Originally released only in Iceland in 1997, Von was the first album put forth by Sigur Rós. In Icelandic, Von translates to "hope." This lack of international distribution made it difficult for fans of the band, post-Von release, to get their hands on it, unless they wanted to pay upwards of $30 to import it from the band online. However, on October 26, 2004, thanks to One Little Indian US, Von finally saw a redistribution to the US, which meant fans could finally listen to Sigur Rós' early work at an affordable price. Needless to say, most fans were probably surprised at what they heard when they popped Von into their CD players. Expectations of amazing, gut-wrenching, tear-jerking musical tapestries akin to those found on Ágætis Byrjun and ( ) were not to be found, at least not in the recognizable forms of the band's latest two albums. Instead, Von contained music that might be compared to the work of Tangerine Dream or even to some extent, Brian Eno. Von has a distinctly more ambient, and experimental sound than later releases.

Total Running Time: 74:09

  1. Sigur Rós (9:47) - Sigur Rós, just like the name of the band, in English translates to "victory rose." The song opens with a flurry of small bell chimes, and builds up to what sounds like muffled screaming off in a distance. This is the kind of music that you picture playing in a scary movie, or the kind of music that you might hear accompanying some sort of footage from space. In other words, it's creepy. Listening to this in the dark is enough to make you nervous that something might be creeping up behind you. Even in broad daylight, the suspenseful, and almost theatrical mood of this song will make you suspect something is afoot.

  2. Dögun (5:50) - meaning "daybreak," or "dawn," Dögun seems to be the real start of the Von. It's beginning is a direct continuation of Sigur Rós, which is a hectic, almost static like noise. This leads into a soft chorus of voices, murmuring a loop of non-word notes. Soon, these voices are accompanied by a soft rainfall, which only further paints the image of a beginning, or a fresh start. In the last thirty seconds or so, the voices and any traces of static in the background disappear, and all that remains is the gentle dripping of water. This is what should truly be considered the introduction to the CD.

  3. Hún Jörð... (7:18) - in English, meaning "she earth." Here's where the CD really starts to pick up. This is one of the four songs on Von with actual lyrics. The raindrops from Dögun fade into a short electric guitar bit, which then fade to lyrics supported almost solely by a simple cymbal beat. About a minute and a half into the song the vocals are joined by a harder drumbeat and guitar works. Simple, haunting, and beautiful best describe these seven minutes. I don't speak Icelandic, or pretend to, but that doesn't detract from the emotion in the lyrics and beating melodies. Here are the lyrics, in Icelandic, taken directly from Sigur Rós' site:

    móðir vor sem ert á jörðu
    heilagt veri nafn þitt
    komi ríki þitt
    og veri vilji þinn framkvæmdur í oss
    eins og hann er í þér
    eins og þú sendir hvern dag þína engla
    sendu þá einnig til oss
    fyrirgefið oss vorar syndir
    eins og vér bætum fyrir allar syndir gagnvart þér
    og leið oss eigi til sjúkleika
    heldur fær oss frá öllu illu
    því þín er jörðin
    og heilsan

    I would have translated these lyrics into English, but without actually speaking the language, or having an understanding of it, any real translation would be at best choppy, and at worst incoherent. This at least lets you sing along in Icelandic.

  4. Leit Að Lífi (2:34) - translates into "search for life." There isn't too much to this comparatively short song. Mostly composed of ambient noises, it serves as smooth transition in-between tracks three and five more than anything else.

  5. Myrkur (6:14) - Opening smoothly from the intermissive track before it, Myrkur, or "darkness" has a distinctively ironic feel to it. With a name like darkness, one would expect haunting, gloomy sounds that depress. However, the light guitar work and splashy percussion combined with the whimsical vocals give it an airy, ethereal ambiance. This song sounds like something that Tangerine Dream could have done, with it's almost synthesized sound. The overall feeling from this song is anything but dark, and is in my opinion the happiest sounding track on the album. Again, straight from the website, here are the lyrics to the song:

    loftið leikur við
    lakið sveipar frið
    ljósið lýsir þér
    læðist farið er
    tunglið tekur við
    tælir hugans mið
    máninn mænir á
    myrkur far þú frá
    dula dregin frá
    drauma mína sá
    drungalegur fer
    dagur risinn er
    margur er
    meiðir sér
    aleinn er

    Like the few other songs with actual lyrics on the CD, the ones in this song, while not necessarily understood directly, manage to convey a strong emotional vibe. This is easily my favorite song that Von has to offer.

