Kælan Mikla : Undir Köldum Norðurljósum
Bands with a gothic aesthetic tend to appear like fish out of water on daytime summer festival stages—something about pale, black clad creatures of moonlight beneath a sweltering sun brings about a sort of cognitive dissonance. Yet when Kælan Mikla performed at The Cure’s Pasadena Daydream festival in 2019 in 90-degree heat in the early afternoon, their dramatically witchy performance seemed to cast a sort of spell over the audience. I could have sworn the California sun was enveloped in clouds and haze for 40 minutes as the Icelandic darkwave trio conjured up a kind of mesmerizing magic.
Like the early ’80s goth acts from which the group descends—Cocteau Twins, Xmal Deutschland and the like—the group balance ominous moods with both showmanship and a knack for dazzling hooks. Darkwave certainly can be made without regard for underground dancefloors, but that’s not howKælan Mikla rolls, and on new album Undir Köldum Norðurljósum, they build on their established presence of chilly synth fog and post-punk bass pulses by opening up their production to allow in a greater degree of hypnotic and haunting atmosphere.
It’s not quite right to say thatUndir Köldum Norðurljósum is first and foremost dance music, but that’s an integral part of the band’s aesthetic. On tracks like the eerily layered opener “Svort Augu” and buoyant pop anthem “Oysinileg,” the group calibrate their BPMs for heavy club wear. But it’s on the tracks where the band allow themselves to stretch out more—like the seven-minute symphony of gloom “Sirenur,” or “Hvtir Sandar,” their collaboration with French shoegazer Alcest—whereKælan Mikla best showcase the full breadth of their capabilities.
Undir Köldum Norðurljósum builds onKælan Mikla’s previous album Nótt Eftir Nótt in subtle ways, but the big picture—one of a more intricately layered and richly textured sound that, for instance, wouldn’t sound so out of place on a festival stage. Only this time, it feels as if that gloom fills so much more of the space that surrounds it.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.