Iceland: more than just an island of ice

Imagination and creativity exude from the country’s unique music culture.

Morgan Mitchell, Writer

The picture that most likely comes to mind when an American hears about Iceland is a field of snow and eskimos fishing out of frozen lakes. A tiny island northeast of the U.S. with a population of 323,002 — 22,010 less than Anaheim alone — the country’s culture can seem secluded and hidden.

In reality, Iceland has produced creative and amazing bands, singers and composers with success in America such as Sigur Rós, Of Monsters and Men, Björk and Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Victory Rose

Sigur Rós arguably represents Iceland’s creativity best. Their career as an influential post-rock band began during 1994 in Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital. The band’s name uses Icelandic wordplay, the language spoken in Iceland, because the individual words “Sigur” and “Rós” mean “Victory” and “Rose.” Although the phrase breaks grammatical rules, “Victory Rose” borrows from frontman Jónsi’s younger sister, Sigurrós, who was born a few days before the band was formed. Sigur Rós is known for its minimalist, ethereal sound and use of bowed guitar.

Without knowledge or understanding of the Icelandic language, one might assume all of Sigur Rós’ lyrics are Icelandic. On “Von,” “Ágætis byrjun” and “Takk,” Jónsi sang a few of the songs in “Hopelandic,” according to the band’s website. The lyrics in Sigur Rós’ 2002 album “()”  are completely in Hopelandic, or in Icelandic, “Vonlenska.”

Technically a form of tongues designed to fit the music, “Hopelandic” acts as another instrument. It got its name from the first song Jónsi sang it on “Hope” — or “Von.” The listener is supposed to interpret their own meanings of the lyrics which can then be written in the blank pages in ()’s booklet.

influenced by Iceland’s roots

Iceland sports its own unique traditional style of music that, although not popular or listened to by younger generations, incorporates other genres and still garners appreciation today.

“It’s kind of hard to explain,” said Anna Guðrún Heimisdóttir, a 24-year-old Icelandic native currently residing in Innri Njarðvík, Gullbringusysla, Iceland. “It’s like singing and talking a poem, if you YouTube ‘Ólafur Liljurós,’ you can hear what I am talking about.”

A popular band currently in Iceland called Skálmöld combines metal with this traditional style of music. Their website says, “Skálmöld plays music that could be described as Battle Metal, a potion of Epic Viking Metal, old school Death and Thrash Metal, entwined with the Icelandic heritage.”

Influenced by Iceland’s roots, Skálmöld’s lyrics follow the strict rules of ancient Icelandic poetry with the outcome being a powerful mixture of heavy metal and heroic sagas.

An album of theirs that might resonate with Americans is “Börn Loka” — “Loki’s Children” — released in late 2012. Before Loki and Thor became prominent Marvel characters, they were Norse mythological Gods celebrated by Icelanders and other Germanic peoples. Börn Loka is now the name of the band’s official fan club. Their newest album “Vögguvísur Yggdrasils” is out as of Oct. 3.

Iceland’s cultural and historical pride fuels its beautiful music, as exemplified by Skálmöld’s website, “Who would be better suited for telling the stories of the Vikings but the Vikings themselves?”

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