Sigur Rós’ ‘Odin’s Raven Magic’ is not exactly new, in that it has been kicking around for a substantial chunk of the band’s 25-year history. Originally, Sigur Rós collaborated on the sprawling orchestral piece way back in 2002 alongside the electronic pioneer Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, frequent collaborator Steindór Andersen and Maria Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir of the Icelandic neoclassical band Amiina.
It’s a musical response to Hrafnagaldr Óðins, a chapter from an old Icelandic mythological poem. Originally brought together in around two weeks, and making use of a stone marimba made by the sculptor Páll Guðmundsson, this is a heavily conceptual piece drenched in musical intensity. Now, 18 years later, it also exists in studio-recorded form.
The Hrafnagaldr Óðins is quite a complicated story, but here goes nothing. The world is falling into disarray, so Norse god Odin completely sends a two ravens (sure) into the underworld to ask a mysterious oracle “what the fuck is going on?’ (I’m paraphrasing). Unfortunately the wise woman in question has seen into the future (spoiler: it isn’t good news) and is too upset to speak. The ravens return home, and the gods have a giant feast. In some ways, it can be read as a kind of allegory for those in power obliviously steamrolling their way into impending disaster.
With ‘Odin’s Raven Magic’, Sigur Rós have taken particular inspiration from the ‘raven messenger’ bit of the story. It’s a record often propelled by a wing-beating sense of urgency, and melancholy undertones that reverberate like muffled voices echoing around a stoney cavern. Andersen recites fragments of the poem throughout with a bassy gravity. The brassy cries of ‘Áss hinn hvíti’ are the nearest ‘Odin’s Raven Magic’ comes to short-lived tranquility – but they ring with downbeat minor notes. On closing song ‘Dagrenning’, Jónsi Birgisson and a morose-sounding choir accompany him in wavering falsetto. The band have explained: “What he sings at the end is very sad, because the world is all fucked.”
It’s poignant story in 2020, and even with context removed, you can’t deny the power of the raw emotion it conjures. That said, ‘Odin’s Raven Magic’s is built on incredibly specific foundations – the particulars of Norse Mythology and medieval Scandinavian poetry is certainly niche – so key aspects feel lost in translation without a hefty visual component or matching blurb. It feels less like conventional album, and more like a live piece immortalised on record.
Release date: December 4
Release label: Krunk via Warner Classics