“It’s funny to have been playing so long and to be speaking these words to an audience and realising a big part of the audience doesn’t understand a word that you’re saying.” Vocalist Katrína Mogensen disclosed her epiphany on a Seattle radio channel KEXP two years ago. Icelandic quintet Mammút have been a close-knit collective since 2002 when just blossoming into teenagers and it is only now, on their fourth album, that they enunciate their emotions into English.
“This has scared us for many years but now this is the right time.” Mogensen admits. The timing is indeed perfect. They’ve already received praise in their homeland three-fold; for their albums, songs and artwork, so why not use English to succeed internationally? The real success so far is how they use English to intensify their already intense style of distorted alternative rock. While Mogensen somehow still showcases her roots by keeping her accent so very Icelandic, making them sound like a gloomier version of The Sugarcubes.
Mammút’s previous EP River’s End in 2015 could be seen as a lyrical trial. The stories were conceived in their native tongue but translated into English later but on Kinder Versions, their words were formed in English from the start and they’ve used English in a manner that’s typical Icelandic (in particular similar to musician Sóley) – imaginative stories of humans intertwined with nature – and add another layer to their already fascinating compositions.
“A lake grows from my mouth, falls down to my chest” (‘Bye Bye’), “my trees calm me down they comb my hair and braid me (‘Sorrow’) and “make love to the water, put your hands in the water.” (‘Pray For Air’). Body parts is a recurring feature on Kinder Versions.
However, on the album’s lead single, ‘Breathe Into Me’, they let go of the surrealism and straight into the business of body as sexual tension and interlocked physical connection. Katrína Mogensen serenades with the gothically sensual: “Come closer/ Cover my breasts with both your hands/ Shamelessly devour me.”
There’s no denying, it’s lyrically enthralling but by that stage in the album, you’ll be already drawn into Mammút’s power musically, as Kinder Versions perhaps has the most captivating start to an album this year. Two epic 6+ minute tracks and an semi-acapella begin the record that play with pace, genre, tension and mood.
Minimalist ‘Bye Bye’ shows that Mammút can also engaging when at a London Grammar pace away from their usual alternative rock and built almost entirely on ecclesiastical echoey vocals. While ‘We Tried Love’ is an emotional outpour that metaphors rain to sadness and has an anthemic swaying choral quality, due to its layering of vocals (something also experimented effectively on the explosive ‘Pray for Air’) and twinkling crescendo.
The best track is ‘Kinder Version’, which takes the listener on a spine-tingling journey. Beginning as straight-forward acoustic folk, it becomes haunted by ghostly psychedelia before ending with thumping chilling electronica. There are few lyrics but the ones uttered: “I’m bringing all my stories back, erasing all the kinder versions of my past,” match the the track’s tormented soul.
In that aforementioned Seattle interview, frontwoman Katrína Mogensen showed doubt about the language switch: “When people work out what I’m saying, I hope they won’t be disappointed.” She needn’t worry. The lyrics enhance their emotions perfectly.