KEXP at Iceland Airwaves, Day 2: Mammút

Iceland Airwaves
Isaac Kaplan-Woolner
photos by Jim Bennett

Our third live show of the day from Kex Hostel at Iceland Airwaves was Mammút. This rock band won acclaim with their latest album Komdu til mín svarta systir (Come to Me, My Dark Sister), scoring eight nominations at the 2013 Icelandic Music Awards. Eventually they snagged wins for best album, song, and album cover of the year. We've had several sessions with this band in the past, and they've clearly evolved and grown into themselves over the years. They come from good musical stock. Singer Katrína Kata Mogensen’s father (Birgir Mogensen) was in the band KUKL with Björk, a predecessor to The Sugarcubes. Guitarist Arnar Pétursson is the son of one of the most highly acclaimed classical guitarists in Iceland. And bassist Vilborg Ása Dýradóttir is the younger sister of Orri Páll Dýrason, drummer of Sigur Rós. Dýrason actually joined Mammút on electronic percussion at their show tonight. This band is hard to categorize, and their unique mix of styles and sounds is part of what makes the Icelandic music scene so good.

As darkness fell on Reykjavik, Kex Hostel managed to fit in an even more tightly packed crowd perched on tables, chairs, and anything to give them a slight height advantage. After a briefly gentle guitar intro, the set descended into heavy, deep, and dark sounds. Sludgy hard rock and metal with booming bass filled the room, and electronic percussion and sound effects floated over the mix. Dressed in a red shawl, vocalist Mogensen had an intensity that was heightened by the appearance of blood dripping down her face. Thankfully, this was actually red dye. She had soaked her blonde hair just 15 minutes before the show.

The heaviness abated momentarily, leaving noodly electronic sounds that led into the second song. This one started slower, a more gentle reprieve from the heaviness. Mogensen began singing pretty, Icelandic lyrics, yet with a fervor that strained her face. The crunchy overdriven guitar dropped back in momentarily before falling away to highlight the singing and keys. Then the beat picked up and the song rose in intensity again. Mogensen added strange cries and breathy sounds throughout. She's a very active and engaging lead, jumping around the stage, throwing up her hands, and capturing the eyes of the crowd. She was left out of breath after the second song. This early part of the set was dark, dangerous, and loud, but also beautiful.

The third song started with an ominous, deceptively simple guitar line, driving drums, and singing. This hard rock number further upped the energy, and the crowd responded in kind. If there had been room to head bang properly, heads certainly would have banged. The tune ended abruptly, and the audience roared with appreciation. At this point the set shifted, and the fourth song began with a more airy, spacious synth sound. Mogensen is a beautiful singer, but also allows her voice to strain dramatically and adds in cat like screeches and odd noises at times. This song was much more of a synth heavy indie rock number; absent were the hard and heavy sounds that started the set. The fifth song was also more in this indie rock vein, and more down tempo than others. But the last song, from their latest album, was a return to the heavier rock sounds with an almost psych rock bent. Mogensen's voice swelled, bringing the music along with  it. The drums picked up the beat along with the bass, and the tune became more danceable. This led to a guitar and noise driven breakdown with more strange sounds and mad giggles from the dynamic vocalist. The audience was fully pumped up by now, and the energy was explosive as an excellent set came to a close.


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