Published June 25, 2010
In 1981, a flock of serious men came out of the woodworks—often wearing long grey or black overcoats. They probably clutched a Joy Division or a Þeyr record under their arms. Þeyr hadn’t started out as the deep thinking young dudes’ premium choice though. No sir, in 1979 they had approached Svavar Gests, a record mogul from another dimension, bearing two corny pop songs that were representative of the music they were making at that time. Svavar liked the songs well enough to agree to finance a Þeyr album to be released on the SG label that he’d run since the early sixties.
Þeyr (usually called Theyr by people deprived of the letter Þ) were a group of friends who had been dabbling in music since the mid-seventies. They started to record their pop songs during the winter of 1980, and had about half of a LP ready when they decided to take the summer off. During the summer of 1980, the band got hip to all kinds of new sounds through friends and relatives—both progressive new wave and modern art music such as Schönberg’s. When the recordings commenced in the fall, Þeyr’s sound had totally changed. Also there had been a line up change: those who didn’t surrender to the new sound had to go.
Cut the mullet!
The band had kept Svavar from the studio, but when he finally heard the album and saw the artwork for the cover he simply snapped. His wife, legendary Icelandic singer Ellý Vilhjálms, loved the album though, and with her blessing the first Þeyr LP came out late in 1980. It was entitled ‘Þagað í hel’ (“Silenced to death”)—which was a fitting name as the album was released in a very small quantity and has since become a much sought after vanity item.
The new Þeyr were on a roll. The band added two guitarists to their ranks, Guðlaugur—”Godkrist”—Óttarsson and Þorsteinn Magnússon, who had played in Eik, a progressive band that the Þeyr boys had loved during their formative years. His transformation to the new style was celebrated with a ceremony during a Þeyr concert in February of 1981. He spoke of being “freed” as his hippie long hair was cut off on stage.
Iceland’s first new wave band
Þeyr were called the first “new wave” band in Iceland and had a very “new wave”-ish stage presence. The members behaved like spastic robots and sometimes the gigs would start with the members carrying in a coffin with the tall singer Magnús Guðmundsson inside. During the first song he’d rise from the coffin, and then stand like a cross between Frankenstein and Dracula in a long black leather coat, gravely singing and frozenly staring at a far away point.
Þeyr and their close circle of friends got involved with all kinds of mysterious ideologies. Occultism and mysticism coloured the music and the band’s outlook. The regular Þeyr fan tried his best to understand what Alistair Crowley, Tesla, Reich, the Illuminati and all the other stuff Þeyr harped on was all about.
The first 7″ was called ‘Útfrymi’ (“Ectoplasm”)—and included ‘Life Transmission,’ an ode to Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, who had taken his life the year before. The record came with a propaganda sheet where Þeyr declared that the band wanted to have spiritual intercourse with the Icelandic nation. The record came out on the band’s own label, Eskvímó, like most of the band’s other records.
Inducing tropical climates
Þeyr were pranksters. When ‘Iður til fóta’ (“Innards at feet”)—a 10″ with four accessible new wave songs came out in September of 1981—the band sent out a press release that claimed the album was equipped with a weather control devise. At that time there was only one radio station in Iceland. “It is remarkable that during the days that the radio plays the record, it is almost a tropical climate in Iceland,” stated band’s the press release.
The band’s second LP came out in December of 1981. It is called ‘Mjötviður Mær’ (“Mjötviður Maiden”) “Mjötviður” being something from the Old Norse mythologies. The band’s ideologist, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, would much later become the high priest of Ásatrúarfélagið, the religious organisation for those who practice belief in the Old Norse gods.
It is a diverse album, its songs ranging from the soft instrumental song ‘Mjötviður’ to the driving ‘Rúdolf’—soon to be every drummer’s favourite, due to drummer Sigtryggur Baldursson’s signature beat. Also to be found on the album are experimental tracks such as ‘Iss’ and ‘2999’, which features the sounds of a bulldozer that happened to pass the studio. The album got rave reviews in the Icelandic media, the consensus being that Þeyr were now in the top league of Icelandic rock bands, along with Þursaflokkurinn.
By now, as is want of Icelandic bands, Þeyr had their eyes on greener pastures: “We’ve been playing for the same group of 1.000 people in Iceland and we want to expand our horizons. Besides, there are sheep in other nations and it is our holy duty to visit them. In the name of justice!” the band said in an interview. More of Þeyr’s export experiments next time.