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Reykjavík, Capital Region, Iceland | INDIE

Reykjavík, Capital Region, Iceland | INDIE
Band Alternative Rock


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"Bands that need to tour America"

Hailing from Reykjavik, Hjaltalin’s website takes minimalism to extremes with a single video and iTunes link all that is currently visible, but any hint of simplicity stops there. Visually and musically, the band does little by half measures. Known for its collaborations with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Hjaltalin offers an eccentric take on the classic rock band, with bassoon and violin augmenting a more familiar guitar, keys, bass and drums set-up. Vocals are shared between guitarist and Rick Wakeman lookalike Högni Egilsson, and the theatrical balladry of Sigríður Thorlacius. The seven-piece then somehow blends elements of jazz, pop, prog rock, orchestral and easy listening music into something that is oddly cohesive and immediately engaging. It’s a heady mix that deserves to be experienced outside Europe. –Tony Hardy - Consequence of Sound

"Icelandic album of the year"

Over the years, Hjaltalín have enjoyed a large amount of respect and success on the back of their two albums, 2007’s ‘Sleepdrunk Sessions’ and 2010’s ‘Terminal.’ Still, I can honestly say that I’ve never really loved Hjaltalín. Their music seemed to wallow in delusions of cinematic grandeur, and for all its incessant art-school bombast it had precisely nothing of substance that grabbed you and stayed with you afterwards. It’s no coincidence that the song they were best known for was their cover of Páll Óskar’s “Þú komst við hjartað í mér.”

But here’s the thing—since ‘Terminal,’ Hjaltalín seem to have gone away and worked out what it is that they want to represent with their music. And it shows with their new album, ‘Enter 4.’ Not only have they made Grapevine’s Best Icelandic album in 2012 by a country mile, but they’ve also created what is probably one of the most searingly bleak and honest records from an Icelandic group in what feels like...forever?

From beginning to end, there’s a terrible sadness to ‘Enter 4’ that clings to every nook and cranny of the album. Its world seems to be one of missed chances, a longing from afar, or a love that’s been lost or dashed. At the heart of all this, like a rich seam of ore, is the theme of loneliness. While other albums in 2012 have alluded, or claimed, to explore the concept of loneliness, none have managed like ‘Enter 4’ to convey the sheer ache that occurs within every person that experiences it.

When listening to ‘Enter 4,’ you encounter the album’s gallery of damaged individuals involved in unhealthy situations as they desperately try to achieve some meaningful form of human contact. Even Lucifer himself is reduced to finding “Love with myself/So someone could love me back,” after being cast out from heaven on “Lucifer/He Felt Like A Woman.” The song “Myself” describes transgressive, yet mechanical and empty hook-ups with strangers, while “We,” tells of a couple whose relationship has run out of love but still stay together (“Can’t you see you’re hurting me/Why don’t you push me away?” Sigríður cries, only for Högni to coldly reply, “Usurper, that’s what you are”). But the most uncomfortable moment on ‘Enter 4’ is the paraphilia displayed by Sigríður’s character on “Forever Someone Else.” As she erotically breathes the lines “I wanna be touched/I wanna be found/I wanna be seen/ I just want you to hit me/Don’t wait/Just hit me,” the effect is as sensual as it is unsettling, more Michael Haneke than Richard Curtis.

These themes of loneliness have seeped directly into the music itself. From the shuffling soul beat and deadened bass of the opening moments of “Lucifer,” this is music that resides in the quiet and space of the twilight hour. Gone are the fussy, surperflous melody lines that cluttered up their previous albums. In their place, their instruments develop a deep synthesis of textures, layers, and an actual groove, with the drums and bass of Axel Haraldsson and Guðmundur Óskar pinning everything together.

There are still the flourishes of the old Hjaltalín with the appearance of Högni and Viktor Árnason's string arrangements, but even here they show a more restrained, uncomplicated beauty. This restraint allows the vocals of Sigríður and Högni to rise to the fore. While their two styles are drastically different (the soft caramel tones of Sigríður against the cracked raggedness of Högni), they manage to complement each other brilliantly.

