion amid a backing choral performance. The mysterious quality of “Áss Hinn Hvíti” blending soft horns with sustained stings evokes the inquisitive and curiosity of exploring some sort of cave system or lost city.
“Hvert Stefnir” brings back the marimba with some deep cello playing, creating an unsettling (or creepy) vibe. The final tracks, “Spár Eða Spakmál” and “Dagrenning,” both return to the darker and solemn qualities of the album’s opening—although the latter does come to incorporate some abrasive electric guitar and bass for a much welcome rock shake-up. It’s mood music for the climax of an epic, tis forces of good and evil clashing, and it serves the album well for some much-needed progression and distinction. The final track ends in applause, pulling listeners back to present times while also reminding how even this performance has been the whole time. While it may lag at times due to limited dynamics, Odin’s Raven Magic is another strong example of Sigur Rós’ commitment to the avant-garde.
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