The Icelandic sextet Of Monsters and Men are multi-instrumentalists who have been captivating America and Europe with their elaborately crafted blend of modern folk-rock and Icelandic ambience.
Constructing haunting melodies and soaring crescendos, this is a band that could easily give Mumford & Sons a run for their money and have already earned success from their debut album My Head is an Animal’s high chart position.
Singing in English, Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar Thórhallsson’s vocal melodies range from the warm Americana-folk of Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros to the cool and aloof tones of The xx. The range and weird inflections of Hilmarsdóttir’s soft vocals balance oddly against the cracked, mournful vocals of Thórhallsson, and the single guitar pluck of opening song “Dirty Paws” showcases the bare, simplistic beauty of their traditional folk harmonising. Individually, they can transform the atmosphere from tender and naive on Hilmarsdóttir’s “Love Love Love” to dark and menacing on Thórhallsson’s vocals on “Sloom”.
The band are a down-to-earth, cheery bunch and, as the fairy lights setting suggests, they provide the Electric Ballroom with something of a Latitude Festival feel. The welcoming group are a far cry from the distant experimentalism of their Icelandic counterparts Sigur Rós and Björk, and there are twangs more like that of Canadian groups Stars or Arcade Fire on tracks such as “Little Talks” with skiffling drums, cheery accordions and rousing, euphoric anthems.
As friendly and uplifting as the Icelanders seem, however, their lyrics do reflect the darker things in life, the tribal chants on “Six Weeks” being inspired by the tale of American frontiersman Hugh Glass, left for dead after a bear had attacked him, while “Little Talks” is a song about loneliness and insanity. It is certainly a gig filled with heartfelt artistry and the band fluctuate between the open-hearted choruses and the softer, down-tempo tracks like “Mountain Sounds”.
Ending on “Yellow Light”, the band start with a simple melody, filter in catchy ooh-oohs and a relentless, thudding drum beat, crescendoing into the chanting melody like that of The Killers’ “All The Things That I’ve Done” or Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up”.
The dramatic and anthemic end to the night may show that Of Monsters and Men are not doing anything especially new or groundbreaking, but it does show how incredibly good they are at what they do.