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The sum is greater than the parts - 90%

kluseba, October 23rd, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, Spikefarm Records (Reissue)

I have rarely listened to an album whose title is as appropriate as Masterpiece of Bitterness. It really describes the sound Solstafir explores here as this album showcases courageous and epic song writing with a depressing and gloomy atmosphere. If compared to the chaotic debut record Í blóði og anda, Masterpiece of Bitterness represents a stunning and even courageous progression for the band. The songs have become much longer and more elaborate with two of them getting close to fifteen and twenty minutes, respectively. The music has also become more atmospheric with hypnotizing, long and plodding passages. The band now manages to find the right balance between slow ambient, doom metal and even post metal passages and sinister death metal outbursts. The lyrics are now entirely written in English without losing the glacial Icelandic atmosphere developed by the instrumental work that made the debut album so revolutionary. The creepy album cover in bloody red and snowy white fits perfectly as well. Sincerely, I have rarely witnessed a band that has taken such a big step between its first and its second output. The cohesive final result is even more stunning if you consider the fact that the songs were written in different eras with some of them being brand new and others already being more than seven years old when the album was released. It seems that the band already had a clear vision for its unique sound back in those days and wasn't maybe able to realize it on its raw debut record published on a small East German label.

Masterpiece of Bitterness unfolds its true magic after several spins. While some songs might sound slightly overlong and repetitive at first contact, they develop a haunting and hypnotizing atmosphere. The record has a direct vibe and almost sounds as if it were recorded during live in studio jam sessions. I have recently been listening to this album while driving through a foggy and rainy national park between Chicoutimi and Quebec City on a gloomy autumn day and this release simply was the perfect soundtrack for the nature, season and weather I witnessed back then. Masterpiece of Bitterness sucks you into a very particular atmosphere right from the start when you hear the haunting female vocals of the ambitious opener and slowly drags you out during the appeasing closing acoustic song. The numbing, repetitive and simplistic riffs, the occasional rapid outbursts of the rhythm section, the haunted screams and the raw production are the key elements that make this album so authentically atmospheric.

The only downside of the record is obviously the fact that one needs to be in a very special mood to enjoy this record to the fullest. Objectively, the different songs have noticeable lengths and repetitions that can be distracting if one listens to these songs individually but as a whole body of work, the atmosphere that these lengths and repetitions evoke is an important part of this record's success. To keep it short, this album can only be enjoyed if you listen to it from start to finish because picking out specific songs actually makes the different parts less efficient.

In the end, if you are a patient listener who doesn't mind listening to a record from start to finish, who doesn't shy away from exploring tracks that are up to twenty minutes long and who prefers a collective atmosphere over individual musicianship, then you will enjoy Solstafir's Masterpiece of Bitterness for what it is. This type of depressive atmospheric metal soundcsapes that could equally appeal to ambient, black metal, doom metal, post metal and fans of gloomy movie or video game soundtracks might not appeal to that many listeners after all but those who have a weak spot for this type of music will clearly discover one of the best records of its kind here. This record has recently been reissued, so take the chance to grab a copy of this overlooked gem if my review has evoked your interest for the album.

I Just Have No Words - 100%

Killer_Clown, November 20th, 2011

Really, I don' know how to describe this brilliance! I have no words, even emotions indeed after listening to that grandeur album. "Masterpiece of Bitterness" captivated me from the very begining and didn't set me free to the final act. I cannot imagine, how talented musicians should be to compose such great melodies. But the fact is fact, "Masterpiece..." is the greatest metal album of all times and I think the most part of metalheads, who had ever listened to Sólstafir will concur with me.

At first I want to note the melodies, they are the main and the most beautiful parts of this magnificent CD! How could I describe the genius of tunes, for example, on "Bloodsoaked Velvet", "Ljósfari" or "Ghosts of Light " and especially on "I Myself The Visionary Head". There is no way one can, this is beyond descriptions, beyond any words. And exactly these superb guitars make everybody feel not even amazed, but really fascinated.

Also I'd like to talk about drums! Oh, that unspeakable fast fragments from the first song or the fine first-rate play on "Ritual of Fire" shudders me everytime I repeat second Sólstafir's album in my headphones or on the CD-ROM jukebox. The same thing I can say about Aðalbjörn Tryggvason's vocals, which are one of the best metal vocals. His anguished voice with little hoarseness bewitches me each time I listen to Sólstafir.

There are some moments on this masterpiece that help you to forget life problems, depression (despite the strange information, that the band plays depressive rock) and other bad interior feelings, collect the thoughts and comprehend your life position. But, of course, I don't mean that the music on album is very positive and merry, i just wanted to say that it completely absorbs you and helps to concentrate.

I hope you understood the idea I wanted to hand down to others.

"...a work of art, a ‘masterpiece’ if you will..." - 95%

SMiM, April 2nd, 2009

After a number of demo and EP releases in the band’s first years, 2005 saw a change within Icelandic band Sólstafir. Shifting from a harsh Viking/Black Metal sound, the band’s first full length release produced a shift into a progressive direction, while still keeping the black metal roots the band was born with.

