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A brief history of Icelandic music

How did we get from epic Icelandic poetry to Solstafir?

Despite having a population of less than 350,000, the music landscape is far more vibrant and expansive than you might first assume. Their love for the weirder, more progressive end of the musical spectrum doesn't just exist in the world of rock 'n' roll, with Björk being the country's most successful export. But where do the origins of this artistic and experimental passion lie? We take a quick look back at the history of Iceland's affair with rock music, from 14th century poetry to the beautiful post-metal of Sólstafir.


14th century

The genesis of the ‘rímur’ – balladic, narrative, alliterative rhymes that would be the staple of Icelandic music for the next five or six centuries.

1966

Hljómar (Thor’s Hammer) release the groundbreaking Umbarumbamba EP, positioning themselves as Iceland’s answer to The Beatles.

1986

Pioneering indie band The Sugarcubes form from the ashes of punk band KUKL. Singer Björk later goes on to worldwide fame.

1988

HAM release their debut album, Hold, bringing together metal, goth, art rock and avant garde weirdness. The band are frequently cited as the fathers of Icelandic metal.

1999

Post-rock etherealists Sigur Rós release their breakthrough album, Ágætis Byrjun. Sólstafir claim the band as a major inspiration.

2000

Reykjavík’s post-hardcore bruisers Mínus become one of the first Icelandic rock bands to make an impact overseas, with their second album, Jesus Christ Bobby.

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2005

Sólstafir release their breakthrough second album, Masterpiece Of Bitterness.

2009

The Vintage Caravan release their self-titled retro-rock debut album. The band formed three years earlier in Álftanes, when frontman Óskar Logi Ágústsson was just 12 years old.

2012

Svartidauði release their debut album, Flesh Cathedral, spearheading a new wave of Icelandic black metal.

2013

Icelandic Viking metal band Skálmöld play with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra at the Harpa concert hall in Reykjavík.

2016

Zhrine bring together the worlds of death, black, stoner and doom metal on their debut album Unortheta.

2017

Sólstafir seal their position as Iceland’s biggest metal band with Berdreyminn, the follow-up to 2014’s Ottá.


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From the archive

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