There is a disturbance in the Sigur Rós atmosphere.
For the Icelandic band's seventh album, "Kveikur" (XL), which arrives on the heels of last year's "Valtari" and the departure of multi-instrumentalist Kjartan Sveinsson, they announced that they wanted it to be "more aggressive." Considering the band's ethereal, post-rock past, with its lush, pretty soundscapes and Jón Pór "Jónsi" Birgisson's soothing main vocals and floating falsettos, "more aggressive" could mean anything from a stomped foot to metallic guitar riffs.
To the group's credit, though, Sigur Rós lives up to its word on "Kveikur," with songs that seem more driven and direct, rather than atmospheric, the kind that fit nicely for a band that has become an unlikely arena filler. (The trio headlined Madison Square Garden for the first time in March.)
The thunderous opener "Brennisteinn," Icelandic for "brimstone," provides its share of rumbling, from Georg Hólm's bass and Orri Dyrason's drumming, which moves from clattering cymbals to thudding kickdrums and back again, while Jónsi's vocals seem to multiply to better weather the storm.
"Kveikur's" title track features guitar distortion and industrial rhythms that blend into a Nine Inch Nails-styled march, while "Blapradur" features bursts of drums and chugging guitar that would seem more at home on The xx's recent work.
Of course, Sigur Rós hasn't abandoned its dreamy, carefree sound completely, with "Isjaki" showing how poppy the band can really be.
On "Kveikur," Sigur Rós sounds more like a band than some sort of mythical daydream, and that shift is actually refreshing.
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BOTTOM LINE The ethereal Icelandic band toughens up