A 20 minute epic titled ‘I Myself the Visionary Head’ begins the album, quite an apt title given that if a band wishes to write music at this length, they must indeed be quite the visionaries. Beginning with a melody delivered via an operatic vocal line, it quickly transforms into one of the main guitar riffs used throughout the 20 minutes of the opening track This song is not only one of the most adventurous undertakings - along side Edge of Sanity’s ‘Crimson’ and Moonsorrow’s album ‘V: Havitetty’ - but it is also one of the most starkly beautiful pieces of music I’ve heard.

The remainder of the album is made up by 6 tracks ranging in length from another lengthy 14 minute track to the 3 minute straightforward yet attention grabbing acoustic outro. Even given the ‘epicness’ of some of the album’s tracks, the music is delivered in such a way that not once have I become disinterested or bored with the music. The bass guitar is used heavily throughout the album, especially noticeable in the slower minutes where it is often used in a way so that it gives a dreary downcast mood to the music. Simple drumming with good use made of the cymbals are a feature, however when the pace picks up, the drummer leads the way with some serious double kicks at times. Vocals on the album are flawless for this style in my opinion. they come in the form of an aggressive metal vocal - clear enough to understand, yet rough around the edges to fit in with the harsher music.

The penultimate track on the album - ‘Ritual of Fire‘ - I think deserves mention. With the simplicity of post-rock and a massive build up to the crescendo, it truly is a piece of work. On any ‘normal’ album I would immediately proclaim it as my ‘favourite track’, however alongside any other song on this album, it’s like deciding who was the first metal band, or what the best Opeth album is… some will say one thing, others will say a another, ultimately it can’t be done!

While I would call the music of Sólstafir as Progressive Black Metal, it’s not without saying that there are plenty of other aspects to the album. There are times on the album where the band shows the moods of Electric Wizard’s droning, Pink Floyd psychedelia, and Naxzul-esque nihilistic death inducing darkness. This album is a work of art, a ‘masterpiece’ if you will. It takes the listener through many emotion and moods, bringing you from the depths until ultimately it leaves you with a feeling of empowerment and self belief. The band is from Iceland, but the music is from the heart. 9.5/10

Review by Brendan Amos - www.metalobsession.net

One of the best metal albums of all time - 98%

lump1, January 30th, 2008

I have a pretty huge and eclectic music collection, corresponding to my love for albums in a broad range of categories. An album must really be special for it to displace all the others. This album is that good - I've had it on my mp3 player, on my phone and in my head for almost two years, and even though I've played it on heavy rotation, I'm still not sick of it.

It's hard to describe what's so great about it. To start, I would say it's incredibly atmospheric and in parts almost psychadellic, all without being pussified though the use of any synthisizers. On this album, Sólstafir manage to compose songs with overpowering dynamics, songs that have strong, soft, brutal and introspective sections while maintaining a certain unity.

It also helps a lot that the vocals are truly excellent. The best comparison would be with Primordial's A.A. Nemtheanga, or maybe Tom Arya on Divine Intervention. Yes, I know, the highest praise I can come up with! I wish somebody could convince Aðalbjörn Tryggvason to re-record the vocals of half of my metal albums!

Just because this band is famous doesn't mean that they're "odd" or "fringe" or hard to listen to. I think smart metal fans, no matter their stylistic preference, will any beautifully-crafted album, and this is one of the best ones ever made.

Genre defying beauty - 85%

damaramou, September 1st, 2006

Solstafir, if you haven't heard of them before then allow me to fill you in. There a little known (but gaining popularity all the time) metal outfit from the nether reaches of europe, Iceland. They've always been somewhat difficult to peg down exactly, in the past they've been described as black metal, and the tag viking usually sticks to them due to there lyrical content, but these are the only labels that you can really pin on these guys, if you wanna pin labels at all. On this release solstafir combine so many different influences and musical elements that they leave the genre labellers crying into the milk of there mother's hairy teats.

The songs are dynamic, they flow perfectly, switching from laid back drum beats and expansive riffing, to more aggressive high speed patterns and guitar work, all executed beautifully. The riffs during the slower sections are just fucking huge, massive, epic even! They really take you places, like most bands that employ this kind of slow spacey riffing style, it conjures images of landscapes, rolling hills, that kinda thing. Chords and riffs slowly progress from one another, backed up by some pretty dynamic drumming, in fact it's the drums during these sections that really push the music forward and give it pace, the riffs drape and ebb around them, accompanied by some excellent and entirely audible bass work.

So you've getting the idea that the music is pretty progressive yeah? Well your on the right the track, but there's a lot more going on here. There are some seriously strong stoner rock and sludge influences throughout all the riffs, and this isn't a combination you hear too often with tremolo picked black metal style riffs, it's makes a pretty unique and interesting listen. Intense riffing breaks down into sludgy stoned riffs, and yes, there are some almost psychedelic moments in between.

