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Sigur Rós - Odin's Raven Magic (Album Review)

Thursday, 10 December 2020 Written by Jacob Brookman

Photo: Eva Vermandel

Behold, ye mortals! The end is nigh! But not because of a no-deal Brexit. This is ‘Odin’s Raven Magic’, the latest record from Icelandic post-rock masters, Sigur Rós. It’s an opera based on Norse mythology and ancient Edda poetry, and if you ever tried to envisage what the previous 26 words would actually sound like, fear not. You’re spot on. 

It’s epic, sweeping and often very hammy. Hammy as in, ‘Hello, could I have some extra ham with my portion of just ham?’ Yes, yes you can. It’s also occasionally stunning. The recording, taken from a 2004 performance at Paris’s Grande Halle de la Villette, is a stirring odyssey over eight parts that includes a backing orchestra, stone marimba and full choir. Very occasionally, Jónsi’s devastating and unique falsetto cuts through, but the majority of the singing is handled elsewhere.

That said, the star of the piece is that stone marimba. Built by Páll Guðmundsson, the instrument's wooden slats have been replaced by Icelandic stones. The result is a creeping, granular sense of frozen air that gives the whole work a signature quality.

The arrangement is also generally superb, with balance and textures intersecting neatly thanks to a great deftness of touch.

Unfortunately, this element stumbles during the finale, Dagrenning, which introduces an epic rock beat when it really wasn’t needed. At this point, the music drops into the pop-classical crossover category that makes it seem more like a movie soundtrack than a standalone work or piece of rhapsodic dramaturgy.

‘Odin’s Raven Magic’ is likely best suited to those who discovered Sigur Rós through their most celebrated albums, ‘Ágætis byrjun’ and ‘( )’. It uses a lot of the same techniques and has a lot of the same emotional programming. While occasionally cloying, it does not outstay its 65 minute welcome and the recording itself is wonderfully crisp—you really wouldn’t know it was a concert until the applause roars at the end. Certainly worth adding to extended Christmas playlists.


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