The History of Icelandic Rock
Hard Rockin’ In The Early Seventies
Dr. Gunni in Grapevine Magazine (Issue # 13, September 2009)
The Icecross album from 1973 has in recent times fetched high prices on the international psych record market. This is due to the fact that various noteworthy collectors have raved about the “legendary and mysterious” album. For instance, the Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra is quoted in the tome Incredible Strange Music Vol. II (1994) saying: “Iceland has produced one of the darkest, grimmish and most brutal psych records I’ve ever heard: Icecross. At times they even remind me of the early Meat Puppets, especially the song 1999.”
The truth, naturally, isn’t all that mysterious.
The band rose from the debris of Tilvera ("Existence") in 1971. Tilvera had been bound for glory, as it contained some heavyweight Icelandic stars, but the band’s output only amounted to two passable singles. Icecross played dance balls and was successful even though they only performed original songs written by guitarist Axel Einarsson and bassist Ómar Óskarsson. They both sang, while the power trio line up was completed by drummer Ásgeir Óskarsson. The band got known for being gloomy, even though the members never dabbled with the occult. They were also without doubt the noisiest band in Iceland. The band had eight Marshall boxes with four teninch speakers in each, and Ásgeir had built his own drum kit out of aluminium.
In 1972 the band moved to Copenhagen were very favourably received when they played at the main club of the time, Revolution. Says Axel: “When The Who played in town, the members came to watch us play. There must have been some reason why Pete Townsend stayed and watch us for 55 minutes. He sat facing the stage with his beer and didn’t move until after we had finished our set.”
Icecross recorded their eponymous and only album in Copenhagen with Danish pop star Tommy Seebach on the mixing board. Only 1000 copies were made of the album that reached Iceland early in 1973. By that time the band had split up because of tensions that built during their stint in Copenhagen. The album has never been officially re-released, but many bootlegs, both on CD and vinyl, have been made. An Icecross comeback—and even a second album—have been discussed, but nothing has materialised as of yet.
Ævintýri, the former bubblegum band lead by pop star Björgvin Halldórsson, got hard and heavy on a 7” single in 1970 (two songs, "Evil/Depression", in Icelandic). The band made more original songs and wanted to do a LP, but split before carrying out their plans. Two Ævintýri members, guitarist Birgir and drummer Sigurður, went on to form the similarly hard and heavy Svanfríður, named after a barmaid at Club Glaumbær. Other Svanfríður members were bassist Gunnar from Tilvera and vocalist Pétur Kristjánsson, who had sang with Pops and Náttúra. Svanfríður called their music “rock” which hasn’t been a fancy name to drop for many years, as it reminded too much of the corny fifties rockers. Svanfríður was a popular ball band during 1972. The band played the hits of the day with jam sections in-between to keep things interesting for the members.
In the summer Svanfríður went to London and recorded nine songs, which ended up as the album "What’s Hidden There". The music is progressive and hippy-ish in parts, especially the lyrics, the transaction from hippy innocence to rock toughness not wholly complete. That transaction would come through in 1973 when Svanfríður split and Pétur and Gunnar went on to form Pelican, Iceland’s most popular seventies rock band. Svanfríður’s album is though considered a rarity amongst psych collectors and has been bootlegged severely, as no official reissue exists.
Based on his 2000 book Eru ekki allir í stuði? (Rock in Iceland). A revisited update of the book is forthcoming in 2010.