The music on ‘Enter 4’ is not so much minimal as it is barren. The songs feel pulled apart and kept distant from each other, as if the band itself were playing in separate corners of a very large room. Such a sound allows you to explore the gaps and distance within the sounds, with the result being each listen brings up further little discoveries. This approach also allows for moments of eerie quietness that can build to truly monumental proportions, such as the primal sturm of “I Feel You,” or the crashing apex of “We,” where you actually find your heart runs just that little bit faster.

People have noted Högni’s current membership with GusGus as an influence on ‘Enter 4,’ mostly due to the amount of electronic processing evident in the music, but personally I don’t hear it that much. I actually think the album shares a closer sonic bond with the analogue/digital mesh of Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows,’ and the end-of-the-line soul from late era Gil Scott Heron and Bobby Womack.

No other album in 2012 has affected me on such a visceral level in the way that ‘Enter 4’ has. In terms of the quality of music and songwriting, it’s such a marked step up from their old stuff as to render Hjaltalín right now as a new band, completely divorced from their old music. It might seem that this album, from reading this review anyway, is rather melancholy, but I re - Reykjavík Grapevine

"A minor masterpiece"

SSomething clearly went horribly awry for wonderfully gifted Icelandic outfit Hjaltalín between albums two and three.

2009’s ‘Terminal’ is one of that year’s neglected classics, a life-affirming affair that still sounds like the best West End musical you’ve ever heard, even for those of us who’d rather have our ears removed than sit through Les Miserables.

Regrouping for the follow-up proved problematic, however, as the band’s charismatic frontman Högni Egilsson endured debilitating mental health issues, resulting in numerous hospitalisations.

The curious thing about music, of course, is that such conditions often then foster uniquely affecting music, and so it proves with ‘Enter 4’. Gone is the quirky euphoria, in comes a more downbeat and heartfelt mood across a diverse array of musical canvasses, from quasi-dubstep to dark funk, and starker, sparser moments.

It begins with Egilsson relating to a fallen angel in ‘Lucifer (He Felt Like A Woman),’ aided by a thrillingly throbbing organ groove. By the closing track, ‘Ethereal’ – eportedly recorded amid unbearable studio tensions – he is howling over a lone piano: a quite extraordinary performance.

Ably abetted by his operatic co-singer Sigríður Thorlacius, and some tremendous arrangements, this troubled soul has channelled his demons into a minor masterpiece.


Words: Si Hawkins - Clash

"Among the highlights on the opening night at I Never Went South"

"Euphoric chamber pop"
- NME at I Never Went South - NME (Mar 24, 2008)

"Pure Pop Brilliance"

Skinny and wiry collective Hjaltalin tick a hell of a lot of boxes for scene success here. Their debut record is coloured in a sepia kid of pink, has flora and fauna on the front cover, and features titles like ‘The Boy Next Door’. Oh and then there’s their Icelandic passports too. Honestly, this is what indie kid heaven is made of. But ‘Sleepdrunk Seasons’ is due much more than clique critique and select attention; this is pure pop brilliance.

Coming on like the naughty little siblings of Sigur Ros, Hjaltalin whisk Scandanvian pop, full-blooded rock, electronics, flying melodies and folksy sighs together in a hearty, heady mix. But instead of trying to ape the experimental edge or equal the big collective brain of their country’s biggest musical export, the nine-piece mini-orchestra of a band build on simple, solid structures, basic but fundamental sounds, and wonderfully direct urges like tapping your feet and nodding your head.

Ok, yes, opener ‘Sleepdrunk Seasons II’ could well be the soundtrack to David Attenborough’s next wildlife documentary but ‘Traffic Music’ combines lyrics about dead hearts and lost love with whoops, whistles and a joyous, angelic chorus, ‘Debussy’ sounds like a James Bond theme covered in snow, and ‘I Lie’ rests somewhere between Sufjan Stevens and Coldplay, but sounds neither twee nor silly.

