Published April 23, 2014
It should be noted that when you first play ‘Höfuðsynd,’ the debut album from new band Atónal Blús, you quickly realise that despite the cool name, that they’re not really Arnold Schoenberg does John Lee Hooker. But that’s not to dispute that there’s some avant-garde tinkering at play here. The opening track, “Atónal Blús,” is a murky, buzzing, discoloured breakdown of a song that comes closest to the atonal aesthetic implied of the band’s name.
From there it settles down into a spot-welded blend of heaving psych-inflected rock and interesting rhythmic patterns that could be seen as a little bit (whisper it) “proggy.” The rhythm workings shouldn’t come as a surprise. The band’s main instigator, Gestur Guðnason, was a member of Icelandic Balkan beats band Stórsveit Nix Noltes, and a track like “Balkan Boogie” is pretty much a fuzzed up variation on the SNN template, although it’s definitely more subtly employed on tracks such as “Oxygen Kills.” The rock components themselves are manfully done although fairly standard in their structure and occasionally border on cliché (freight train sounds made with the harmonica and acoustic jams with bongos).
All in all, ‘Höfuðsynd’ is a rather enjoyable listen. The drums/bass partnership have been brought right to the front of the mix, giving what could have been an average rock song like “Sexy Slave” some overloading, thumping menace (Jesus, those floor toms!). There are also several moments, such as when the vocals, harmonica and lead guitar combine on “Lítið ljón,” where there’s a looseness that borders on the unstable, giving it a definite edge in comparison to the stiff, crushing orthodoxy of much of Iceland’s lauded “real rock” music. Definitely worth a spin for rock heads looking for a little more danger in their music.