The mesmerising, beautiful Ágćtis Byrjun propelled Sigur Rós on to the world stage, but the band’s most recent album—the slightly disappointing ()—had them dismissed by many quarters as a one-trick-pony. Those of you who reckon one of Iceland’s finest exports are capable of no more than spellbinding dirges have obviously never heard Von, the band’s debut album, which is finally widely available outside of Iceland.
Although this album does have the seeds of what would become the trademark Sigur Rós sound, it also has more of a chilling edge; far from the comforting warmth of most of Ágćtis, Veröld Ný Og Ođ instead presents a three-minute industrial sonic challenge that wouldn’t be out of place on a Throbbing Gristle album, as does the highly atmospheric but positively terrifying Sigur Rós—a track that veers wildly between uncomfortable distant echoes and spine-chilling sonic screeches during its ten-minute stay. Followed by the disturbing Dögun—more screeching, an oft-kilter choral section, and more atmospherics—it’s almost too much to bear.
Thankfully, a more familiar sound also exists between these aural assaults. Title track Von is nothing short of incredible: a heart-warming piece that brings to mind the band’s later work, but that retains a sense of fragility in its delivery that’s both highly emotive and strikingly beautiful. Despite feeling a little unsure of itself, the track has a presence and clarity, and, indeed, a more “musical” bent that would eventually merge entirely with excessive reverb to found the band’s trademark orchestral dirge. The twelve-minute Hafssól is in a similar, if slightly more experimental space, as is Syndir Guđs, a track that almost acts as a segue to the masterful Ágćtis Byrjun album.
Elsewhere, the relentless and utterly amazing Hún Jörđ ramps up the power, with screaming electric guitars backing the rumbling drums, all providing a perfect counterpoint to singer Jonsi’s vocals—a mix of choral brilliance and distorted texture that’s very much an instrument in its own right (something that would be taken to the extreme on the band’s () album).
Von is a fragmented release that appears to be wrenching itself apart at the seams. One minute experimental noise, the next, some of the most beautiful music you’ve ever heard, Von is full of rich textures and contrasts; and although the band’s sound and identity would eventually form a more coherent whole, this debut album remains a fascinating and essential musical journey that highlights the sheer number of paths that could have been taken.
Record Label: Bad Taste