Icelandic composer is liberated by the power of positive thinking

Ólafur Arnalds has found inspiration for his latest collection in the slow-motion celluloid poetry of Werckmeister Harmonies, the elegiac fantasy of Hungarian director Béla Tarr. In particular, the Icelandic composer has drawn on that film’s opening sequence (a line from which provides this album with its title), which sees the chief protagonist delivering an emotive monologue on the processes of a solar eclipse; patently a metaphor for the resurrection of hope from the depths of despair.

This arc from shadow to light is mirrored across the duration of …and They Have Escaped the Weight of Darkness, providing Arnalds with a clear contextual framework upon which to found his work, while emancipating him from the default melancholia of his past material. Whereas previous efforts have found him struggling to locate his specific USP, mired in the second tier of contemporary ivory workers (some distance behind the likes of Jóhann Jóhannsson and Max Richter), this set’s effortless poise elevates him to the genre’s upper echelons.

While this success is partly due to the suite’s conceptual foundations and strategy, it also benefits from an expanded instrumental palette. When, on Tunglið, a tumble of drums splinters the plaintive, customary  trade-off between ivory and strings, it’s as if an immeasurable stretch of black nimbus has parted, recoiling in the wake of a sun’s ardent luminescence. Moments such as this seem a world away from the indistinct sketches that characterised so much of 2009’s Dyad 1909.

Arnalds is clearly growing in confidence, comfortable enough to permit his phrases to linger, allowing each note to permeate the vacated spaces between. Perhaps this is the influence of Béla Tarr once more, a man renowned for his use of languidly-paced shots (the 145 minutes of Werckmeister Harmonies contains a mere 39). Regardless, Arnalds is set to take his place among the big boys. Not bad for a guy who once sat behind the traps for a group called Fighting S***.

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