Ofvitarnir – “Stephen Hawking / Steven Tyler” and “Nóttin varð köld og í lengra lagi”

Paradísarborgarplötur might be my new favorite record label.

I emailed them a few months ago trying to track down a copy of Ofvitarnir’s Stephen Hawking / Steven Tyler release, and less than a month and one Paypal payment later a box full of CDs and cassettes from Reykjavik showed up on my doorstep.  Not only did I get the CD I was looking for, but that order also included three Fighting Shit CDs and a bunch of other cool stuff, not all of which I’ve managed to get to yet.  Check them out and order some product!

But back to the reason I contacted the label in the first place.  I believe it was about two years ago at Iceland Airwaves 2012 when my main man Ingvar over at Reykjavik’s Lucky Records put a copy of Ofvitarnir’s Nóttin varð köld og í lengra lagi CD into my hand and told me I needed to buy it.  So of course I did.  I probably didn’t get around to listening to it for a few months after we got home, but I was very impressed when I did – in fact this is one of the albums that ended up making the rounds to some of our friends, most of who came away impressed.

What I didn’t realize until recently was that one of the members of Ofvitarnir is none other than Þórir Georg Jónsson, who’s solo album It’s A Wonderful Life I wrote about previously and who was also a member of Fighting Shit.  I connected with him via email and we traded a few messages, and it turns out he’s been involved in a lot of musical projects over the years… and that Ofvitarnir is working on a new album that should come out later this year, which is great news.  So with all that in mind, I figured I’d take another listen to the two CDs of theirs that I have (there was also a cassette release) and share how cool they are.

Stephen Hawking / Steven Tyler (2011)

I’ve written about my struggles in “genre-izing” bands before, so forgive me if I have a hard time describing Ofvitarnir’s sound.  On the label website they describe the style as “garage punk, indie rock and post-hardcore,” and that’s probably way better than what I could come up with.  They’re definitely lo-fi, particularly in the way the vocals are recorded, which gives them a haunting, detached spirit kind of quality, and they certainly have both pop and punk influences.

ofvitarnirhawking

Ofvitarnir brings it all together best on the song “Rorschach,” which alternates between lonely desperation and a sad anger, the perfect use of Þórir’s distinctive vocal style.  Musically the following tune, “Jurassic Park,” has the best guitar work on it, which drives the song forward and gives it a great structure.  Is there maybe a bit of a Neil Young influence here on Stephen Hawking / Steven Tyler?  Because it sure sounds like it on “Sveitti Hans,” with it’s simple rock musical rhythm and Þórir straining his voice into a higher register.  One of the things that strikes me a bit about the style of this album is that a number of the songs seem to change musical directions right at the end, which faked me out more than once and had me thinking the next track had started when in fact the current one was wrapping up, just doing so in a totally different direction.

You’ve got… nothing to live for
But the beating of your heart.
What used to keep you together,
Now it’s tearing you apart.

At eight songs and just under 30 minutes it’s a pretty quick listen, but if you’re like me you’ll find yourself wanting more when it’s done.  Which is why I went back to my CD rack and pulled out…

Nóttin varð köld og í lengra lagi (2012)

This album is two songs longer than it’s predecessor, but it’s also two minutes shorter.  It only takes a few seconds to understand why this is, because right out of the gate Nóttin varð köld og í lengra lagi has a harder and faster style on the opening track “Robo-Pelican Man,” which in a further departure from the debut CD comes to an abrupt end without trying to fake me out with style changes.  Musically the band comes across as tighter sounding and more produced, with only the vocals maintaining the lo-fi, echoey quality that defined Stephen Hawking / Steven Tyler.  Sometimes they even get flat-out heavy, most noticeably on the second half of “My Voice Is Over//My Brain Is Dead.”

ofvitarnirnottin

In an odd twist Ofvitarnir actually cover themselves, playing a sped-up, heavier version of “Scott Bakula,” a song that also appeared on their prior album, and I have to say I like what they did with it – in fact it’s one of the best songs on this CD.  The vocals, while still echoey, are more up front, with a sharp guitar and powerful bass notes.  And bonus points for naming a song after Scott Bakula.  Ultimately though I think it’s “What In The Name Of Hell Was That?” that takes the top spot with a great guitar riff, feedback, and it’s edgier and more disjointed sound – it isn’t as “clean” sounding as much of the rest of the album, and I like it’s rawness.