In light of the current financial situation the Icelandic government are probably hoping Hjaltalin follow in the footsteps of Sigur Ros and provide the country with some much-needed capital but should the band begin to soar, this record proves they’ll do it with a beauty, charm and simple style all of their own. Great stuff. - New-Noise.net - http://www.new-noise.net/album-reviews/hjaltalin/sleepdrunk-seasons/hjaltalin---slee

"Epic Promise"

The evening after Bob Justman really got rolling when Hjaltalin, who had previously entertained the evening before in Reykjavik, (both playing in the venue Organ then inviting us back to their lead singer’s Mum’s house for a good old fashioned party) laid down their euphoric compositions. Regarded as one of the most promising acts in the country having won the Iceland Music Awards, Hjaltalin purvey melodic indie rock with a conspicuous bassoon, cello, three part brass section and usual rhythm section allowing them to alternate between full bloodied rock basslines and the soaring appeal of Sufjan Steven’s heraldic approach. Epic promise.

-Clash Magazine at I Never Went South - Clash Magazine (Mar. 25, 2008)

"CD of the week"

The second album from the Iceland septet expands the chamber-pop template of their debut, Sleepdrunk Seasons, into a fully orchestrated song sequence that careers giddily about, flinging itself here at Sondheim, there at Stravinsky, one minute glorying in Bee Gees disco cheesiness, the next brassy and blowsy, with a noirish, Barry Adamson-like cop-show-theme menace and murk. Pushing Sigga Thorlacius’s vocals further to the fore, to share equal billing with Hogni Egilsson’s, Terminal ups the ante on its predecessor’s atmosphere of barely controlled mayhem, of urgency and impulsiveness battling with the need to keep songs from toppling over into chaos. Sweet Impressions somehow manages to compress the sweet disco-soul of Saturday Night Fever, the high-kicking camp of Busby Berkeley, Mick Jagger’s Some Girls-era falsetto absurdities and Steely Dan’s sinuous late-1970s jazz into its 5½ minutes; Feels Like Sugar begins by going all Liza Minnelli on us, Thorlacius’s melodramatic, exaggeratedly clipped delivery soaring over busy, hurtling violins, before the chorus and its coda explode into histrionics worthy of Anthony Newley and Scott Walker; the closer, Vanity Music, feeds Hushabye Mountain and The Rite of Spring through the mincer. None of it should work, but it does, thrillingly so. This is electrifying, edge-of-the-seat stuff. If, musically, you prefer the quiet life, or are rigidly tribal in your approach, Terminal is not for you. Anyone else should dive in without delay. - The Sunday Times

"Yderst interessant og skarpt sæt"

Koncert med múm og Borko í Århus
"Det ti-mand store Hjaltelin spillede en halv times tæt sæt med en rock/jazz-storladen episk klang. Bandet var sammensat af en klassisk rocksetup med guitar, bas, trommer (men hvilke trommer!), keyboard med en blæsergruppe bestående af klarinet, waldhorn, trompet, fagot og lidt blandt harmonika.

Til at starte med lød det som en mudret, skrabet version af Sigur Rós, og bortset fra forsangerinden lignede medlemmerne nogle, der lige var trådt ud af en islandsk arbejdsværelse. Et meget mærkeligt band. Men Hjaltelin fortsatte ufortrødent i den skabede, jazzede stil, og de fik fyret seks rockede eksperimenterende numre af i et over-overmættet lydbillede. Yderst interessant og skarpt sæt.
-Simon Christensen - Gaffa (Feb. 27, 2008)

"Ones to watch"

Like their island’s bubbling volcanoes, the Icelandic ensemble’s second album has unleashed an inner fury.

