I have a confession to make: I had never heard of Sólstafir before reviewing Ótta. The album quickly became a firm favourite, and when they announced they were going to perform the album live with added strings and piano, attendance was a foregone conclusion.
Ótta is a gorgeous album of post-metal soundscapes that wash over the listener, and the musicians replicated this perfectly onstage at the Islington Assembly Hall. Listening to openers ‘Lagnætti’ and ‘Ótta’ fill the venue was almost a religious experience. The sounds of the live string quartet and keyboard player, who would normally be masked in such gigs, were not just audible, but well balanced with the guitars, which in turn fully demonstrated the astonishing beauty of the music on show. The musicians’ passion for their art, particularly clear in Ađalbjörn Trygvasson’s powerful vocal performance, was contagious, adding a serious depth to proceedings. Of particular note was ‘Miđaftann’, the backdrop for which was a projection of the poignant music video, aiding in bringing out the emotional depth of the music.  The much-publicised acrimonious split with long-time drummer Guđmunder Pálmasson has done nothing to diminish their performance. 
Highlights of the shorter second set included the titular song from Svartir Sandar, and the début live performance of ‘Necrologue’, a song they announced as being written in the wake of the suicide of a friend of the band. Both of them hauntingly melodic, ‘Necrologue’ was the heaviest of the evening, both in emotional weight and in being the closest to their black metal roots of the setlist.  The sound, especially on ‘Svartir Sandar’, really filled the venue, to the point almost of being tangible.
However, one thing let the show down: the audience. Almost every show has drunken idiots crowd-surfing their way to the front, clocking you on the back of the head with their boots on the way, or enormous blokes who couldn’t be bothered to queue elbowing you on their way to the front to take a blurry video for Youtube. But this audience was something else entirely: they talked, loudly, through the entire performance. As soon as each song ended, everyone was chatting. Even on ‘Necrologue’, an immensely personal song for the band to perform, it was a strain to hear the musicians over the audience in the quieter moments. When the music crescendoed, it drowned everything out in a dense aural atmosphere, but in the quieter sections, the audience chatter was an annoying, and sometimes downright rude, distraction.
Ultimately, rude as the audience were, Sólstafir put on an absolutely fantastic show. The musicianship from both band and support was incredible, and their passion was overwhelming. I have another confession: I was wrong in my album review. Ótta is about so much more than just a post-metal visualisation of the times of day. It’s a work of pure beauty, wrought into a gorgeous set of soundscapes that capture everything good about post-metal, and it’s even better live.
For further reading, check out our review of Sólstafir’s tour with Dialects.