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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.