  6. 18 sekúndur fyrir sólarupprás (0:18) - "18 seconds before sunrise." This is eighteen seconds of silence. One interesting fact about the title of this song - it is also the name of Sigur Rós' website.

  7. Hafssól (12:25) - in English meaning "the sun's sea." Given the preceding song, the title, and the intro to this song there is a kind of sunrise feeling to it. For about the first three minutes, dreamy ambient sounds and soothing vocals creep in, like the first rays of light peeking over the horizon. Around eight minutes into the song, the image of a sea of music becomes vaguely apparent, with the slow trickle of ambient noises slowly building, as a tide coming in. Here are the short set of lyrics that can be heard near the start of the song:

    bakvið skýjaból vaknar sól úr dvala
    svalar sér við kalda dropa regnsins
    leikur sér við heita loga eldsins
    býr til regnboga

    As the song winds to a close, the sounds start to fade, and an occasional random metallic noise can be heard, arranged in a rather chaotic fashion, which all eventually lead to a silence.

  8. Veröld ný óg óð (3:29) - "a world, new and crazed." Very defined and mechanic patterns of sounds make up this song, most of which give the image of a factory or assembly line. After the sounds of a factory fade and the song comes to a close, a couple of men's voices can be heard, one muttering a word or short phrase, the other half-laughing.

  9. Von (5:12) - sharing it's name with the title of the CD, it as well translates to "hope." This song opens with some light drum work in the background, and what sounds like a short synthesized beat. Before long, light vocals enter into the song, all of which are sung in Sigur Rós' own language, "hopelandic." More than anything, this song should remind fans of ( ), not only because of the lack of an actual language for the song lyrics, but also because of the airy feeling that the song manages to generate.

  10. Mistur (2:16) - or "mist" in English. Sounds similar to cans being drug on a string along the ground serve as an intro to this song, which are soon joined by a variety of wind chimes. Not exactly the first sounds that come to mind when thinking of mist. This clunky set of sounds, while palatable, definitely make up one of the weaker songs on the CD.

  11. Syndir Guðs (Opinberun Frelsarans) (7:45) - "sins of god (revelation of the savior)." With a title like that, you'd expect something a little heavier, than what's given. This isn't a bad thing, though, just something that might initially throw off listeners as to what to expect. Haunting wails and bird-like squeaks open the song to the lyrics of the song, which are sung with a dull, pain, that seems tinged with a sense of regret. The way that this song is done makes it becomes possible to see it's influence directly on Ágætis Byrjun. The lyrics, that can be heard throughout nearly the entire song, are as follows:

    skapaður í mynd
    manns í líki karls og
    konu tvöföld var sú
    synd hans sagði hans
    alla tíð
    eilíf stríð
    sál mín fer
    enginn sér
    ekki hryggja
    heldur sefa mín lífs-
    speki alltaf rétt?
    betra er að þiggja en
    gefa sagði sá ríki og
    öll hans stétt ég sem
    kenndi hér svo margt
    en engin nam það á
    mig fékk en ég lærði
    að lífið hér var hart
    enda var ég það sem á
    krossinum hékk
    heiðarlegur einfari
    það var ég það ég sver
    en hinn breiði vegur
    var greiðfærari hann
    geng ég og krossinn ber

    Because of the coherency, and similarity to Ágætis Byrjun, this will likely be many people's favorite song on the album.