 

So if you made it all the way to the bottom of this post, I’m going to let you in on a little secret as a reward.  You can download both these albums FOR FREE on the label’s website.  Just follow the link and click on releases.  Obviously it would be nice if you’d actually buy the digital download or CD and kick these guys some cash – they’re not rich rock stars, trust me.  But hey, this is the perfect way to check out Ofvitarnir for yourself and see (or more precisely, hear) what you think.  While you’re there check out some of their other stuff too, especially The Deathmetal Supersquad!

Fighting Shit

Once there was a hardcore band in Iceland called Fighting Shit.  They put out some CDs in the mid-2000s and were pretty decent, if not well known outside their native land.

So why are they important?

Well, their former drummer is arguably one of the most gifted and well respected of the new generation of classical musicians, artists who play and compose in a classical style but still bring modern technology to their works through sampling, etc.  His name is Ólafur Arnalds, and he has an insanely passionate and devoted international following.  If you’ve seen the movies Hunger Games or Gimmie Shelter, or watched the British TV crime drama Broadchurch, you’ve been exposed to his music without even knowing it.  (And their former guitarist, Þórir Georg Jónsson, is a pretty impressive musician in his own right as well, one who often gets overlooked when Fighting Shit is mentioned… but I for one really like his stuff as well)

fightingshit

I came across these three Fighting Shit CDs complete by accident.  I emailed the Paradísarborgarplötur label looking for something specific, and over the course of a few emails I got a list of a bunch of CDs and tapes they had available.  Given how reasonable the prices were, I asked them to basically send me one of everything.  And that, my friends, is how I ended up with not one not two but three Fighting Shit CDs:  Tuned For Thrash (2003), Bothered – a split release with Dead After School (2005), and Forgotten Daughters, Abandoned Sons (2006).  Almost the complete discography, as near as I can tell.

Musically Fighting Shit was hardcore, pure and simple.  Maybe even a bit more heavy metal thrash than hardcore punk – the songs are incredible bursts of speed and energy.  I mean, the nine song Tuned For Thrash is only 11 minutes long, with eight songs running less than a minute apiece.  These are insane flurries of noise, though musically there’s structure – this isn’t just some insane noise fest, these guys are playing legit songs, and they sound pretty tight even with all the speed.

 

By Forgotten Daughters, Abandoned Sons Fighting Shit slowed down the pace a little, and while the vocals are still raspy assaults on your ears, you can now easily understand the words (which are in English) without the aid of a lyric sheet, at least you can a lot of the time.  Musically the band matured by leaps and bounds, alternating pacing within songs and even doing some harmonizing.  It’s a much more approachable album to my ears, having moved even more towards the heavy metal end of the spectrum and with songs long enough that you have a chance to get into them – with seven songs at about 21 minutes it’s more a traditional format.  Some of it is even slow and heavy, most impressively the nine minute, Sólstafir-like “I Am The Quiet End,” my favorite song in their catalog, by far.

I’m not going to pretend that I could have listened to Fighting Shit back in the day and thought, “you know, there’s something about that drummer… I’ll be he’s going to be huge someday”.  It’s hard to believe that Arnalds has been releasing recorded music for this long – he would have been about 17 when Tuned For Thrash came out… and he’s only 27 today!  His body of work is impressive, not only because he’s so young but also because he seamlessly transitioned from his hardcore punk with Fighting Shit to his classical sounding solo and collaborative projects, a disparity that couldn’t be much greater, moving from one end of the spectrum to the other without any real stops along the way.

I was primarily interested in hearing Fighting Shit because of Arnald’s involvement, but after  giving these CDs a listen I came away impressed with what I heard, especially Forgotten Daughters, Abandoned Sons, which I’m going to need to burn to my iPod.  I’m not sure if a hardcore fan of Arnalds current work will enjoy Fighting Shit, but I can promise that if you like punk/thrash metal they’re worth a listen.