Photographs by Sarah Rix.
Massey Hall was packed for one of the marquee events of Canadian music Week 2015. Icelandic folk-pop group Of Monsters and Men kicking off the promotion of their as of yet unreleased new album Beneath the Skin. The group walked on stage, all nine bodies clad in black with a stark white light illuminating the stage, contrasting the two shades like night and day. The first song the band played was off their new album and it consisted of a droning post-rock jam with ominous horns. The music had a rising crescendo of building noise that lasted several minutes. Strong white spotlights highlighted the band making them look even more imposing and serious. After the introduction to their new song the band livened up quite a bit and the whole show was a joyous affair. The band succeeded on having many layers to their sound. During the second song (also a new number) five of the band members were playing guitars as they toyed with held notes, bending them through reverb and other forms of feedback.
The audience, while being guinea pigs for the bands new material, loved every moment of the night. Each song ended with rapturous applause causing the band to blush at the adulation they were receiving. Singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir gushed at the fact that it was the bands first show of the new touring cycle. The band must have been rehearsing nonstop as they were all playing very tightly and in sync. One of the highlights of the night was Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson’s impressive drumming. On the new material he seemed to switch between army marching band patterns and Phil Collins-esq bombastic drum fills. Normally when bands play new or unreleased material the audience will gently applaud while they wait for old hits to be played, but this crowd loved every second and enjoyed how spoiled they were to hear such great songs for the first time. The new songs had such a heartbeat and life to them, it became impossible not to bob your head around or clap along.
The backing band seemed to be filled with jack-of-all-trades as they all impressively would play musical chairs between songs and pick up a new instrument. The backing band MVP award would clearly have to go to Ragnhildur Gunnarsdóttir. While Ragnhildur stayed in the shadows for most of the night I spotted her playing no less than the trumpet, accordion, xylophone, keyboards and even sung back up vocals. Listening to all these new songs it was clear Of Monsters and Men were on the precipice of something truly great. The band appears ready to blow past their indie darling status and move right on up to headlining stage with The Lumineers and Mumford and Sons, albeit with more interesting lyrics and far more compelling music. When the band finally got around to playing older songs like King and Lionheart the crowd was already full of energy and immediately got onto their feet to sing along. The band roared through the song with such intensity it made them even better than the recorded version. It all culminated in a several minute standing ovation, an ovation that actually forced the band to stop the show, as no one would have been able to hear anything over the cheering anyways.
By the time the band played Crystals the lead single from their forthcoming album, we had been treated to a large portion of new material. Much like the previously mentioned Mumford and Sons, OMAM realizes the importance of making sure the new material is fan friendly and as they willingly showcased plenty of their new works, believing their audience will be on board with them. Co-lead singer Ragnar Þórhallsson decided to crack a joke saying, “The next song is really old. It’s four years old” as they launched in Lakehouse as one of the last numbers in the main set. The song was played with a jammier feel, turning the coda into a dance number. Nanna commented on the crowd’s enthusiasm telling us “I like it when you stand” ensuring that no one sat down for the rest of the night.
The band left the stage with a guitar stuck reverberating feedback into an amp causing the stage to literally buzz in anticipation for the gang to come back on stage. When they came on again and played the opening chords to Dirty Paws it caused fans to bum rush the stage and overwhelm the ushers who had to allow it all to just happen. They followed up one of their most popular songs, with their most popular one causing the rowdy crowd to crank it up a notch and scream along with Little Talks. The live version had been adjusted to include an even more jazzy horn solo that over powered the rest of the group. The band succeeds as it mixes painful and secret filled personal lyrics with mythological based poetry all set to the tune of orchestral music that would be in place alongside of movie scores. Their new album comes out in June, and if it is half as amazing as the band was at Massey Hall people are in for a real treat. Move over Sigur Ros and Bjork, Of Monsters and Men are the new faces of Iceland.
Thanks to Live Nation Ontario for media access.