The end of the world, godly banquets and extravagant Norse mythology — there’s no better topic to set a sprawling classical piece to, and Sigur Rós has taken it upon itself to deliver an impressive rendition of an age-old tale ushered into modernity. The Icelandic post-rock group released Odin’s Raven Magic on Dec. 4, an orchestral composition set to an Icelandic poem of the same name. Originally performed in 2002, arguably one of the peaks in the band’s career, Odin’s Raven Magic hones in on the classical influences that Sigur Rós has always weaved into its music, allowing the beauty of the genre to steep in the dreamy post-rock grandeur the artist is known for.
“Prologus” is a dark, rumbling starter to the album, a purely instrumental track intended to guide listeners into the mystical world of Odin. But Sigur Rós wrings beauty from the ominous atmosphere with lilting string instruments and squealing sound effects that help break up the deafening nature of the song. The nervous edge established in “Prologus” lingers in later tracks, but is ultimately absorbed by the energy of the orchestra and soothing vocals.
But, the full embodiment of beauty and grace begins with “Dvergmal,” in which Sigur Rós drives its engulfing, ethereal sound home among the classical arrangements. “Dvergmal” starts with a twinkling, tonal lithophone that straddles the line between whimsy and elegance. When, unexpectedly but pleasantly, the drums kick in, they add a striking contemporary flair to a song otherwise waxing ancient poetic. The band is wholly in its element here, from the choir harmonizations to the soft violin notes dancing around the deep bass. All the while, the lithophone from the intro anchors the song in a lighthearted allure.
“Stendur æva” is sonically in the same vein as “Dvergmal,” but much fuller and more experimental in sound. Icelandic vocalist Steindór Andersen lends his assuring, wise vocals, riding the crescendoing violin fills of the track. Halfway through, frontman Jónsi’s unmistakable falsetto vocals join the medley, nothing short of angel descending from heaven. He trades off with Andersen in a lovely, swelling manner. The band also attempts to incorporate a mixing board for percussion sound effects, but the strange, futuristic flair fails to contribute any substance and is quickly — and thankfully — overshadowed by the vocals.
On Odin’s Raven Magic, Sigur Rós finds its strengths in combining slow and building compositions with engaging post-rock quirks and emotions. Where booming, triumphant tracks such as “Áss hinn hvíti” lack in tenderness, songs such as “Spár eða spakmál” pick up the slack with their timeless twinges of hope. The album suffers slightly, however, from its connection to its namesake. It ends up sounding rather overgeneralized, applying to any tale of mythology rather than the specific poem it aims to soundtrack. “Dagrenning” is the one track that truly lives up to the title of the poem, an enchanting ending to Odin’s great banquet, particularly effective if listeners are even somewhat familiar with the original story.
Narrative quality aside, Odin’s Raven Magic is a testament to Sigur Rós’s uncanny ability to blend classical and rock elements so seamlessly that neither genre loses its integrity, nor is one genre swallowed up by the other. The album does not overwhelm its audience with the heavy atmospheric elements either, finding the sweet spot between mesmerizing listeners and entirely stunning them. While not every single song is as inspired or thematically relevant as it could be, they all work together in a cohesive manner.
Sigur Rós is a master of incorporating elements of music that create a conflicting, complex emotional experience. Even if you don’t understand a single word, you’ll still be able to recognize the composition as a moving piece of art, a tribute that falls just short of being fit for the gods.