Album Review: Katla – “Móðurástin”

Named after one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes, Icelandic atmospheric rock band Katla sets forth to bring soul-crushing melodies and ethereal soundscapes to the Nordic music scene. Founded by Guðmundur Óli Pálmason, former drummer of Sólstafir – another rock band from Iceland – and singer/multi-instrumentalist Einar Thorberg Guðmundsson, the duo have finally released their debut album “Móðurástin”, or “Mother’s Love”. The album takes listeners on a breathtaking journey into the cold, wintry depths of Iceland, whilst guided by captivating hooks and sonorous, evocative vocals.

“Aska” takes the lead in evoking the album’s eerie and gloomy nature. An instrumental tune that captures the dreary, desolate side of Iceland’s wilderness, “Aska” features enthralling riffs that reverberate throughout the surrounding atmosphere. Soon after, Katla introduces the following track “Hyldýpi” with a series of delicate riffs and Einar’s warm, soothing vocals. The entire song has a resounding hollowness, lending it a cold yet passionate ambience. It wastes no time in achieving a fast and heavy pace, juxtaposing emotional vocal passages with energetic drum work.

Catchy and electric whilst retaining some of the album’s atmospheric vibe, “Nátthagi” channels the retro vibes of rock’n’roll via its rhythmic riffs while merging them with the band’s wistful sound. It is one of the “happier-sounding” songs on this album, with Einar’s sonorous voice carrying across a sea of sinewy hooks and chord progressions. The tender opening riffs and Einar’s soothing voice in “Hreggur” provide a delicate start to the track which slowly but surely gains in intensity. The song takes a turn for the darker and aggressive route halfway through. The significant increase in the drumming intensity, coupled with Einar’s soaring voice all contribute to the track’s dynamicity and rising vigor. Perhaps this aggression acts as a foreshadowing of the following tune “Móðurástin”?

Poignant in its composition and cathartic in its execution, the title track “Móðurástin” shines as the most heartrending track on this album. In contrast to the earlier tracks, “Móðurástin”’s aggression is tinged with a layer of anguish and despair. It not only has Einar favouring a harsher vocal approach to the song, but the overall composition simply screams (pun intended) desolation and hysteria. This track also witnesses the contribution of vocals by Einar’s sister Sylvía Guðmundsdóttir. She lends her ethereal, saccharine voice to the track’s chorus, harmonizing in unison with her brother’s deranged vocal performance. Yells and cries echo throughout the track, concocting a frantic and forlorn ambience amidst the crushing weight of the bass lines and riffs. The song finally wraps up with a haunting recording of the ballad “Hvað Syngur Litli Fuglinn” (What Sings the Little Bird) which was – remarkably – performed by Guðmundur’s great-grandmother Laugheiður Jónsson back in 1934!

The down-tempo “Kul” kicks off with an emotive spoken passage accompanied by drum beats and a piano passage before segueing into a resounding chorus. The piano solo in the middle of the track, backed by a cello passage, coats the song with a symphonic vibe. The album closes with the twelve-and-a-half-minute long “Dulsmál”, an epic composition that witnesses spoken passages, soaring vocals and distorted riffs. The backing piano solo, choir and rapid drumming that surface in the latter half of the song build up on the overall tension, only to fall back down towards a haunting and melancholic end.

To sum up, Katla weaves a tapestry of stirring melodies and crestfallen soundscapes, all consolidated into a single package that is “Móðurástin”. It is an impressive project that simply transcends language barriers and engages listeners with its resonant compositions and solid instrumental work.

The album is currently unavailable for streaming on Spotify, but you can listen to it on their Bandcamp:

By Chen May

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I live for 90s alternative rock and Robyn's "Dancing on My Own".

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