Maturity usually insinuates a weakening of energy, a loss of urgency, and a failing sense of youthful exuberance. And in the case of Minus' sophomore outing on stateside hardcore label Victory Records, that is exactly what it means. In 2001, Minus put Iceland on the heavy metallic map with their unique blend of spastic hardcore on Jesus Christ Bobby, their debut album. But their follow-up record, this year's Halldor Laxness, envisions Minus distilling their hardcore aggression for a more typical take on the heavier shades of rock music with a larger palette of instruments and a heightened sense of jagged melodicism.
For the most part, Minus now clip the riffs of a band similar to Thrice and rock like Glassjaw. It's something that was never heard on Jesus Christ Bobby -- a sound that is now more finesse than ferocious, music with more melody than metal. Their songwriting has become more conventional and is now aligned with dynamic new rock acts rather than their older metallic angles that followed such kindred spirits as Botch and Dillinger Escape Plan.
However, Halldor Laxness -- while light and fluffy compared to its predecessor -- does possess its fair share of positive musical aspects. Minus now drag bright melodic rock riffs and vocals into their musical arsenal to create an alluring blur of sound that would seem fitting on an MTV2 playlist. Another trademark of Halldor Laxness is its fine use of electronic flourishes throughout its 44 minutes -- synths often swirl next to post-hardcore guitar transgressions and electro pulses drone in the midst of a track's breakdown.
The dynamic shifts of tightly coiled guitar propulsions are still the center of Minus' sound, but on numerous tracks Halldor Laxness varies its new rock vibe to include many odd breaks. "The Long Face" and its bleating brass accompaniment add a deliberate jazz feel, rather than merely hinting at it through jazz-influenced tempos. This exploration of outlandish musical avenues for Minus are laced throughout the remainder of the album: the laidback rock disposition of "Insomniac" is nothing but typical radio-rock; the mellow closer "Last Leaf upon the Tree" adds hypnosis and seduction to Halldor Laxness with an eerie female vocalist exorcising demons through her vocal chords.
Halldor Laxness -- through experimenting on how to abandon its predecessor's hardcore sound spasms -- closes with a feeling of unevenness, with inequality in value and irregularity in material being its centerpiece. Minus seem to be caught in the midst of musical evolution as they burn their bridges to the hardcore past and attempt to resurrect new passages to the world of melodic rock hooks and radio airplay.