Sigur Ros – Kveikur

After the blissed out ambient soundscapes of last year’s Valtari, Sigur Ros make a quick return to the fray with Kveikur, the band’s seventh studio album since their formation in 1997. Heralded as a darker, more industrial sounding direction for the band, Kveikur is their first recording since the departure of Kjartan Sveinsson, a founding member and someone who played an integral part in creating their signature sound.

So is this the ‘industrial’ revolution advance publicity would have us believe?

Well, not quite; while Kveikur contains some of the bands darkest moments since their second album, it is also liberally sprinkled with some of their most anthemic and poppy songs to date. Much of the speculation about the change in direction came about following the preview screening of a video for lead track ‘Brennisteinn’.

Opening with a squall of static before settling into a dark and ominous groove ‘Brennisteinn’ is a fantastic opener and gives credence to the notion that Kveikur might mark a shift from light to darkness. But once Jonsi starts to sing, the darkness dissipates, and we are back in familiar Sigur Ros territory. ‘Ísjaki’ and ‘Stormur’ are the kind of rousing pop songs that first surfaced on their most commercial album to date Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, while ‘Rafstraumur’ sounds uncannily like an Icelandic Coldplay.

We are a full five songs in before we are back to exploring their darker side again –the title track ‘Kveikur’ creeps in on a murky, distorted beat,  a little Depeche Mode at their most thrilling and threatening with a chorus that is vintage Sigur Ros – the trademark Jonsi falsetto soaring skywards, over thumping drums and stirring instrumentation. The album closes on a predictably sombre note with the nocturnal piano lullaby ‘Var’.

For all the talk of new departures, Kveikur is an album that seems caught between two stools – it never quite goes far enough in pushing towards, a braver, darker vision of what the band is about, reverting to type and more familiar ground just when things are getting really interesting. There is an added emphasis on arena rock dynamics and it is easy to see these tracks working very well in a live setting.

If this was the work of any other band, we would be hailing Kveikur as a resounding success. Its best moments remind us just how exhilarating this band are when they hit their stride, but it is not nearly brave enough or bold enough for a band that have released some of the most beautiful and innovative music of the last decade.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)