2015 has been a year to remember for music. From Top 40 artists such as Justin Bieber to more electronic-based musicians such as Major Lazer, and established artists like One Direction to newcomers Alessia Cara, the music scene in 2015 had it’s fair share of diversification.
One group’s album stands out above the rest, however, as Iceland’s own Of Monsters and Men set their own bar even higher with the release of sophomore album “Beneath the Skin” this summer.
The group reached mainstream success with tracks “Little Talks” and “Mountain Sound”, and following a few trips around the world touring album “My Head is an Animal”, Of Monsters Men took some time to head back to the studio and come up with what turned out to be a record that avoided the sophomore slump.
Their sound still very much possess the folk-like, free-spirited nature that they established over three years earlier, as exemplified by the first single of the album “Crystals”. The group sound is established by the mixture of Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar Þórhallsson’s vocals, and in terms of balance, “Beneath the Skin” still heavily relies on Hilmarsdóttir more so than Þórhallsson, as it did in the sextet’s debut.
What makes this album different, however, is the edge that was added this time around, not only adding a new dimension to their sound, but also dispelling some of the comparisons to Mumford and Sons. “Thousand Eyes” is arguably the edgiest the group has ever gone, with a tension-inducing buildup that takes north of three minutes to complete.
The album has not reached the Top-40-esque success that the group originally obtained, but that far from establishes them as a one hit wonder. On top of “Crystals”, “Empire” and “Hunger” both possess the qualities to reach success on the radio should the opportunity present itself.
The album, however, tucks in a few hidden gems, namely “Wolves Without Teeth” and “Black Water”. The former is another example of the added edge featured in the album, as guitar riffs, a forte chorus and drummer Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson letting loose.
“Black Water” is more reminiscent of earlier work, but is one of the better-written songs on the record, and features a pace that is ideal for the folk sound they are known, but still has a more relaxed tone courtesy of Hilmarsdóttir.
What makes the group and album so special is the way in which they refuse to hide their accents. While some groups from outside of the United States try their damndest to let their natural accent come out to Americanize their music more, Of Monsters and Men belt their Icelandic accents to the back row.
“Winter Sound”, a bonus track, is a prime example, as the two vocalists sound as if they are having a competition with the other four group members as to who’s instrument can be louder, but in a tasteful way.
And yet again, there are more isolated songs that allow Hilmarsdóttir to exhibit her voice in a totally stripped down way, such as “Organs” and “I Of The Storm”.
“Beneath the Skin” is a journey. It’s not just an album, it’s an experience. It is so linear that it flows seamlessly from one song to another, sometimes deliberately, such as the transition between “Thousand Eyes” and “ I Of the Storm”. It has something for everyone, and it again puts Of Monsters and Men into a league of their own.