Complacency is the death of creativity, and it is something that you see repeatedly in the musical world. A band would find a particular sound, or formula, that gets them chart-topping albums and earns them horde of rabid from all corners of the globe. The band would then stick to that particular formula, because it clearly works, and then they’ll slowly kill themselves as they churn out the same music with each album until they’re just an empty shell of a band with barely any original sounding music. Icelandic indie rock sextet Of Monsters and Men hit their winning formula straight out of the gate with the release of their 2011 debut album My Head is an Animal.
Their debut album was a foot-stomping burst of frantic energy as the band latched onto the folk revival that had started taking the world by storm. My Head is an Animal was an aloof album – filled with fantastical references that felt like they were directly inspired by the works of Tolkien, and there were moments when the album was incredibly twee as vastly upbeat indie folk influences dominated the album with their hand-claps, pounding kick drums, and catchy choruses. Now, Of Monsters and Men could have easily decided to replicate this sound in their sophomore album Beneath the Skin, but they opted to produce something that was incredibly different to their debut album.
My Head is an Animal leaned heavily on drawing influence from the folk revivalist movement spear-headed by Mumford and Sons, but Beneath the Skin draws influence from a much sparser and soaring musical landscape of alternative rock with symphonic pop overtones. Beneath the Skin rather reflects the nature of the landscape of Iceland – a sparse and desolate place, but one of awe-inspiring beauty with its soaring mountains, foreboding volcanoes and creeping glaciers.
Beneath the Skin sounds just like Icelandic looks. It is an album that seems desolate and sparsely populated by moments of beauty, but it is that quality that makes the album inherently beautiful. That, and the fact that these moments of sparseness always drive towards the same end result: grandiose, soaring moments of pure alternative rock bliss. An exquisite example of this can be found on “Hunger”. A mournfully plucked acoustic guitar creates the basis of the song, and drives it to a moment symphonic release as muted guitar riffs find themselves underpinned by soaring string sections. It is this kind of symphonic climax that drives Beneath the Skin as Of Monsters and Men explore a sound that is very much rooted in the symphonic nature of alternative rock tempered by the sensibilities of intelligent pop music.
There is no doubt that Beneath the Skin is vastly different to My Head is an Animal. Sonically, the two albums differ greatly with Beneath the Skin placing emphasis on sweeping, grandiose musical statements as opposed to the twee folk rock statements of My Head is an Animal. At the same time, the two albums differ from a lyrical perspective. Beneath the Skin is an introspective album that takes a long hard look at the “Men” aspect of their moniker. It delivers heart-wrenching and tragic lyrics rooted in anger, love, and loneliness. It is an incredibly moving album, and one that shows that Of Monsters and Men are more than just other folk rock band. Beneath the Skin is a mature and thoughtful sophomore album, and one that is bound to cement the band’s fame.