‘Beneath The Skin’ by Of Monsters and Men Review
The latest album from Of Monsters and Men, released on June 9th in the UK, is both a must-listen for the alternative music lover, and a great starting point for anyone new to the band. Their Scandi-folk style captured our hearts with debut album, ‘My Head is An Animal’, featuring the insanely popular track ‘Little Talks’, which caught hold in 2013, and has given the group the attention and acclaim they deserve.
‘Beneath The Skin’ retains OMAMs signature sound, with rousing, tribal drum patterns, delicious vocal harmonies and the odd brass instrument thrown in, adding depth and an uplifting quality to any track in which it features. That said, the album is distinctly different from their first.
‘My Head is An Animal’ called to mind hazy festival days, or the bright intensity of an Icelandic sun in the summer months, with an all-embracing sound that seemed to make your very brain feel cosy. By contrast, ‘Beneath the Skin’ is much more crystallised, like the refreshing shock of plunging into an ice pool, it has a clarity that evokes an Icelandic winter. In fact, you can almost hear Iceland’s landscape in the album itself. Lead singer Nanna Hilmarsdóttir’s vocals are instantly recognisable, her unique husky-but-bright voice cutting through the drums and brass like a cold wind sweeping across a glacier.
The album draws on themes of the harshness of nature, with storms, mountains and wolves as reoccurring images, as well as themes of human survival through motifs of hunger and breathing, specifically through the second track, “Human”, which sets the album’s darker and more earnest tone.
While “Crystals” is probably the strongest track on the album with its perfect balance of that distinct OMAM sound and their new refreshingly glacial tone, there are a few tracks to take special note of that, not being singles, may slip beneath the radar and end up underrated. The first of these is “Wolves Without Teeth”, the song’s call-to-arms rhythm is matched by staccato vocals from Nanna and Arnar. This is a rare feature of OMAM songs, where the vocals are usually suspended over the rhythm, but is all the more effective for that. The slow-build created by the rhythm gives the song a quiet intensity that seeps into the bones, making it one of the best non-singles on the album. Another one to watch is “Organs”, this track is vastly different from any on the album, or even from the previous album, as it is essentially an acoustic track featuring only Nanna, an acoustic guitar and some inconspicuous but well used piano and strings that bring real depth to the song. The bare, stripped back nature of the track allows the quality of Nanna’s voice to shine through, as well as the beautiful simplicity of the lyrics which capture the struggle and self-torment of someone coming to terms with the end of a relationship, and the acceptance of their own faults as having a part to play in that. The song might be uncomplicated in sound and lyric, but it has a nuance that one rarely finds in your standard blame-game break up ballads.
Last to note, “Thousand Eyes” is perhaps the most Icelandic sounding track on the album. Opening with the soft trickle of flowing water and vocals enhanced with an ethereal echo, the song sounds like it could literally have been recorded in a cave in the side of a mountain. The instrumental that kicks in before the last verse and builds dramatically before dropping away to silence, leaving only Nanna’s ghostly mantra of “I am the storm”, is the defining moment of the song, and one of the most affecting moments in the album.
This album is another triumph for OMAM, and will undoubtedly cement the group’s popularity. Its combination of familiar crowd-pleasing anthems and stand-out, stylistically intriguing tracks make it an album that will well and truly get beneath your skin.