Just as music from Iceland will be forever will be forever compared to Björk or expected to be all spectral like Sigur Rós, so Norwegian bands are generally considered to have a penchant for church desecration and recreational murder. This presupposition tends to be applied to metal bands; after all Norway’s major export in recent years (other than oil, gas and fish) has been the fizzing lunacy of black metal, a scene so influential that it has almost been a barrier to discovering what else the country has to offer.
Fortunately Kvelertak have broken through that particular obstacle, and in so doing they’ve become one of the metal success stories of recent years. Their debut was largely ignored when first released, but over time its has come to be recognised as one of the greatest debuts of recent years, and one of the most important metal albums of all time. Naturally, the band has received the Dave Grohl seal of approval (which seems to be pretty easy to get these days, admittedly).
Considering that Kvelerak sing in their own language (one of Norway’s regional dialects apparently) and can be found dallying about at the more extreme end of the musical spectrum, their almost universal appeal is surprising. Part of the reason for their popularity (not just within the metal fraternity) is that they’ve remembered that the riff is central to a good metal song, and that melody is a universal language. It doesn’t matter that you can’t understand a word that vocalist Erlend Hjelvik roars, because the band’s amalgam of metal and punk speaks volumes – and at volume.
Pinpointing exactly what Kvelertak do is pretty tricky. Yes it’s metal, but it defies genre definitions by mashing them together. There’s elements of death, prog, and NWOBHM in there certainly, but there’s punk and hardcore too, which means that they generally keep things simple, direct and fun. It’s a mix that made their debut so invigorating, and it’s a template that continues on to their second effort – conveniently entitled Meir (More). More is certainly what they deliver; effectively Meir is a continuation of their first album, with little progression in terms of sound or approach. Initially, this is a little disappointing, but as the old adage goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
Where they really succeed is in creating anthems that just shouldn’t work but do. Spring Fra Livet for example is a curious mix of chanted Oi! choruses, black metal chaos and pounding rock ‘n’ roll. Trepan starts life as blistering black metal before the introduction of bass leads it ever further towards classic rock territory. By the close the triple guitar attack is closer to Thin Lizzy than Mayhem, but the stylistic shifts that move the band from genre to genre are so well thought out and subtle as to be barely perceptible.
Bruane Brenn meanwhile just indulges in pummelling rock ‘n’ roll. It’s foot to the floor stuff, with another of those wonderfully pop infused chanted choruses and a solo straight from the Brian May songbook. Evig Vandrar meanwhile sounds like Entombed covering Led Zeppelin with Fucked Up‘s Pink Eyes on vocals. Indeed, many of these songs have hints of Fucked Up about them. Perhaps it’s Hjelvik’s roar being similar to that of Pink Eyes, or the similar way that both bands handle melody and brutality.
Elsewhere, the outright violence of Nekrokosmos is a delight, as it shifts gears constantly yet always finds its way back into a solid face-punching groove. The self-titled closer meanwhile tells you everything you need to know about Kvelertak, with its AC/DC riffing and infectious vocals that are effortlessly good fun. Throughout the album Kvelertak mix the earworm and the extreme perfectly and, for now, the formula seems to be holding up well. It might not be new any more, but it’s still formidably potent.