Woolly mammoths reigned the northern hemispheres during the Ice Age, but as everyone knows they have long been extinct. They can now only be spotted in museums and history books, never to rise again. Now a different type of giant is re-awakening, having adopted the Latin form of its name as their own. Icelandic band Mammút have returned with a vengeance.
Originally formed as an all-woman trio called ROK in 2003, the band expanded to a five piece the next year and changed their name to Mammút. The transformation was a success with the quintet winning the annual Icelandic battle of the bands competition and then signing with label Smekkleysa. The peak of their success came in 2013 when their third album, Komdu til mín svarta systir, was nominated for eight Icelandic Music Awards, winning three, including “Album of the Year – Pop & Rock” and “Song of the Year – Pop & Rock.” That album made the band not only critical darlings but an international sensation.
Instead of taking advantage of their newfound fame, Mammút took a break. In the past four years, they released a three-track EP, River’s End, which was more of a quick text message to say “Hello.” Their fourth album, Kinder Versions, however, is the long goodnight for which fans have been waiting.
A mournful yet beautiful intensity pierces across the record. Each of the album’s nine songs is spine-tingling and mesmerizing, highlighted by the album’s Holy Trinity. All three tracks are found right in the album’s heart, beginning with “The Moon Will Never Turn On Me.” From the low hum of the guitars to the guttural bass line to the electrified strings, the song feels like a cold, moonless night. Frontwoman Katrína Kata Mogensen’s vocals soar over the gripping cinema like a lone wolf’s howl piercing through the blowing wind. Her tale is much like that – about a sole individual traveling through and eventually embracing the darkness. As she sings:
I want to make this right, but I don’t feel right
Cause sometimes life tries to eat us up
Then I take a look around and see how dust turns into gold
And I embrace the world, embrace the world, embrace the world
And I love it all.
I want to see the sun collapse
I want to see the stars decay
The moon will never turn on me
So far it’s OK.
“Breathe Into Me” builds on the previous song, but this time an icy cool realm has been created. It is like stepping inside the White Witch’s glacial palace. But instead of running away, the delicate instrumentation and Mogensen’s intoxicating vocals keep the listener transfixed. “Feed live into me, shamelessly devour me,“ she seductively commands, but these words portend to something ominous on the horizon. This same bleak and brooding landscape is further magnified on “Walls.” Starting off slowly before intensifying into a thrilling rock opera, Mogensen urgently sings of a woman imprisoned within the love and control of another. Yet within these three songs, we voluntarily become Mammút’s prisoner.
The pulsating “Pray For Air” comes close to matching the trifecta’s brilliance. It is comparable to the dark post-rock of Pumarosa with its edgy and gritty arrangements and startling storytelling. In this case, Mammút enter the mind of a person who finds salvation in the water and finds the struggle to get air as exciting and exhilarating. “We will never be pure. Pray for air in the water”, Mogensen exclaims like a prophet condemning everyone for their sins.
The album’s two bookends are also gorgeous cinematic affairs. The opener, “We Tried Love,” is one part Kate Bush and another part early Björk. It is suspenseful, dark, and exhilarating with the tribal-like rhythms. “Did I light your body on fire? Then I must owe you a dance in my rain,” Morgensen chants as the voice of one person. She then takes on the other person’s position, singing, “I fight the urge to follow you. I build a wall around me.” The interplay of the characters in this ballet of love is wonderfully depicted in this seven-and-a-half minute escapade.
The finale is akin to the languid beauty heard in Phoria’s music. Patiently orchestrated and introspective in its storytelling, “Sorrow” is the album’s most intimate number. Soul, darkwave, ambient, dream-folk, and indie rock are all infused to create a soft yet breathtaking soundscape, providing the perfect backdrop to Mogensen opening her heart. At times, her voice reaches the bone-chilling levels of Aldous Harding and her songwriting matches the Kiwi star’s captivating quality. “Fill my days with sorry, Baby. You feel my heart grow old,” she cries out. As she utters these last words, the song becomes a massive tidal wave of sound to match the pain, anxiety, and anger in the story.
The menacing sound of “Sorrow” is the perfect encapsulation of Kinder Versions. The album is anything but a serene compilation, but one that is quietly and unexpectedly ferocious in its storytelling. At times the LP sounds like the script to a rock opera while other movements resemble a journey into one’s psyche. Maybe it’s a bit of both, but whatever the case, Kinder Version does share one important quality with each – it’ll leave a lasting imprint well after the final note. Just goes to show there is still one Mammút around for the world to see live.
Kinder Versions is out now via Bella Union. The band will perform at some European festivals this summer before embarking on an expanded tour in the fall. They will also make a few stops in North America with details still to come. For tour dates, click here.
Mammút are Alexandra Baldursdóttir, Andri Bjartur Jakobsson, Arnar Pétursson, Ása Dýradóttir, and Katrína Kata Mogensen.
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