‘Terminal’ sounds like a crazed symphonic soundtrack to an imaginary Indiana Jones movie, swallowing up Hjaltalín’s previous textured, organic loveliness, and spewing out a rock opera.

Although missed by many, Hjaltalín’s 2008 debut ‘Sleepdrunk Seasons’ was a life-affirming eco-lullaby. And a one-off, as lead singer Högni Egilsson tells Clash; “From the moment we released the ‘Sleepdrunk’ album it was going to be that the next album would be very different. On ‘Terminal’ we kind of went for it. All the crazy ideas you had, you put them into the mix. It’s more diverse and grand, with more unconstrained ideas flowing. It’s an epic kind of thing.” Earlier this year, ‘Terminal’ won the Best Album gong at the Icelandic Music Awards.

Another evolution is the increased presence of singer Sigga Thorlacius, who only joined the band late on during the making of ‘Sleepdrunk Seasons’. On ‘Terminal’, her sparkling vocals lead on the Broadway rock of ‘Feels Like Sugar’ while she combines with Högni’s throaty croon on the torrid drama of ‘Montabone’. “Sigga is a remarkable singer; both technique-wise and charisma,” Högni says. “So it would be very, very stupid not to feature her.”

So, after the full widescreen adventure that is ‘Terminal’, where can Hjaltalín possibly go next? “It’s a very good question. It could be that the next album is darker, heavier and more symphonic.” Sounds like music from the gods. - Clash Magazine

"Getting to Know: Hjaltalín"

Hjaltalín, one of four up-and-coming Icelandic artists featured in Paste's second-annual International Issue, released its debut album, Sleepdrunk Sessions, in 2007. With more than 20 musicians involved in the recording process, the LP featured rousing choruses and lush orchestration, including violins, piano, accordion, clarinets, bassoons and trumpets,. The band's proclivities for unorthodox arrangements and unapologetic experimentation cemented, Hjaltalín soon hit the road with headliners including Múm and Cold War Kids.

Paste caught up with Högni Egilsson, the band’s lead singer and songwriter, two days before they headed out on the second leg of a European tour. He shared his thoughts on the dynamics of a pop music dictatorship, the band's in-the-works new album and just what makes his homeland a haven for musical talent.
Paste: How did the band come together? Have you all known each other for a while?
Egilsson: The band came together when we were studying together in a sort of middle school or high school. We were 17… 16, 17, 18—about that age. We were all singing together in this choir, this kind of youth choir, which was in the school. Yeah, we all kind of left closely there. So, we became friends and we started playing music. We were in this choir here, and we just started playing some silly pop songs and it just evolved into what it is today.

Paste: With eight members, did you face any pressure early on to edit down your instrumentation or drop a few band members to be a more traditional size?
Egilsson: It wasn’t because of pressure, I don’t think. It was just because of practicality. We had a cello and we had a clarinet, as well. We play with a lot of bands but when we tour it is just because we can’t afford to tour with so many members, so we just have to cut down.

Paste: Your debut album Sleepdrunk Seasons was released in Iceland in 2007. Tell me a little more about the making of this album—how long it took, any particular themes that might have inspired you.
Egilsson: It was an album that took quite a long time in the making. It was actually set up to be just an EP album. We were really just kind of very unknown band when we started making it. We were just kind of playing on and of gigs here around Reykjavík. Two guys came up to us and said they wanted to make an album—two guys that had some experience on the pop music scene. One of them—a member of the band Múm [Gunni Tynes]—was helping us make the album. We started making it in 2007 and it was finished in 2007—late 2007, in October. It was supposed to be six songs, but we ended up with 12.

