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Album Review: Kvelertak - 'Nattesferd'

6 May 2016 | 11:34 am | Staff Writer
Originally Appeared In

A warm new dawn from the cold, frost-bitten North.

Norway’s Kvelertak launched their career in 2010 with the release of their self-titled début record, and for this reviewer, as a wide-eyed 22-year-old, ‘Kvelertak’ hit like a sledgehammer to the temple. It was a boisterous record, bristling with energy and vigour, which combined the best elements of black metal, D-beat and rock ’n’ roll into something fresh and invigorating. Even Dave Grohl joined the party, getting psyched on these rowdy Norwegians, and took the band on tour with the Fooies. This reviewer played that record non-stop for months, and for the longest time, we couldn't wipe the shit-eating grin of our dumb faces. It was such a fun record, and that element was crucial to its overall staying power.

The band’s follow-up ‘Meir’ - in 2013 - was a more reserved and restrained effort, which incorporated progressive and classic rock elements into their sound, but also garnered critical appreciation from heavy-hitter publications like Rolling Stone, SPIN and The New York Times. So for their next album, let’s just say expectations are running a little high. Have Kvelertak peaked and plateaued, grown complacent and turned to peddling middle of the road dad-rock? Or have they doubled-down on their genre-bending skills and set themselves (and us) up for another wild ride? This reviewer is happy to report that ‘Nattesferd’, the group’s eagerly anticipated third album, resides most definitely in the latter category.

Lead single ‘1985’ evokes a time when heavy metal and classic rock reigned supreme. Derided by some as a ‘weak’ track and too simplistic for Kvelertak, the song features a strong rhythmic groove and some nice, Van-Halen-esque harmonic guitar flourishes. But fear not dear reader, because this track merely serves as a palette cleanser for the smorgasbord to come. Want more of those snarling, blitzkrieg rockers from the first record? Well, wrap your ears around catchy ball-breakers like ‘Svartmesse’, ‘Bronsegud’ or the playful ‘Berserkr’. Feeling like some more psychedelic, laid back, spliff-centric jams for those times of maximum chill? Bask in the lofty melodies of the title track, the spacey and ethereal landscapes carved out by ‘Ondskapens Galakse’ or the grand epic ‘Heksebrann’—clocking in at over 9 minutes in length, as the band’s longest track to date. This is the record fans have been craving, but it’s also something else: more refined, more adventurous; navigating its own twists, turns and transitions in ways that feel organic, seamless and just plain awesome.

Upon listening to ‘Nattesferd’ in full, what becomes immediately apparent is Kvelertak’s sense of growth. With six years under their belt, two successful records and many years spent on the road, the group has reached a critical point in their confidence with each other as musicians. Kvelertak have always been unapologetic in their desire to play to different moods and genres, and perhaps best exemplify that DIY-punk ethos of ‘playing whatever the fuck feels good’. Embracing this confidence has led to a sense of cohesion and newfound freedoms, manifested in not just the musical compositions themselves, but in the overall direction and aesthetic on ‘Nattesferd’. Walking away from the safety of Kurt Ballou (Converge, Nails) production and John Baizley (Baroness, Skeletonwitch) cover art may have seemed as a bad omen to some, instead it’s helped to breathe new life and vitality into the band. Arik Roper’s (Sleep, High On Fire) sci-fi album artwork prepares the listener for a suitably epic journey, while Nick Terry’s (Turbonegro, The Libertines) work in the studio captures the band at their rawest – both visceral and tangible – with all tracks on ‘Nattesferd’ being recorded live.

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In a recent editorial essay for Stereogum on metal’s classification and sub-genre hang-ups, Michael Nelson explains that there’s "no one song that fully encapsulates the range of styles employed by Kvelertak across an entire album.” He then goes on to compare their explicit sonic diversity to an innate connection with music, as showcased in Richard Linklater’s prolific coming of age films like ‘Dazed & Confused’, and particularly the latest ‘Everybody Wants Some!!’. And this writer could not agree more: Kvelertak are the true embodiment of a youthful spirit driven by exuberance and escapism. In our interview with vocalist Erlend Hjelvik, we asked what the overall message would be for the band’s music, to which we received the following answer: “We’re all going to die someday, so we might as well have fun on the way down.” And if a listener was to take away anything substantial from the band’s third LP, it should definitely be that all-encompassing and liberating sense of party-nihilism. Make no mistake: ‘Nattesferd is the definitive Kvelertak record. So play it loud, get dirty, live a little, and try to have some fun on the way down.

1. Dendrofil for Yggdrasil

2. 1985

3. Nattesferd

4. Svartmesse

5. Bronsegud

6. Ondskapens Galakse

7. Berserkr

8. Heksebrann

9. Nekrodamus