Release Date: Dec 4, 2020
Record label: Krunk
Sigur Rós had begun work on 2002's () when fellow Icelandic musician and religious figurehead Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson approached them about adapting a chapter from the 13th-century epic poem Edda. Two weeks later, the Odin's Raven Magic collaboration was ready for a handful of performances -- one notably in Paris at La Grande Halle de la Villette. The group captured a stereo mix recording of that night in 2005, but disappointment with the would-be visual component resulted in its 15-year hibernation.
Even for Sigur Rós however, Odin's Raven Magic feels hugely ambitious in its scope, and will absolutely find itself labelled as pretentious by those to lazy to ignore its backstory. Based on a live performance the band held back in 2002, it's a record that draws from the band's orchestral and choral interests, whilst tapping into Iceland's literary history. As such, Odin's Raven Magic is a collaboration between the band and Icelandic music legend Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, as well as Steindór Andersen, a fisherman and one of Iceland's most respected chanters of traditional epic narrative.
In the seven years since the last release of a new Sigur Rós studio record, it seems that they have become incredibly reflective. A band, whose sound is seemingly forged from the barren, harsh, brutal naturalism of their native Iceland as though chiseled from a rocky Nordic coastline or expunged in fury by a glacier, were no longer interested in exploring the places that their heady mix of post-rock and orchestral influences could take a listener. Instead, across a sea of releases, whether they be Anniversaries - as in the case of last year's celebration of 'Agætis byrjun' - or in the form of their 24-hour "slow TV" event Route One, a reflective cloak has draped itself over the band in recent years.
They'd been so wrapped up in the creation of their own mythology that when Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, respected elder statesman of Icelandic alternative music, once again approached Sigur Rós to collaborate on a new musical endeavour, this time based on centuries old literary masterwork the Edda, they had to profess ignorance as to its actual content. Released a few years earlier, their second album Ágætis Byrjun, a shaky confection of falsetto augmented with exaggerated orchestration and released on the then achingly hip electronica label FatCat, had rapidly elevated them from national oddities performing at small concert venues to platinum selling international post-rock gods with high street recognition touring stadiums and arenas, and they needed an assignment that might help to release some of the pressure they suddenly found themselves under. The two-part 13th century text about the trials and tribulations of ancient deities contains a chapter entitled Odin's Raven Magic, in which the titular god attends a banquet and his pet corvids portend Ragnarok, the forthcoming global freeze that will end the worlds of God and Man.
The end of the world looms as Odin, Norse deity of war and death, joins his fellow gods for a banquet. His trusty ravens, Huginn and Muninn, traverse barren fields, gathering the world's wisdom while the gods feast and watch for omens. This portentous meal is the subject of a poem written in the traditional style of Edda, the collection of Icelandic mythology and prose dating back to the 13th century, and of Sigur Rós's Odin's Raven Magic.