Album Reviews

Sigur Rós – Átta

(BMG) UK release date: 16 June 2023

The Icelanders’ first album in 10 years, released ahead of a sold-out orchestral tour, ebbs and flows magnificently

Sigur Ros - Átta Átta could be called the album which Sigur Rós fans never thought they’d see. It would have been to fair to assume that 2013’s Kveikur was the swansong for the Icelandic band: they were embroiled for years in a dispute with the Icelandic government regarding tax evasion (a case which went on for five years, but all charges have now been dropped), and drummer Orri Páll Dýrason was accused of sexual assault and left the band in 2018, leaving Sigur Rós reduced to, in effect, a duo: vocalist Jónsi and bassist Georg Holm.

Yet, as the cliche goes, good things come when you least expect them, and Átta has suddenly arrived without much fanfare as the first Sigur Rós album in 10 years, ahead of an appearance at Christine And The Queens‘ Meltdown and a sold-out orchestral tour. It’s also an album that sees the return of keyboard player Kjartan Sveinsson, who had left the band in 2012.

It won’t come as much as a surprise to learn that, despite the turmoil of the last decade, Átta still very much sounds like a Sigur Rós album. It’s almost become a cliche to describe their music as “ethereal” and “glacial”, but they’re fitting adjectives for their soundscapes. Songs unfurl slowly, sometimes building into intense cacophonies, while other tracks are almost gossamer light, floating along and fading away.

The absence of Dýrason’s drums is noticeable – in fact, it’s not until the fourth track Klettur that even a noticeable drumbeat makes an appearance. It’s certainly an abrupt about-turn from Kveikur, which sounded almost industrial in places, for this is a far more contemplative experience, with tracks like the seven minute long Blóðberg making the most of the orchestral arrangements provided by the London Contemporary Orchestra.

As ever, it’s more about what these songs make you feel, rather than what they’re about. The lyrics are the usual mix of Icelandic and Jónsi’s famous ‘Hopelandic’ vocalisations, but no matter what the subject is, he always finds a way to make these songs sound impossibly emotional. You’ll have to turn up the volume to even hear his hushed vocals on Andrá, yet when a gently strummed acoustic guitar rises from the darkness, it becomes unexpectedly moving.

For a band who have soundtracked more than their fair share of films, it’s no surprise to find a cinematic atmosphere to many of the tracks on Átta. The shortest song, Fall, is reminiscent of The Antlers, anchored by a poignant piano chord, and would easily fit over the closing titles of a particularly emotional movie.

The aforementioned Klettur is the one track that could be even vaguely described as ‘rock’- huge and dramatic, at times the orchestral strings sound almost overwhelming. Skel is also intense, in a far quieter manner, with Jónsi’s falsetto gaining more power as the song goes on, while the closing track 8 has a celestial, heavenly feel: the long fade-out almost feels necessary in order to recover from the track’s power.

Átta is an album which demands to be listened to in its entirety, a 56 minute journey which ebbs and flows magnificently. It’s exactly what you’d expect from Sigur Rós, with a few surprises thrown in, and without doubt one of the more welcome comeback stories of the year.

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