Norway’s Kvelertak experienced an explosive arrival to the metal scene in 2010 with the release of their universally acclaimed self-titled debut. Buzz spread almost overnight as their would-be niche black n’ roll experience found worldwide audiences and the attention of major label Roadrunner Records. The unabashedly catchy blend of black metal, hardcore punk, and cheesy classic rock riffs was a new experience to such a wide audience, and Kvelertak was quick to become a landmark album not just because of its novelty, but because of its genuinely exciting songs.
Three years and a world tour or two later, Kvelertak hoped to continue riding that wave for their sophomore record Meir. While more immediately commercially successful because of Roadrunner Records’ stronger force for marketing, it failed to leave the same lasting impression that Kvelertak had on the metal community. This can be pinned to a number of factors, but the most contributing cause for the diminished returns could be a desensitization to the sound; Kvelertak was new and exciting, while Meir was, well, more of the same. Literally, the album was called “More.”
Thus is the potential curse of Kvelertak. While speaking as objectively as possible, there’s nothing “wrong” with Kvelertak’s style of music. In fact, there’s a lot that the band should be continuously praised for as they manage to hit the narrow window of playfulness and sincerity that’s hard to accomplish. However, Kvelertak are at risk of taking things to the point to where they succumb to the weight of their own tongue-in-cheek tapestry and fall into the same cliches they’re aping unless they found a way to change course and adapt.
Fortunately, Kvelertak have hinted at an understanding of this concept with a top-down change in scenery by swapping out personnel as a possible attempt at minor redirection. The band have symbolically distanced themselves from their first two records by opting out of recording at Godcity Studios with Kurt Ballou and by outsourcing art away from Baroness‘ John Dyer Baizley. Instead, Kvelertak stayed in Norway for the recording sessions of their new record Nattesferd, with Nick Terry (Turbonegro) at the helm of production duties. With art from Arik Roper (Sleep, High on Fire) emblazoning the cover, Nattesferd is preceded by an aesthetic overhaul that bleeds into the record in subtle ways.
Nattesferd does feature the same blend of influences one would expect out of Kvelertak on the surface, with guitar riffs ripped straight out of your dad’s cassette collection and modernized just enough with black metal and punk rock to keep things interesting, though most of these darker influences creep in through aesthetic, tone, or playing technique rather than direct invocation. There are exceptions, such as the opener “Dendrofil for Yggdrasil,” which is largely carried by upbeat tremolo picked riffs and blastbeats blurred beneath Erlend Hjelvik’s throaty screams before ending in the most ridiculously extended rock outro since Boston‘s “Foreplay/Long Time.”
Following “Yggdrasil,” Nattesferd continues to ham it up with appropriately titled leading single “1985“, which vibes like a stoney Van Halen and is entirely devoid of any punk or black metal outside of Hjelvik’s rasp. In fact, most of the record aligns closer to “1985” than “Yggdrasil,” with Kvelertak enraptured in Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple instead of Darkthrone or Black Flag. Nattesferd actually carries more of a desert rock sort of vibe at times, with “Bronsegud” in particular sounding like an instrumental cut from Queens of the Stone Age‘s Songs For The Deaf. Finale “Nekrodamus” also takes a dip into Black Sabbath territory, with groovy bass and bluesy guitar leading the band into its feral bridge.
A major turning point for Kvelertak on Nattesferd comes from the penultimate track “Heksebrann,” a nine minute epic that circles the psych-rock rabbit hole that contemporary bands such as Elder recently examined. “Heksebrann” holds the key to Kvelertak’s longevity and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the creative well has not run dry. Its first half is an instrumental naval gazer that hints at post-rock, folk, and sludge before building into full-fledged Kvelertak banger. Expanding upon this songwriting style would open up an exciting avenue for the band going forward.
Nattesferd has the telltale signs of a transitional album that will only gain more context as the group’s discography expands, but it’s impossible to tell where Kvelertak will go from here. It’s unlikely that the band will give up nostalgic headbanging and mead-swilling, but there’s some depth to the party that can elevate Kvelertak from becoming a caricature of heavy metal if they’re given the chance to elaborate further. For now, Nattesferd is definitely a swing back towards the memorability of their debut, packed with expertly crafted songs that will rile up concert goers the world over.
Kvelertak – Nattesferd gets…