A low rumbling of thunder and static signals Sigur Ros to the stage, setting the tone for both the relaxing and terrifying tunes that are to come. The three-piece are barely visible from behind a mask of swirling fog, celestial 3D projections and the beams of stage lighting that surround them; they keep themselves at a distance, to begin with, teasing the audience towards them with a haunting batch of songs. The first is ‘óveður’, an icy new single that sits beautifully alongside their newest album as a more aggressive side of the band. Its clattering drum pads and sharp slices of tingling noise threaten to fragment throughout the track, as Jonsi’s vocal lifts into the upper realms of his voice.
The eerie forests that pan across the screen shift to interstellar projections as the band move into ‘Starálfur’. They already sound huge as they unfurl this melody, even without the album version’s heavenly trumpets. But then they step out into the open, for the crashing catharsis of ‘Sæglópur’; after a twinkling, angelic first half, Orri Páll Dýrason’s drums enter for the first time, a shocking hit of cymbals and bass kicks. Now that they are visible on the stage, Sigur Ros transform the playhouse into an intimate space. It’s a trick they pulled on their 2013 date at Usher Hall, playing a selection of songs from behind an transparent sheet, dropping it during a huge burst of sound. With music that’s somehow both vast and deeply intimate in scope, it works wonders again tonight.
Sigur Ros are one of three art rock titans playing the Edinburgh International Festival this year. They grew alongside Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, and now all three play side by side as part of the contemporary music selection. All utilise lengthy compositions, huge builds and even bigger climaxes, but Sigur Ros are perhaps the only band who’s music could be described as truly comforting. Rich piano, spacey drum timbres and a crumbling bowed guitar wrap around the audience for much of the set, the band finding new textures and moods to work into their sound. Jonsi’s gorgeous, aching falsetto is at its most powerful on ‘Festival’, where he holds a note for well over thirty seconds in a moment of stillness that shows just how much of a spell the group can put a large crowd under. Even in this moment, this set feels constantly building, journeying towards something even grander around the corner.
The tension on ‘Dauðalagið’ is felt enormously in the live setting. The booming snares and coiling baseline keep a sturdy backbone as Jonsi’s cracked voice strains upwards. The song has no real lyrics, being one of many cuts constructed from a gibberish language called Hoplandic, of the bands own creation. That doesn’t matter though; the performance conjures all of the feeling and emotion needed to draw meaning away from it.
The trio finish with ‘Popplagið’, a frequent closer that keeps its power even after hundreds of live renditions. The bow-guitar is at its most chaotic and destructive, frayed horse hairs shedding onto the floor as Georg Hólm’s propulsive guitar whirrs onward. In a flurry of drums and piercing noise, the band reach their peak. It’s a bombastic finish.
Sigur Ros’s set in Edinburgh is a transfixing hour and a half. Though the group are keeping their new tunes close to their chest, we should be excited for whatever musicians like these have round the corner.
This Sigur Ros Review was written by Stephen Butchard, a GIGsoup contributor. Photo credit : www.aliceboreasphotography.com