Iceland: so frozen, but so musically fertile… At last, Of Monsters and Men have just released their second album. The Nordic group found their fame with « Little Talks » and the wonderfully whimsical world that their music brought to life. Beneath the Skin is less hey-ho than their previous stuff, and distances itself from foot-stomping pop-folk territory to explore its darker, more mature side.
So that’s goodbye to the synths and trumpets (which did sometimes grate a little) and hello to more intricate guitar work, mystical melodies and backing vocals. It’s clear that the group has really evolved since their last tour and album recording.
The album’s first track and music video is « Crystals ». It has tribal rhythm and percussion which holds the harmonic chanting nicely, and has a similar feel to their previous album My Head Is An Animal. Let’s give it a watch and a listen:
Ragnar opens the following title, « Human » , which has a very electro feel. Nanna joins him in the chorus. The group doesn’t just explore the physical world with their music; they dive under our very skin to explore what really lies underneath (hence the album title). These feelings, like storms inside us, are what « Hunger » addresses, which has a ballad-like start that progressively develops into a powerful Rock finish.
« Wolves Without Teeth », « Empire » and « Slow Life » are pop tracks teeming with Norse mythology and images of Scandinavia, then the journey inside ourselves continues with « Organs », a sentimental and intimate ballad, with just Nanna’s voice and simple guitar and piano accompaniments.
In « Black Water » we really see the band’s Icelandic roots, and you can also find the remix by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor on the track list in the deluxe version of the album. Then the next track, « Thousand Eyes » plunges us back into a world of angst; it’s slower tempo going through ‘apocalyptic’ phases.
Nanna’s profound, clear-cut vocals really shine in the second single of the album, « I of the Storm », which has tender and subtle piano notes running through. Its phrasing and modulation are surprisingly pop, whilst the chorus verges on Soul, which Alex Somers made the most of in his remix of the track.
Beneath the Skin closes with « We Sink », and (on the deluxe edition) two bonus tracks, « Backyard » and « Winter Sound », where they pick up the pop-rock pace with electric guitars and cymbals which call to mind the aesthetics of their first album, reminding us how far they have come. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a long summer’s night around a bonfire on a deserted beach.
The album’s main concept, linking the world both inside and outside of us, using natural and poetic imagery – in addition to the aesthetics of their videos and album artwork – shows us that Of Monsters and Men is still in the process of forging a single, solid identity as a band. But is this a sign of ‘maturity’, or are they setting themselves up for a fall? Only time will tell if the Icelandic group will shut themselves away in the world they have created, or whether they will manage to transcend it.
To find out for yourself, you can catch Of Monsters and Men on their European tour, as well as at quite a few festivals this Summer. They will also be at Zénith, Paris, on the 4th November.
*that’s the Icelandic word for ‘cheers’, which should come in pretty handy. 🍻