But of course these guys still retain some of there black metal roots, there's a fair amount of high speed riffing and blasting, and the slow sections obviously help to accentuate these quite considerably. Of course there are lots of high speed dm and bm bands out there, and those guy's are obviously much faster than the music you'll find on display here, but when solstafir really pour it on after they've been building you up for a good few minutes, you'll be pinned your seat. Alot of the songs follow the build up and explode pattern, but there are a few straight forward tracks, blood soaked velvet being the most bm like out all of the tracks as it maintains a mid to high speed for most of its duration, with some very nice blasting sections and frenetic guitar work.

Aðalbjörn Tryggvason (vocals) maintains a sludgy yelling style for the most part, kinda like a gruff shout with a bit of gravel, there's also the occasional scream or two, but the vocal work in general is quite intelligible and more aggressive than abrasive. A melancholic, and at times grim atmosphere permeates most of the album, but it's not that one dimensional at all, there are some really uplifting, almost victorious moments that leave you feeling just grand, like Helgarth von axe wielder after a day of debauched maiden saving, culminating in a five day mead binge with the king of england. The lyrics seem to deal with personal issue's, self destructive tendencies, drug addiction, that kind of thing, and as you can guess from the album title, there quite bitter. The vocals are quite understandable if get your extra powerful listening ear out, or just listen closely, whatever works.

Of course no album is without it's flaws, this one just doesn't have that many. Due to the lengthy nature of some of the songs, the slower sections can drag a little bit at times, I Myself the Visionary Head being the most blatant example of this, but this doesn't detract from the album as long as you've got a bit of patience.

Beautiful and unique - 87%

davidian998, June 17th, 2006

A black metal band from Iceland releasing an album called ‘Masterpiece of Bitterness’, needless to say people would expect this to be a raw frosty piece of work covered with blastbeats, insane riffs, traditional production and vocals of the screechiest variety right? Well if you’re expecting this you’re wrong because Sólstafir is something very different. This band plays a form of progressive black metal nowadays which is pretty unique as opposed to what they used to do, black metal with the viking theme. It’s much like Enslaved who progressed in a similar direction. Sólstafir uses a style of vocals one would expect in the sludge metal genre and not so much in the black metal one, they might take a bit of time to get used to but it fits well with the music.

The album begins with a song that lasts for about 20 minutes which is called ‘I Myself the Visionary Head’. This song starts out with a bit of a sludge vibe going through it and then slowly builds up to a climax. This process is much like something you would find within the postrock genre, influences of which seem to be present throughout this record. The following songs like ‘Nature Strutter’, ‘Bloodsoaked Velvet’ and ‘Lux Fare’ are shorter but equally powerful and are structured in a similar way. ‘Bloodsoaked Velvet’ is the fastest and harshest of the bunch; it’s a bit more reminiscent of pure black metal apart from the vocals and even becomes a little thrashy at times. ‘Lux Fare’ has a few relaxing musical arrangements including a part that is mixed with samples of running water which makes it a nice atmospheric song and the highlight of the album. Next up are ‘Ghosts of Light’, ‘Ritual of Fire’ and the album closer, ‘Náttfari’. ‘Ghosts of Light’ is a harsh, fast track bearing some massive guitar playing mixed with powerful drumming and is very enjoyable. ‘Ritual of Fire’ is the second of the longer tracks on this disc and starts out quite relaxing but gradually turns into a hypnotic trip of epic proportions. ‘Náttfari’ is a nice little instrumental which serves as an outro to the album.

‘Masterpiece of Bitterness’ is a very good release so if you like your black metal or your metal in general to be a little different and don’t stray away from bands carrying a unique sound I highly recommend you give this a chance.

Originally written for http://www.gothtronic.com

Superb, Sublime and Stylish. - 92%

Perplexed_Sjel, June 14th, 2006

Solstafir, a four piece group hailing from the cold and bleak shores of Reykjavik in Iceland. "Masterpiece of Bitterness" is the second full-length album and consists of seven tracks ranging from an epic 19 minutes to a short lived 3 minutes. This album runs in total for 1 hour, 10 minutes and 18 seconds, so you certainly get your moneys worth in terms of the length of the record.

Metal Archives states that this band is a Progressive Black Metal group. I do not agree with that statement. Solstafir blend elements of many different types of music, that does include Black Metal, but it also includes Punk/Hardcore, Psychedelic Rock and various other elements offering a unique and truly beautiful sound. Despite that, there is a great deal of aggression attached to this record. Especially in the despairing and quite often desolate screams of the vocalist, whose vocals are simply unique and like nothing i've heard before. As you'd expect with any music that contains Black Metal elements, this record contains sections of calm, tranquil and atmospheric music which creates the perfect backdrop to the screams of Aðalbjörn Tryggvason, Solstafir's leading man. The album opens up with the near 20 minute epic that is "I Myself The Visionary Head". Throughout the album the listener is presented with a competent and consistent array of powerful and emotive drum patterns, backed up by distorted guitars and the best asset of all, the shrieking screams of the vocalist, which i touched upon before.

This album creates a truly unique journey with a perfect combination of non-Metal and Metal elements, that should suit and fulfil the needs of all Metal fans. I would certainly recommend this to anyone looking for something unique and something that breaks the mold of traditional genres. A simply astounding piece of musicianship.