Venue: 17 Villiers St, London WC2N 6NG, UK
Date: 17th November 2017
London’s Heaven club may not actually be the seat of Paradise, but the combined efforts of Árstiđir, Myrkur, and Sólstafir all conspired to transport the audience there on Friday 17th November. Atmosphere was definitely the name of the game as these three bands took to the stage, and wove a spell across the eager listeners.
The last time I saw Sólstafir in London [report here], the audience talked the entire way through, breaking that atmospheric spell. While people persisted again this time around, the efforts of Árstiđir managed to overpower the talkers. A pop-tinged, post-rock-flavoured acoustic group from Iceland, they are most famous for singing a hymn in a German train station. They actually introduced ‘Heyr, Himna Smiđur’ with the words “We usually sing this in train stations,” to the amusement of the crowd. It was an impassioned performance, and is one of a very few occasions where a live performance has sent chills down my spine. Theirs is a soft, quiet sound, not given to powerful chords or loud screams, though it is in places mournful. If Ólafur Arnalds and Ludovico Einaudi composed together, it might sound something like Árstiđir. At times, the talkers were audible, but somehow, the trio of a pianist, a guitarist, and a baritone guitarist managed to drown them out. Quite how, I’m still not sure.
I watched Myrkur with interest, her Islamophobic remarks scratching at the back of my mind.  The acoustic Mausoleum performance was exceptionally well-received, so to see her bring a full black metal performance to stage was an intriguing proposition. Sadly, it didn’t quite live up to expectations. Perhaps her comments lingered too much in my mind, preventing her atmospheric music from completely hooking me. But it also felt as if the musicians she had brought with her weren’t wholly putting heart and soul into it. She herself used a wind machine and microphone stand carved from a dead branch to bring out a suitably witchy aesthetic for her own theatrics, but it all felt phoned in. None of the musicians felt invested in the music they were playing. Even Bruun herself didn’t seem to be wholly into her performance. The crowd at large still loved it, and when the musicians really got going, they made an excellent performance of ‘Skogen Skulle Do’ and ‘Volvens Spadom’ / ‘Jeg Er Guden, I Er Tjenerne’, and her solo at the end was bewitching. A shame, then, that the preceding performances were so flat for me.
Sólstafir, however, were on fine form. The set was, understandably, focussed on Berdreyminn, including the excellent opening of ‘Silfur-Refur’, a genuinely spine-tingling performance of ‘Hula’, and a storming ‘Blafjall’. They slightly rushed ‘Ísafold’, but this was a minor blip in an otherwise brilliant set which included fan favourites ‘Lagnætti’, ‘Ótta’, and ‘Fjara’. Köld was the oldest album they performed from, bringing the set to an end with a rousing performance of ‘Goddess of the Ages’. Ađalbjörn Tryggvason’s emotive vocals are a delight to listen to both recorded and live, and though ‘Hula’ deserves full choral backing to really make it shine, he managed to wring almost every emotional drop from the song all by himself.
When I shuffle off this mortal coil, should I discover that Heaven is just a club in London, then I will very glad to have visited it to see such fine musicians. Arstidir and Solstafir were brilliant, making for a fantastic live show.
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