In a small venue in Bristol an incredibly polite Icelandic man asks the 100 or so members of the audience if they would be kind enough to “put your hands up if you've seen us before”. Welcome to Solstafir, a metal band from Reykjavik who have been plying their art for the past 20 years. For the majority of us, it was only with the release of last year’s beautifully crafted Ótta that the Icelanders crossed across our metal radars. With tracks laden with the melancholic flavouring of The Sisters Of Mercy, The Mission, The Fields of the Nephilim, the despair of Joy Division and a fair dollop of Scandinavian metal, Solstafir delivered a perfectly paced 90 minutes with a cross section of their back catalogue. The majority of the set was built on tracks from their last two albums, Svartir Sandar and Ótta, neatly sandwiched between opener Kold and closer Goddess Of The Ages, both from third album Kold.
The band make a substantial sound for a four piece, relying on samples and tapes for some of the more intricate and complex passages in their play but at no time allowing this to distract from playing of the members on stage with some heavy riffage from guitarist Sæþór Maríus "Pjúddi" Sæþórsson and front man Aðalbjörn "Addi" Tryggvason, as well as traditional Icelandic banjo at the middle part of the set, alongside the steady rhythm section of Svavar "Svabbi" Austmann and stand-in drummer Karl Petur Smith who does a sterling job, showing his quality throughout. The main focal point of Solstafir remains Trggvsason, who writhes, gyrates and squirms throughout the set, his voice ranging from hushed tones through to a forceful angst ridden cry as the emotions peak in tracks such as Lágnætti. Tryggvason also appears genuinely delighted to see a reasonable audience and thanks us profusely several times for joining them. His humour is well received and, similar to many of the bands from the Northern hemisphere, full of self-depreciation about the fact they sing in their native tongue, it their cowboy image and the absence of anything interesting in Iceland apart from volcanoes and the odd glacier.
As the set moved toward its conclusion, we were offered a couple more songs rather than the obligatory encore. Now, whilst this was partly due to the layout in The Exchange which would have necessitated the band leaving through the audience and then having to come back through them, it was also a welcome move which I for one fully endorse. As Addi announced the bad news that they only had one more song to play, he quickly raised spirits by introducing Goddess Of The Ages, all 14 minutes of it in a glorious finale full of musical peaks and troughs culminating in a convulsing finish which earned a massive roar of approval from the assembled throng. A quite brilliant set, from a band that offer so much more at a time when the metal world is stagnating with repetition and mediocrity. 9/10