Kveikur, the latest release from iconic Icelandic rock outfit Sigur Rós, emerges on the heels of a lineup change — last year the group lost multi-instrumentalist Kjartan Sveinsson — and subsequently begins the band's shift toward a more aggressive and increasingly abstract music style. Debuting only a year after the fantastic innovation on their 2012 album, Valtari, Kveikur's arrival marks Sigur Rós' seventh full-length studio album — and there's something different about this one, in a good way.
Though the loss of a core member could prove detrimental to a group that's distinguished itself through the explosive sounds of synchronized ambiguity, the loss of Sveinsson has actually done little to stifle the effect. Rather, upon experiencing Kveikur, Sveinsson's departure may be viewed as a positive catalyst for change.
The album opens with a familiar eeriness as "Brennisteinn" gains momentum over a haunting conflagration of muffled radio static and indecipherable gusts of vocals, characteristic of the group's inimitable atmospheric style. Following the eight-minute opening track, Kveikur delves further into the realm of God-knows-where to bring Rós fans the band's signature brand of imaginative synthetic soundscapes, sweeping instrumentals, and of course, the trademark falsetto coos of frontman Jón "Jónsi" Þór Birgisson.
As Kveikur progresses, ominous shifts in strings, synths and percussion bear a feeling of impending darkness as they distort and reconnect in a strange transgression that builds over the course of the nine-track album. Similar to earlier releases, Kveikur maintains the grand orchestral movements and otherworldly appeal known to Rós fans; however, this time the symphony favors fast, sweeping dramatic shifts (both vocally and instrumentally), in contrast to the more drawn-out developments of previous albums. Despite downsizing its lineup, Sigur Rós will not leave fans disappointed.