  12. Rukrym (9:01) - the title of this song is actually the title of track 5 ("Myrkur") backwards. On Sigur Rós' website, the translated name of this song is "ssenkrad," which is "darkness" backwards, which is also the translated name of the fifth track. The first six minutes are complete silence, whether or not this was done for artistic reasons, or to make the last three minutes sound like a hidden track are unknown. Once things get started though, it becomes apparent that it is, indeed Myrkur played backwards. As Myrkur is one of the best songs on the album, this should not be a complaint, by any means. Overall, a very nice way to end to album.

While overall very different from the later releases by Sigur Rós, Von serves as a logical first effort by the band. If possible, this should be the first album by Sigur Rós for people to listen to, so that people can better appreciate how far the band has come in their more recent releases. Many who are firmly accustomed to the newer sound of Sigur Rós will probably be turned off from this album, unless they are willing to give it the time for a few listens. At first, I was regretting the $15 I shelled out for a creepy baby face behind some purple plastic, and random noises. But after a couple listens, I started to come around, and appreciate Von for what it is: a first effort, nearly a decade old. It still takes a solid third place finish behind Ágætis Byrjun and ( ) when it comes to my list of favorite Sigur Rós albums, but it makes a very good contribution to my collection of music by my favorite band, and helps to give a more complete picture of the evolution of Sigur Rós, which most enthusiasts will also conclude, and appreciate. Basically, it might take a little time, but if you're a fan of the band, then $15 is a great deal for the first stages of a great band.


Von - Early American Black Metal

Von, formed in the late 80's but only recording two EP's/demos, Satanic Blood and Blood Angel, both recorded in 1991, and one live show, recorded in 1991 as well. What's most fascinating about Von was that conceptually as well as musically they formed much of what was early black metal. Inspiring many different bands Von itself remains a cult band, a band that more people have heard of than heard, and those who do hear them either love them or despise them, with very few in a middle ground. The band has a definite mystery about them, with few even knowing who the members are, or anything about them. The idea that was Von was to create a hypnotic ritual atmosphere and music, simple, primitive and minimalistic. Most songs are only a handful of chords, and perhaps one or two riffs. To most tech metal heads this is probably something like a child would play, which, to most Von lovers, is exactly what the appeal is. Using simple things to create atmospheric results, the band did much with very little.

The lyrics to the bands records were mostly Satanic subjects, most often very simple and incantory. They were vomited forth by the vocalist with a semi-death metal grunt. The guitar riffs tended to be simple, but when they put together solos you realized that is was a put-on, and they obviously knew exactly what they were doing. Darkthrone would do the exact same thing around the same time, they deconstructed from tech death metal to primitive black metal and production for the atmosphere. And indeed their blue-print could easily have been taken from Von. The music of Von is mostly slower or mid-tempo, with a few songs which speed up to near blast beats. The drumming was mostly ambient, again a spectre of what black metal would come to be. The bass filled the low end, much like on Bathory records, creating a hellish bottom end for the guitar riffs.

Von succeed in one fashion that many of their peers and followers wouldn't be able to. Von remain a mystery even to their most ardent fans. The only tangible thing that one can find is that they were from the Bay Area in California, and they were despised by the scene around them. That is obvious to understand, for what they were creating was such a counter-movement away from the wanking of their death metal counterparts. Von rebelled against those bands, and taking from Bathory and Sarcofago created what I have described. In the process they also created a mystery and a strange atmosphere around the band itself, which all subsequent black metal bands would also attempt to do.

Of course their influence on the Norwegian scene is easy to see as well. Varg Vikerenes from Burzum was aparently a big fan of them and it is easy to see how they could have been influential upon bands like Darkthrone, Carpathian Forest and Gorgoroth. Swedes Dark Funeral released a split with their first EP and the Satanic Blood ep by Von in tribute to the band. Americans Krieg aparently cover at least one Von song at every live show. That Von were ahead of their time there is no doubt. Personally I've become a big fan of the CD which has all their material upon it, called Satanic Blood Angel I recommend picking it up wherever you can. Von are essential to any black metal fans collection, even if you end up not liking their music.

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