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  • David Bentley

Featured Artist – Pétur Ben (IS)

New releases slow to a trickle at this time of the year so this is as good a time as any to do a Featured Artist post and I’ve had it in mind to take a look at Pétur Ben (Pétur Thor Benediktsson) for a while.

Although he has been on the Icelandic music scene for a couple of decades now my exposure to his guitar skills has mainly been by way of his membership of Soffía Björg’s band, whom we featured a few weeks back with a new single. As clever a songwriter as Soffía is her work has always been enhanced by Pétur Ben’s masterful guitar work and wandering experimental solos during live performances.

But he is an award winning composer and singer-songwriter in his own right, having working as a producer, arranger and guitar player, and his list of collaborators in Iceland and abroad also includes Shahzad Ismaily, Nick Cave, Mugison, Oyama, Valdimar, Sóley, Amiina, Lay Low and the Icelandic divaEmiliana Torrini.

His 2006 debut album ‘Wine For My Weakness’ won the Icelandic Music Award for the Best Rock album that year and in 2012 he was nominated for Best Album at the same event, and separately won the Kraumur award for his second solo album ‘God’s Lonely Man’.

And his range is very wide, everything from delicate minimal folk songs to black metal. He has written music for chamber ensembles and choirs and is a founding member of KÓRUS, a notorious choir/collective of Reykjavik creatives and a sort of super group with a core of five or six but up to 30 acolytes. I saw him perform in a church at the last Iceland Airwaves (Emiliana Torrini took part if I remember) and his show spanned everything from gentle folk to some pretty raunchy stuff accompanied by some ribald humour that I was surprised went ahead in a strict Lutheran church. The times are changing in Iceland.

He writes movie and TV scores, and works for Ragnar Bragason’s movie ‘Metalhead’ (2013) and the TV show ‘Prisoners’ (2017) both won the Edda Award in the category Best Film Score. But here’s the thing. Last year I watched, in the traditional BBC4 9pm Nordic Noir slot on Saturday night, the whole eight episodes of ‘The Valhalla Murders’, the superior Icelandic cop drama about childhood abuse and murders committed 30 years previously close to Borgarnes, north of Reykjavik, and marvelling at the score without the faintest notion that Pétur Ben had written all of it.

Interesting to see too that he is signed to an Icelandic management and PR outfit, The Peer Agency, which has also brought us the likes of Myrkvi and Boncyan, and which has impressed me in the past with its commitment to supporting its artists even psychologically when needs be.

There are many videos of him on YouTube although most are quite old but I reckon he really should play this out with something from the Valhalla Murders. This is the first track from the album and the music to the opening shots of the first programme and ultimately the theme.

And here within the trailer for the series.

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