I’m more than a bit behind with this one – it was released in the second week of September – but it somehow managed to pass me by, which is quite embarrassing for someone who used to be a big fan of this band.
‘Visitor’ sees Iceland’s Of Monsters and Men return with their first original single (I think they’ve done a cover or two as well) since 2019’s third album, ‘Fever Dream’. This looks as if it is a standalone single and it isn’t as if they haven’t filled in with occasional songs between albums before, and often by way of trying out a new style. Whether or not an album will come remains to be seen. The last one took nigh on five years and a lot of writing and recording time.
I said earlier I used to be a big fan. My ardour has cooled a little for two reasons.
Firstly, because I couldn’t get my head around ‘Fever Dream’ and what they were trying to do. A listenable album for sure, but with perhaps too many contrasting styles, which spoilt the cohesion.
But mainly because when I saw them perform on the ‘Fever Dream’ tour in Manchester I felt that at times they were going through the motions, like a band coming towards the end if its life cycle.Perhaps they were just having an off night but they didn’t really look up for it. And they didn’t bring the magical trumpeter, Ragnhildur Gunnarsdóttir along on the tour either. While that mildly irritated me (I didn’t bother to go to watch them at Iceland Airwaves a week later) I know it really pissed off a lot of people.
I was half-expecting to hear they’d called it a day later but hey-ho, here they are again and you know what, ‘Visitors’ isn’t half bad. “It is a song about disconnection and being on the fringe of change, seeing everything you once knew disappear, and finding yourself in the role of the visitor," according to vocalist Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir. Nice to know you can still have visitors in Iceland, Nanna.
Having varied so much between styles on ‘Fever Dream’ they seem to be at least in the process of putting the fairytale-like folk songs which brought them fame (‘Little Talks’, ‘Dirty Paws’, ‘King & Lionheart’, ‘Mountain Sound’, ‘Six Weeks’ etc) in favour of a more powerful, cutting pop-rock style. Indeed there are similarities between ‘Visitors’ and the first track on the last album, ‘Alligator’ with a punchy rhythm section supporting Brynjar Leifsson’s trademark jangly guitar and stronger keyboard input than I’ve heard for a while.
But then, the style of ‘Alligator’ wasn’t repeated on the album so I have no idea where ‘Visitors’ is going to take them, if takes them anywhere.
Meanwhile, Nanna does her best Chrissie Hynde interpretation on the video.
OMAM have always had a little difficulty with English lyrics. I’ve often wondered if they write in Icelandic first, then translate, rather than thinking the song through in English. But they seem more or less to have got it right here and the punch line of this song I really like: “My mother said I was always afraid of the dark / But I’m not, I don’t mind / Having a ghost in my bed.”
OK, cards on the table, this isn’t going to get hundreds of millions of streams like ‘Little Talks’ did (they’ll hold the Icelandic record for that forever) but while it may be more mainstream than earlier work there’s still plenty of life left in the band yet. Album #4 please, when you’re ready.
Incidentally, there is a photograph on Instagram with, apparently, six band members rather than five, and the sixth, if there is one, isn’t Ragnhildur (there was always speculation as to if she would join the band permanently). It may be accordionist, trombonist and percussion player Sigrún Kristbjörg Jónsdóttir, who has been a touring member since 2015 and who roughly duplicates Ragnhildur’s rolethough without the panache. The one band member who I suspect most early fans would like to see back is keyboards man Árni Guðjónsson (2010-2012), who left to go to university and who has since returned to the business but not with OMAM although I think they did offer to keep the door open for him.
OMAM will be taking part in ‘Live from Reykjavik’, a live streamed event on 13th and 14th November which has replaced this year’s Iceland Airwaves festival and along with other high quality artists including Ásgeir, Emiliana Torrini, Mammύt, Jύníus Meyvant, Ólafur Arnalds and the weird and wacky Mugison who opened for OMAM the first time I saw them, telling a story about trying to get a recording contract with a British label by writing a song about bottling a fart. That’s Iceland, folks.