Paste: Before the album was released, your first single “Goodbye July” became a really big radio hit [in Iceland]. That kind of early hype hurts a lot of bands—it builds this pressure and all of these big expectations when the album comes out. Did you that worry you, or did you just have to put that out of your mind and focus on the album?
Egilsson: Actually, there wasn’t really any kind pressure because of the song coming out on the radio. That song coming out on the radio created kind of a general interest in the band. I never felt any pressure. I felt more like, “Wow!” It was more like, we knew it was going to be a good album, we knew it was going to be a fresh album. We really just hoped to play around Iceland. We never set out to do any international traveling or playing outside of Iceland. It just kind of caught on very suddenly and very naturally.

Paste: Is it difficult to meld the creative sensibilities of eight different people? Does it ever come down to taking a vote? Is it a dictatorship or a democracy?
Egilsson: It’s more of a very… how would you put it? A very gentle dictatorship, I think. [Laughs] I made the songs on the first album and I made most of the songs on the second album, and I’m kind of in charge of what goes into it. But everybody takes part, and there is a conversation about the music and how we set it up, and we try to mold the two together, make the music together. The songs have always come from me, but we always discuss what we want to do and kind of use that approach. It’s democracy in a dictating manner.

Paste: An astounding number of great artists, authors and musicians all come from Iceland. There have been a lot of theories floated around as to why, including the climate and the purity of the water. Do you have any of your own theories on that?
Egilsson: I would not think that any one theory would cover it. I would say that we have gained a lot from the size of Iceland. That is, that there are not so many people to purchase music in Iceland. That’s why there’s not a lot of money to gain from making music, so people don’t decide to make music for financial reasons. It’s because they want to do it, so there’s not really any style that becomes prominent. So we just do whatever we want.

Paste: If I’m not mistaken, you’re in the middle of a tour right now? What has that been like?
Egilsson: W - Paste

"Iceland’s eclectic light orchestra - live review"

Luminaire, London

Let’s get the Sigur Rós thing out of the way first: Hjaltalín bear scant resemblance to their Icelandic countrymen. Sleepdrunk Seasons, their debut album, begins like the Salvation Army tuning up (though their brass auxiliaries aren’t here tonight), and they sing mostly in English. There are twice as many of them, too, but the clarinetist is absent, so a septet including violin and bassoon packs the Luminaire’s intimate stage.

One moment, however, does recall recent Sigur Rós – the majestic tutti of “The Boy Next Door”, as lead singer Hogni Egilsson cranes his voice for the top notes, like Elbow’s Guy Garvey in the body of a rustic Bjorn Borg. It is an early highlight of this smile-inducing, cockle-warming, discovery-making gig, distinguished by rare musical freshness (these are the arrangements of a band who know how to score with clefs and staves) and the ease with which the tempo shifts from swoonsome to brisk, regimental clip.

“Goodbye July” starts as almost a torch song and turns into a bustling, parping canter, then goes round again. Honky-tonk piano saves “The Trees Don’t Like the Smoke” from environmental tweeness, Sigridur Thorlacius’s creamy contralto mucking in with the luscious harmonies, while “Traffic Music” has some wonderfully twiggy time-keeping and juts forward in reedy blurts.

The show peaks with an Icelandic song that was a number one single there. It translates as “You touched my heart”. “Corny, clumsy and cheesy in English, but really, really cool in Icelandic,” Egilsson asserts. As if to prove it, every Icelander in the place rushes to the front for a patriotic indie micro-disco. It is, in fact, a cover of a club anthem – played with the Shout Out Louds’ giddy, Nordic-pop abandon. And the bassoon rocks.

“Come to Iceland, it’s cheap and fun, and there are riots and stuff,” Egilsson adds, doing his bit for economic uplift. Where do I buy a ticket? If word spreads, Hjaltalín will be festival favourites this summer, home and away. Like Sigur Rós after all, then. - Financial Times

"Live review"

For a moment, Hjaltalín are the best band you’ll ever see - Clash Magazine

"Live review"

For a moment, Hjaltalín are the best band you’ll ever see - Clash Magazine


Sleepdrunk Seasons (CD/LP - 2007):

