Before Sigur Rós became the alternative music darlings of the new millennium with their justly revered breakout album, Ágætis byrjun, their local reputation in Iceland was primarily presented in the form of this, their debut album Von, pressed and released under the Bad Taste label formed in the `80s by some of Iceland's more prolific punk music tearaways. The album's reputation amongst fans and the band themselves has since become a dubious one, what with the band's line-up having changed significantly since (Ágætis saw Kjartan Sveinsson enter the fray on keyboards and Orri Pall Dyarsson replacing original drummer Agust after it's release) and the band going on record with saying how disappointed they were with the end result in interviews. Further evidence of the band's efforts to forget Von can be surmised by the title of their second album, which translates as "an alright start". And whilst Von isn't a criminally ignored gem (for the most part, the band's reservations frequently ring true), there are still shafts of light present that suggest that this beleaguered four-piece at the very least had some potential in their midst.
The most striking sentiment that can be afforded to Von (that's "Hope" for us Englanders) is how much it distances itself in mood and production from the rest of Sigur Rós's future catalogue. In essence, it could play much better as a soundtrack to a lost zombie apocalypse film circa Romero or Argento, all discordant ambient noise peppered with a couple of recognisably dated goth-pop songs. The band's eponymous track comes as a shock first of all with its starting quietly with sweet percussion before descending into unpleasant screaming, an overtly sinister piece one wouldn't think of emerging from a band whose music has since become so beatifically poignant. The instrumental pieces tend to meander without much direction or force, unlike the arrangements to come in (), and the songs appear rigidly confined to their structures rather unlike the thinking aloud found in Ágætis and Takk.... Also, it's all being produced and mixed by the band in its infancy means there is a lot of room for improvement; vocals are often distant leaving the melodies hard to make out and artistic license is stretched to breaking point on a handful of tracks (key offenders being "18 Sekúndur Fyrir Sólarupprás" and the opening six minutes of "Rukrym").
That being said, whilst it never comes close to anything as beautiful the band have written since, the foundation blocks of what was to inform their later work are clearly in evidence. Their use of choirs here can be seen as a precursor for how frontman Jonsi would later use his elfin trill, which makes their work sound more organic than a simple melody with a backing arrangement, exemplified by the haunting opening of "Dögun" and the album's most conventional song, "Hún Jorð". The band's obsession with musical reversals and palindromes also finds room on the LP, the most obvious example being "Mykrur's" reversal into "Rukrym". If someone were to listen to this album without any prior knowledge of Sigur Rós and their music since, they would be distinctly unimpressed save for a couple of tracks if they were being kind (title track "Von" actually sounds like a good song even with its dodgy production). However, for the Sigur Rós fan listening with hindsight, one can admire the CD as a band trying to find their sound safe in the knowledge that they will finally get there. For completists and the easily sympathetic only.