HAM – “Svik, harmur og dauði”

“We are HAM!”

That was the only line uttered in English during HAM’s Reykjavik Art Museum show at Airwaves 2011.  Of course, Óttarr Proppé must have made that statement at least 20 times over the course of their set, as if anyone in the building was going to mistake the gothic metal monstrosity that is HAM for any other band in the entire known (or unknown) universe.  The crowd knew what they wanted, and what they wanted was HAM – We are HAM!  It was the most intense and active crowd scene we’d witnessed over the course of three Airwaves festivals, and the venue floor looked like a frat house basement when the smoke cleared and everyone left.  Which, in case you’re wondering, is the perfect time to attempt to grab a venue poster.  Not that we would ever do such a thing… or frame it and hang it in our living room.  But if one wanted to do something so nefarious, that would be as good a time as any.  I don’t think HAM would object.

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HAM hit the scene in Iceland back in 1988 before “disbanding” in 1994, though they continued to play the odd show here and there.  They reunited and released Svik, harmur og dauðiin in 2011, a sign many doomsday preppers took to mean that the end of civilization as we know it was near.  Surprisingly it did not make Rolling Stone’s Top 50 Albums of 2011… though I suspect if the list was expanded to include a 51st entrant, Svik, harmur og dauði would have made the list, or at least intimidated the band with the actual 51st best album to relinquish their spot and give it to HAM.  We are HAM!

So what’s the deal with HAM?  Well, for starters, the lyrics on the new album are all in Icelandic. But really that doesn’t seem to matter, because the vocals serve to set the dark mood of the album, particularly the guttural “signing” of Proppé, which stand in contrast to the much deeper, foreboding tone of co-vocalist (and guitarist) Sigurjon Kjartansson.  Proppé sounds a bit like the bounty hunter character played in Return of the Jedi by Carrie Fisher, when she snuck into Jabba the Hut’s palace to rescue Han Solo (though I doubt he would look nearly as awesome in the bikini she wore on the slave ship later in the movie).  The two are probably at their best playing off one another on “Alcoholismus Chronicus”.  I don’t speak Icelandic, but I sense based on the title and tone that the song isn’t about puppies or walks on the beach.  Unless they’re rabid puppies attacking a beach-blanket-bingo party and ripping everyone to shreds while a church bell rings in the background.  And I guess it could be about that.

This is 10 tracks of some dark, though not particularly fast, metal, and based on their over-the-top live show you might think there’s just a touch of camp here, which also comes through in their print interviews.  Regardless, there is no denying their talent and that they’ve carved out a niche of sorts that defies easy classification.  They are also widely cited as an inspiration for a generation of Icelandic musicians, and that’s a good thing.

I picked this up on vinyl and was treated to a couple of surprises – the album “jacket” is actually a folded up band poster, and the CD of the album was included, which I thought was pretty cool and convenient for getting onto my iPod.  HAM isn’t for everyone, but if you like your metal heavy, dark, and gothic, sort of like early Black Sabbath, you’ll dig it.  But watch out for those rabid puppies.

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