“Hjaltalin manage to be sweetly provincial, even at its most grandiose.” - Uncut
“What makes Hjaltalin ooze with potential, and more importantly, sound nothing like any of their revered countrymen at all is their unflinching knack at being able to craft both winsome pop tunes alongside audaciously experimental arrangements with seemingly effortless ease.” – Drowned in Sound
“This is pure pop brilliance.” – New-Noise.net
“The Icelandic collective's UK debut is cheeky and breezy - like fresh air in London, like the sound of the morning thaw” – Plan b
“The pop melodies have a breadth of emotion and the sound is deep enough to provide aural pleasure” – Subba Cultcha

Terminal (CD - 2009)

"Terrific show-tune soul" Mojo // 4/5
"Uninhibited and magical" Clash // 8/10
"Epic orch-pop from Iceland" Uncut // 3/5
"Masterpiece" Artrocker // 4/5

Alpanon - Live with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra (CD/DVD - 2010)
"Unified body of perfection" Drowned in Sound
"Visually and sonically stunning" Clash
"You can almost hear, almost touch, the frayed emotions in the hall" Sunday Times

Enter 4 (CD/LP 2013)

"This is one of the most extraordinary album I've ever heard. A masterpiece" The Sunday Times
"A troubled soul channels his demons into a minor masterpiece" 8/10 Clash
"Moving return. A personal, affecting album" 4/5 Mojo
"Has a sense of cathartic, liberating joy" 4/5 Q
"Not only have they made the best Icelandic album of 2012 by a country mile, they’ve gone and  created a record that’s probably one of the most searingly bleak and honest record from an Icelandic group in what feels like...forever?" Best album - The Reykjavík Grapevine Awards
10/10 Icelandic National Radio



This is a band that recently reinvented itself to astounding acclaim in Iceland. With its first album in 2007, “Sleepdrunk Seasons”, Hjaltalín (IS) started out doing what was then described as chamber pop, eventually rising to mainstream popularity in Iceland. Good reviews abroad followed, as well as tours and festivals around Europe.
Things have evolved since then. The current musical style on their third album, “Enter 4”, is largely electronic, and serious in nature, although there is still some light in the darkness. Classical influences still linger, but not as openly as on the previous record, as can be seen on the recent music videos from the album, which has received rave reviews from the Icelandic media. What used to be expansive, orchestral pop has been rethought, paving the way for cold blooded realism. This is also driven by Högni and Sigga’s expressive vocals alongside techno-influenced beats.
Some of Hjaltalín’s staunchest fans insist that the group is best experienced live. The live set is all about energy, and open interpretation of the songs, which can drift into unplanned reveries or groove based improvisations, never the same two days in a row. Hjaltalín’s concerts are that true musical journey that live escapade is all about.


“They are that rare thing: a band who arrive unheralded, unknown, and ensnare you instantly.” - The Sunday Times

“smile -inducing, cockle-warming, discovery-making” - Financial Times (live review)

“A touch Arcade fire but more interesting, vocals are stunning, instrumentation is awesome. Joyous and gentle. Big colourful band to fall in love with. Soul, classical. Classoul.” - Huw Stephens, BBC Radio 1

“What makes Hjaltalin ooze with potential, and more importantly, sound nothing like any of their revered countrymen at all is their unflinching knack at being able to craft both winsome pop tunes alongside audaciously experimental arrangements with seemingly effortless ease.” - Drowned in Sound

“This is playful, frisky music that sounds like an endless summer night among friends.” - Guardian

“Strangely beautiful orchestral pop.” - Time Out

"It feels like, for a moment, Hjaltalín are the best band you’ll ever see." Clashmusic.com

Steinthor Helgi Arnsteinsson - Steini
management [at] hjaltalinmusic.com
tel: +(354) 6620063

Press (UK): Chris Stone/Stone Immaculate Press - stone [at] stoneimmaculate.co.uk
Booking: Kris Tomkinson/Industry Group – k.tomkinson [at] chooseindustry.com