In support of their first studio album in nearly a decade, Icelandic post rockers Sigur Rós head to Manchester’s O2 Apollo on 7 November.
One of most successful Icelandic acts of all time, with six number ones in their home country and a trio of Platinum albums globally, Sigur Rós are a force to be reckoned with. Rapturous and romantic, dramatic and alien, it’s hard to think of another band that so creatively fuses the apparent opposing forces of majesty and intimacy, drawing on ambient and neo-classical strains as much as rock and shoegaze, spearheaded by Jónsi Birgisson’s haunting falsetto and reverberating guitar (often played with a cello bow). If you believe in psycho-geography, it makes sense that the compact island that Sigur Rós call home is a wild landscape of volcanic rock, fire and ice, with mountains, glaciers and sea in every direction.
The band was formed in Reykjavik by friends Jónsi, Georg Holm and drummer Ágúst Ævar Gunnarsson. They kicked things off with the dark, dense yet oddly calming debut album Von in 1997, which introduced the band’s now-well-documented combination of Icelandic and their own private language, Hopelandis. The album was met with local acclaim, before Gunnarsson made way for sticksman Orri Páll Dýrason, with gifted live keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Kjartan Sveinsson joining as a fulltime member soon after.
1999’s Ágætis byrjun (‘An alright start’) is where things really took off for the band, and they clearly knew they had something special up their sleeves; album press releases promised Sigur Rós would “change music…and the way people think about music” forever. Well, Ágætis byrjun certainly turned heads. It was awarded the inaugural Shortlist Prize in 2001, and catapulted the band to international acclaim, winning fandom in the likes of David Bowie and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke.
The subsequent ( ), released on EMI, ramped things up further. A record of expansive and monumental beauty, it was deservedly garlanded with praise by the music press. So was 2005’s apparitional Takk (‘Thanks’) – an album which boasts the song ‘Hoppípolla’, an international hit single and perennial TV/soundtrack staple.
More acclaimed albums followed, peppered with various esoteric side projects and soundtracks, before keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson announced he was leaving the band to focus on other things. Credited with being the only member with musical training and introducing the lush string arrangements heard on many of Sigur Ros’ most-loved tracks, it was a blow for both the band and their followers.
Hence why social media posts on 14 February 2022 – Valentine’s Day – sent Sigur Rós fans into a frenzy of reignited passion. Not only was there advance news of the Sigur Rós’ first studio album since 2013 – due sometime this autumn – but the return of Kjartan Sveinsson after an absence of 10 years.
On the new album, the band are deploying an orchestra for the first time on record since 2008’s Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, captured during recording sessions at London’s legendary Abbey Road studios. In characteristic style, all other details are being kept tightly under wraps. But no doubt Manchester fans will get to hear much of this new material – alongside tracks drawn from their 25 year discography – when the band perform at the O2 Apollo on 7 November.