Icelandic bands often resemble a force of nature, and Mammút are no exception. What’s more, the quintet’s spectacular new album Kinder Versions is exactly the kind of volcanic presence that is sorely lacking in 21st century rock, likewise their unpredictable and uncategorisable shape-shifting sound, like a very modern twist on psychedelia.
Mammút is Icelandic for ‘mammoth’ – the name that singer Kata Mogensen, “plucked out of the air,” when she joined guitarists Alexandra Baldursdóttir and Arnar Pétursson, bassist Ása Dýradóttir and drummer Andri Bjartur Jakobsson for their stage debut,aged just 14. Kata is the daughter of bassist Birgir Mogensen, a former bandmate of Björk back when they were young post-punk adventurers, a questing spirit that Mammút have also unconsciously adopted, though without ever discussing what kind of music they’d play. “We’re so close as a band, we have no limits for each other, no boundaries, we just follow our gut instincts,” says Kata.
It’s worked from the off: they quickly won the Músiktilraunir ‘battle of the bands’ and thereafter nominations and awards at different Icelandic Music Awards: their third album Komdu Til Mín Svarta Systir won three of its eight nominations in 2014, including Album (Pop & Rock) and Song (Pop & Rock) for their epically slowburning single ‘Salt’. And with vocalist Kata Mogensen now singing in English, there’s a chance much more of the planet will discover what their homeland has known for a while.
Having worked with various Icelandic labels, Mammút’s signing to Bella Union is part of their plan to expand horizons. “It was never a decision to sing in Icelandic, it came out naturally when I wrote,” Kata explains. “But there are so few venues in Iceland, and we crave to move further. Singing in an international language opens the door – it means that people can understand not just the feeling in the vocals, but the words too, when I’m singing my heart out.”
Kinder Versions’ intense character is obvious from the get-go, with opening tracks ‘We Tried Love’ and the title track the album’s two longest, at over seven and six minutes respectively, embodying everything that is thrilling about Mammút’s ebbing and flowing dynamic. “With those lyrics and the soundscape, those songs had to be the introduction,” Kata vouches. “And with [the sparser, gentler] ‘Bye Bye’ following, it’s the most honest way into the album.”
The exact meaning behind the title Kinder Versions and its’ lyrics will remain a mystery for now. “There’s a storyline to the album, which I can’t fully figure out yet; it’s too soon,” Kata vouches. “But the title is one side of a bigger story, a kinder version of something else, a situation. I’d like people to play around with the idea, if they’re interested!”
Mammút’s shows at this winter’s Icelandic Airwaves festival solicited rave reviews from The Arts Desk – “Hard-edged, rocky, circular songs with folky, spiritual melodies… Unreservedly fantastic” – and Rolling Stone, which referred to Kata’s “icy, piercing vengeance” and the music’s “arena-worthy, shamanistic hard rock,” and concluded, “Now I know they are ready for the world.”
“We’ve never been in a hurry, we’ve all done our studies while we’ve been in the band, and we have never made plans,” Kata declares. “But the band is what we love the most. Now the wheel is turning, and new challenges have developed. Let’s see wherever it goes.”