Sigur Rós softly rage against the dying light with new album ‘ÁTTA’

With their new surprise record just released, Sigur Rós leave space for the music to do the talking.
Photo credit: Frances Beach

Sigur Rós surprise-released ‘ÁTTA’, their first new album in a decade, on Friday. Like a lot of music nowadays, its creation was a reaction to how bleak everything feels right now. “When we do this, we always talk about each album as if it might be the last,” the group’s vocalist Jónsi said in a statement. “We’re always thinking about climate change, doom-scrolling and going to hell”. Cheery stuff, right?

While other groups may offer that much-needed escapism through distraction, ‘ÁTTA’ is a lush, otherworldly and fully immersive record, designed to transport the listener anywhere but here. Featuring the London Contemporary Orchestra, the record focuses on quiet beauty, the gorgeous ten-tracks weaving together with subdued drama. It’s a world away from the dynamic hammer of 2005’s ‘Takk…’ or their vibrant breakthrough album, 1999’s ‘Ágætis byrjun’, but there’s a purity in making a grand statement that’s so restrained. It’s an album designed to move people, rather than the band’s own career.

Tonight, Sigur Rós celebrate ÁTTA’’s release as London’s Southbank Centre, as part of the Christine And The Queens-curated Meltdown Festival. Reunited with the London Contemporary Orchestra, the trio nestle themselves into the very centre of the stage and launch into ‘Blóðberg’, ÁTTA’’s stirring lead single. Named after the extremely pink flowers that grow in the otherwise bleak, colourless highlands of Sigur Rós’s native Iceland, the blossoming track is injected with a similarly surprising and resilient sense of hope. Live, it’s utterly mesmerising.

Tonight’s set is split into two, with the first showcasing Sigur Rós’ more sprawling side. The hushed, 9-minute epic of ‘8’ is given its live debut as is the whispering ‘Varðeldur’ from 2012’s ‘Valtari’, while ‘Von’ and ‘Dauðalogn’ are also dusted off for the first time in over a decade. Driven by a glistening guitar hook, ‘Starálfur’ is perhaps Sigur Rós’ poppiest moment and tonight, it’s used to offer an island of familiarity in an otherwise introspective first half.

Photo credit: Frances Beach

After a civilised interval, the second part of the gig begins with two tightly-wound, gut-wrenching moments from 2002’s ‘() ’ before ÁTTA’’s ‘Ylur’ and ‘Skel’ prove that Sigur Rós can still cut straight to the bone when they want. Backed by an orchestra and without a drummer, the show practically invites Sigur Rós to shake things up, with ‘All Alright’ and ‘Untitled #5 – Álafoss’ replacing the band’s tried and tested setlist.

At times, the show can feel meandering but it’s impossible not to get caught up in the intricate arrangements while Jónsi’s vocals remain a thing of absolute beauty. After leading the sold-out room through cycles of isolation, despair and quiet rage, the band launch into the joyous, rousing ‘Sé Lest’ before the beloved cinema of ‘Hoppípolla’ leaves things on a triumphant note. Sigur Rós typically leave space for the music to do the talking, and while ‘ÁTTA’’s cover art may feature a burning rainbow flag, tonight’s show ends with the stage bathed in white light after two hours of flickering light bulbs and murky spotlights. The world felt a bit bleak making this album, but maybe there is hope,” said Jonsi when ÁTTA’ was released. “When there is darkness, there is light.”