June 26, 2015 Of Monsters and Men – Beneath the Skin (Album Review)
Back in 2010 in Keflavik, Iceland, lead singer/guitarist Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir, co-singer-guitarist Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson, guitarist Brynjar Leifsson, drummer Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson and bassist Kristján Páll Kristjánsson formed the Indie Pop sensation of what is now known as Of Monsters and Men. Possessing a mix of Folk, Rock, and ambient Pop qualities, the band has made a big splash in a short period. With Icelandic release of their debut album, My Head is an Animal in 2011, Of Monsters and Men announced themselves to the world. The album and its single, Little Talks, charted in twelve countries, including reaching the number six position on the Billboard 200 charts after its international release in April 2012. After being nominated for a list of awards, successful touring, and their multi-platinum debut, fans began to expect more such greatness n their next album. Now in 2015, they return with their sophomoric effort Beneath the Skin, released via Republic Records on June 8th in their homeland, and the following day internationally. Self-producing the new material along with Rich Costey (Muse, Foster the People), Beneath the Skin debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 charts and sold sixty-one thousand copies in its first week in the States, an impressive and bold accomplishment for such a young band.
Beneath the Skin starts out with strong drums that set the rhythm on the first single, titled “Crystals.” Opening with the attention grabbing vocals of Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir, the chorus entices everyone to sing along and become a part of not only the album,, but each song that follows. The beautiful lyrics combine with a grand sound that leaves a lot of room for the listener’s imagination and interpretation. Continuing with “Human,” the band picks up the pace a bit, starting out with Þórhallsson on the vocals before Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir slides in with her soft, angelic voice. The vocal melodies themselves mirror the sound of waves washing in and pulling back out, while the rhythm in the background reminds the listener of a misty wind blowing at a cold, dreary day at the beach. “Hunger” is a slow and almost painful song when it comes to the lyrical content. Consisting of a lonely guitar strumming in the beginning, Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir opens the intense, melodramatic song as Þórhallsson slips in for the bridge as well as the choruses. On “Wolves Without Teeth,” Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Þórhallsson give and take vocally throughout. The lyrics are very poetic, telling a majestic tale that is intertwined throughout a grand sound and catchy melodies, making it a strong song that gets stuck in the listener’s head.
The album moves on with “Empire,” another potent and catchy piece that shows a more upbeat side of the band’s sound, seducing one to dance and sing along. The overall positivity is kept up with “Empire,” an empowering track about continuing on, gathering strength, and becoming a part of something bigger. On a slightly more somber note, “Slow Life” talks of confusion as Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir guides her audience through her questions, conclusions, and worldly dazzles. It is an extraordinarily pretty song with an odd sense of vocal rhythm that comes to an halt every other line, in between words that do not seem to belong at all. “Organs” is much slower track where Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir is once again on lead as she paints pictures with her words like an artist dancing around the canvas with a brush. It creates emotions purely with the use of its instrumentation, the vocals almost secondary, making it an impressively honest piece with cavernous depth. Perhaps one of the most striking songs on the album, “Organs” pierces right through the heart, leaving a scar and a lasting memory.
Continuing, the gentle “Black Water” also sounds like a river running through the forest. Þórhallsson takes the spotlight on vocals throughout the verses, with Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir joining in for the background vocals. With strong drumming, the song picks up the speed again, coaxing the listener to nod along. Grasping hope and strength again, the song winds down with a grand orchestra setting. “Thousand Eyes” talks of sleepless nights and the worries that come with insomnia. As another strong tune, it will leave its mark in the listener’s mind, to say the least. In the second album single, “I Of The Storm,” marching band drums and piano are followed by Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir resonating vocals that are complimented by Þórhallsson as the words once again strike deeply inside with vivid emotion. This comes before the final track, “We Sink.” As sad as the title might sound, the sound carries some hope and light at the end of it all with varied vocals and exceptional, instrumental arrangement.
The deluxe edition of Beneath the Skin contains an additional four tracks. The first of these is “Backyard,” which is another deep piece that includes sound snippets where the listener can hear keys jingling and car doors closing, creating a visual scene that is backed up by the story both singers are telling. Next is a catchy Pop song titled “Winter Sound,” sounding similar to “Human” but a little bit richer on instrumentation. The final two bonus tracks include an interesting remix of “Black Water” by Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear and “I Of The Storm” by Alex Somer.
Overall, Beneath the Skin is a beautiful album with amazing lyrics and musicality. It creates worlds and waves, digging deep and lasting long in the listener’s mind. Almost like an addiction, these songs will always draw one back to the harmony and melodies, long after the last note has ceased. The mind-blowing arrangements create intense sounds that make it hard to believe that this is only the second album from Of Monsters And Men. CrypticRock gives Beneath the Skin 5 out of 5 stars.