Árstíðir - ‘Hvel’
There are some of my most treasured albums that made such an immediate impression on me that I remember exactly when and where I was when I first heard them. Bob Moulds classic debut solo album ‘Workbook’ on vinyl in my parents lounge on a cold winters day, the brilliant and criminally underrated Clearlake and their debut album ‘Lido’ as I was driving to work between Christmas and New Year about 12 years ago, and Norwegian band Major Parkinson on New Years Eve at work 3 years ago. So whilst the M56 just outside Runcorn might not be one of my most treasured locations, I think I will probably remember it as the place I first heard the new Árstíðir album ‘Hvel’. It is simply a stunning album, beautifully written and arranged, with a real magical quality to it.
For those that don’t know Icelandic band Árstíðir, they received worldwide acclaim as a result of an impromptu performance of a 13th century Icelandic hymn in a train station in Germany . The acoustics of the station were perfect, the performance ‘went viral’ and I highly recommend you search for it online. ‘Hvel’ is their 3rd album, but it was funded by a Crowdfunder appeal, money raised by fans through pledges of money in return for pre-orders and an assortment of merchandise. This is not a band being forced upon our listening ears by a big Record Company with a huge marketing budget, these are musicians funded and directly ‘employed’ by those that respect and love them the most, their fans.
‘Hvel’ is a pretty extraordinary album. It has an intimacy to it which makes it feel personal, but it is powerful too, with strings that are integral to the writing rather than added as additional arrangements. It opens quietly and serenely enough with ‘Himinhvel’, a song in Icelandic (about half of them are) before the album builds in intensity with ‘Things you Said’, a simple but beautiful melody that begins with guitar and vocals, but builds with a powerful level of intensity and crescendo strings that eventually take over the track. The last note is so exquisite and potent, its left hanging and resonating, and its ‘goose bump’ material. These musicians now have me hooked.
Whilst I love ‘Moonlight’ equally, the album develops as it reaches ‘Fridthaegingin’, a higher tempo and a pretty stunning and at times menacing violin solo. ‘Ro’ is just a breathtaking track, acoustic guitar and the most astonishing and captivating Violin melody, which seems to take ‘Hvel’ to a different level altogether. I’m still reeling as ‘Cannon’ opens, and immediately have to go back and listen to ‘Ro’ once more before I feel I can continue. But my highlight is still to come, ‘Shine’ opens with (I think) a pizzicato cello, before an unearthly hymn like tune which reminds me of that Train Station performance, and then build again with a forcefulness and intensity I’ve rarely heard.
I’ve tried to write personally about the effect ‘Hvel’ has had on me, because it does feel so intimate and personal in its delivery and writing. These are extraordinary musicians, and I feel very privileged to be listening to their compositions. I also feel that there is so much more to discover in ‘Hvel’, and I’m pretty happy about that too. Clearly only time will tell whether this will always be amongst my most treasured albums in 10 years time, but I know for certain that this is an exceptional album, completely beautiful and utterly mesmerizing. Please try it for yourself.
Nordic Music Review 9/10