Of Monsters And Men are about so much more than songs with irresistible “la-la-la” choruses, impossibly sunny melodies, kooky lyrics about pet dragonflies and talking trees, and sudden jubilant outbursts of “hey!”. Of Monsters And Men are about spreading joy.
For 90 minutes, the Icelandic band cast their spell over the masses packed into a sold-out Eventim Apollo, resulting in almost involuntary behaviours: mass singalongs, synchronised clapping, arms-raised sway-dancing, and 5,000 voices shouting “hey!” as one.
That’s exactly what the band want, having described their latest album, Fever Dream, as “light and fun” or “more poppy and brighter” than its predecessor, Beneath The Skin. “It’s about yearning for something greater, feeling content in your loneliness, embracing your vulnerability and wanting to feel present in a moment.”
Mission accomplished, then. Even during the quietest of the new songs, like ambient synth-ballad Stuck In Gravity, there are none of those infernal shouted conversations between well-lubricated punters at the back of the venue. There’s just total engagement with what’s happening on the stage, which, in short, is plenty.
Granted, the six musicians might not swap out their instruments with the frenzied enthusiasm of Arcade Fire, but drummer Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson and lead singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir are certainly up to the challenge. He spends almost as much time standing on his drum stool clapping his hands above his head as he does pounding out the huge beats that propel Of Monsters And Men’s most anthemic songs.
When she’s not singing while playing guitar (or bass), she’s up on the platform next to him walloping a drum or laying down a melody on the keyboards.
With the eye from the Fever Dream album cover looking over them, the other band members are more low key but no less important. Bassist Kristján Páll Kristjánsson has the unenviable task of keeping up with Hilmarsson.
Guitarist Brynjar Leifsson is as comfortable with the toothy riff of Alligator as the electro-disco Nile Rodgers vibe of Wars. Touring keyboard player (and sometime accordionist) Steingrimur Teague bridges the sonic gap between the band’s folkier early output and the sleeker, synthier new album.
And other singer Ragnar Þórhallsson, also on guitar and synths, is the perfect foil for Hilmarsdóttir, their voices complementing each other when they trade lines or verses. Even when adding backing vocals or harmonising while the other sings lead, their pairing is at the very heart of the band’s appeal.
But the real magic happens when that band play as one, like on their confetti-strewn celebration of the Icelandic summer, Lakehouse; the rousing Yellow Light (using Sigur Ros’ slow build trick to full effect); and the the big “hey!”-laden hits Dirty Paws (the most uplifting fable ever sung) and Little Talks (a glorious carnival of sound).
It’s not all sunshine and butterflies though. Of Monsters And Men are from Reykjavík where the long winters are cold and dark. Beneath the booming Imagine Dragons beats and “whoooaaah” choruses, lurks the true melancholy of Crystals (“I know I’ll wither so peel away the bark/’Cause nothing grows when it is dark”).
I Of The Storm pairs those chiming chords Coldplay rode to global superstardom with a military drum pattern and lyrics like “And it echoes when I breathe/ Until all you see is my ghost/ Empty vessel, crooked teeth”. And the fragile Waiting For The Snow, sung by Hilmarsdóttir seated at the front of the stage, is as forlorn as it is beautiful.
Yet, no matter how dark the material gets, the sense of hope remains constant. The take-home message from an Of Monsters And Men show must certainly be: joy will prevail.
Review of Of Monsters And Men at Eventim Apollo on 29th October 2019 by Nils van der Linden. Photography by Kalpesh Patel.