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Sigur Ros - Odin's Raven Magic

I’m not sure why but I seemed to have found an affinity with Iceland during my life, a fascination with the cold environment and remoteness of its placing within the world. The first time I really registered the country was during the second and third Cod Wars that took place in the 1970s. Less wars more fishing territorial disputes with Naval ships attached, it wasn’t until I really learned about the volcanic and remote landscape that I found myself drawn to the place. I’m saying that as if I have visited the island, but that isn’t the case. I was drawn through two things. One was the photography of Thomas Joshua Cooper and his contrasty desolate landscapes highlighted in his monograph Dreaming: The Gokstadt, while the other was the music of Bjork, Ólafur Arnalds, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Sigur Ros. Musically, all the artists seem to create a spartan atmospheric series of soundscapes that were distanced from the other music that surrounded them - and no more is this diversity apparent than in the catalogue of Sigur Ros.

A band that could never be placed within a genre, their earlier work crossed boundaries like a horse jumping fences. Classical, ambient, folk, rock, soundtracks and even industrial noise, they had the ability to create music that was truly unique as if they had never listened to anything the rest of the world was producing. The bands’ seven albums which they produced between 1997’s Von to 2013’s Kveikur all followed individual themes that were explored, and placed them top of the art music list with live performances that carried real substance. When I saw them play in front of the Jodrell Bank Telescope incorporating a recording of the wind on the moon as part of the set, I was truly enthralled. Although the band had many members who came and went, things seemed to take a turn musically for the remaining original members Jonsi and Georg Holm after the departure of Kjartan Sveinsson (to take a different direction) and Orri Pall Dyrason (after being accused of sexual assault). There followed solo projects (Jonsi’s Riceboy Sleeps, Go & Shiver), soundtrack appearances (Game Of Thrones and Black Mirror) and compilation creation (Liminal & Liminal 2), but re-releases of back catalogue projects became the norm with repackaged and added tracks for fans (including me) to be pulled in by. The only real album of new music came from an event they did on the longest day of summer in 2016 when they drove around Iceland’s Ring Road broadcasting the entire 1332km journey live on YouTube. To soundtrack this journey they reinvented the stems of their 2016 single release, the electronic pulsating Ovedur, using music generative software creating a new and unpredictable sound in a live situation. The original subsequent release Route 1 was 24 hours long, though the best moments were also placed on a single album. Still, this experiment was just that, an experiment, an art project and, although still fairly unique and exciting in its creation, rarely did the music produced come close to the beautiful structures of their formative years and us fans were still left longing.

We reach 2020 and after the brilliant Jonsi’s solo project Shiver we find another delve into the Sigur Ros back catalogue with the release of Odin’s Raven Magic. A collaboration that was premiered live at the Reykjavik Arts Festival in 2002, this work shows the band at their most classical and maybe their most Icelandic. A combination of folk songs and sounds created on instruments that include stone xylophones, the music is a haunting beautiful combination of traditional and modern. Tracks like Dvergmal let the rhythm slowly build up throughout its seven and a half minute duration, while the mournful voices on Alfodur Orkar bear little resemblance to a Sigur Ros track at all. It’s Stendur Aeva that brings the band to the forefront as Jonsi’s high falsetto singing mingles with the traditional voices and the strings and horns of the orchestra that surrounds them. I first listened to the album on an early morning drive along the M4, the rain beating down on my windscreen while in the distance the broken clouds let the morning light struggled to show its presence. This was the perfect soundtrack to that journey - my mind elsewhere while others rushed past me on the morning commute to who-knows-where. So good is the recording of this live performance that I, until the clapping of the audience at the end, didn’t realize it was a live recording! Why it has taken 18 years to be released is a question I haven’t found the answer to at present.

Once again, I haven’t got a new Sigur Ros album like Takk or ( ), but when they find a gem like Odin’s Raven Magic within their cupboard, then you’ll find yourself satisfied for a little longer.

Thanks for reading.

Listen to Odin's Raven Magic on Spotify here.

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