1990s vibes are in no short supply on Reykjavík-based band Mammút’s latest album, atmospheric rocker Kinder Versions.
The cymbal crash that starts off Mammút’s Kinder Versions sets the tone for the entire album: dark, smoky, covered in crags and jutting edges. An intriguing mix of drums, tambourine, and very purposeful bass make up the backbone of opening track “We Tried Love”, giving us a few bars of mystery before frontwoman Kata comes in, belting out desperate, throaty wails.
There are hints of legendary fellow Icelandic group the Sugarcubes throughout the song and the record as a whole, although Kata’s voice moves more linearly, she often reaches an almost identical timbre to the one and only Björk. But more than anything, Kinder Versions is a throwback to the '90s and very early oughts. Often, Mammút recalls the balladry of early Cardigans, the vaporous melodies of Mazzy Star, the bewitching folk pop of the Pierces. With a little added speed, the weaving electric chords of “Pray for Air” could fit in perfectly on a classic Hole record.
As good as those groups are to emulate, though, Mammút manages to maintain its own identity, an organic and authentic type of rock that stays as diverse as the landscape of Iceland itself, going glacier-cold and lava-hot, always flowing and moving like a true force of nature. Title track “Kinder Version” goes from echoing acoustic regrets to total earth-shaker; it’s a song that fits the mammoth the group is named for.
Dead center in the album sits standout track “Breathe Into Me”, a more intricately structured piece with a delicate guitar tune that hints at a melancholy midpoint between psych rock and Baroque pop. It lets Mammút show that as comfortable as the group is with some heavy fuzz, it isn’t coasting: these musicians have technical capabilities that serve them just as well as a set of good amps.
Here, Mammút eschews the more thrash-ready tracks that have pumped up previous albums, but the whole band has strength and stamina. It’s clear in the driving bass (Vilborg Ása Dýradóttir is utterly irreplaceable as she pounds away), it growls out of Kata’s throat (later tracks prove a versatility that takes her far beyond Björk impersonations), and it makes every song sound fresh as Mammút moves from sonic landscape to sonic landscape in an exploration of raw, emotional rock music.
It is hard to listen to Kinder Versions without experiencing the kind of nostalgia that will send you on a hunt for your copy of Post or on a Stone Temple Pilots binge. As fearless and as sincere as Mammút’s sound is, it sounds so specifically vintage that when I first heard it, I had to check to make sure it wasn’t a 25th anniversary re-release of something much older. But Mammút commits to everything it does as a band, and it lands squarely on the side of sounding like original music from the '90s rather than being some watered-down tribute to someone’s poorly defined concept of a decade. It’s not Mammút’s fault that the '90s were great, and make no mistake: the members of this group go their own way.