The Norwegian outfit unites seemingly opposite ends of the metal spectrum into one cohesive whole
Black metal adjacent Norwegians Kvelertak are by no means a new band, but their new album Endling – their fifth, and second with vocalist Ivar Nikolaisen – feels like a fresh start. Their first three – Kvelertak (Chokehold in English), Meir (More) and Nattesferd (Night Traveller) – were largely dominated by the presence of original vocalist Erlend Hjelvik. His gargled rasps and tortured howls were the crown atop the signature Kvelertak sound: a gnarled mixture of Thin Lizzy, Van Halen, Black Flag and later-era Darkthrone.
As they progressed, the harsher hardcore and heavy metal elements were tempered by a more polished sheen that culminated in Nattesferd containing moments that you might hear on conventional rock radio, something unthinkable around the time they released their debut. After Hjelvik left the band in July 2018, the band turned to previous guest vocalist Nikolaisen. His first album with them, Splid (Conflict), was their weakest album by some margin, but by no means a failure – a testament how fantastic their first three were. Splid was solid, and workmanlike, but not as inspiring or invigorating as their other records.
Enter Endling (unsurprisingly Ending in English) and a course-correction by any metric. In fact, it ranks amongst their very finest work. The riffs are heavier than ever, the vocals more tortured and joyous, the energy relentless. Opener Krøterveg Te Helvete builds at a glacial pace, with black metal guitars melting onto thunderous rock ‘n’ roll bass, before it spirals into spiky alt.rock, then into thrash metal, then into something almost psychedelic in its oddness. It’s a wonderful start. Fedrekult, which follows, packs serious riffage. It also goes at a relatively measured pace, allowing for the waves of guitar to fully envelop the listener. The fact that three of the founding members – Vidar Landa (guitar), Bjarte Lund Rolland (guitar) and Martin Nygaard (bass) – have stuck together since 2007 is abundantly clear on tracks like Fedrekult. They seem to have developed an otherworldly understanding of where to put their parts in the flow of the song in order to best enhance the others.
Likvoke, with its pure metal riffs and punishing rhythms, was brought into this world to invite you to bang your head. Motsols veers in the other direction, finding the boys exploring some tight New Wave rhythmic sensibilities – not a million miles away from Thin Lizzy were doing on Chinatown or Renegade. Døgeniktens Kvad and the title track follow, and both showcase different sides of Kvelertak. The former is dark, aggressive metal tempered with strange, even disconcerting instrumental flourishes; while the latter is melodic and relatively accessible alternative rock. Across the rest of the album there is furious punk (Paranoia 297 and the closer Morild), pure classic radio metal (Svart September), and Metallica-indebted progressive rock (Skoggangr).
Inevitably, the hardest thing for most casual newcomers to get over will be Nikolaisen’s vocal delivery, because without him they’re essentially just a fantastic (and highly accessible) pop-metal project. But once initiated into this kind of world, those casual newcomers become diehard fans, and Kvelertak must be the best entry-level metal band on the planet (save for Ghost). For what Kvelertak do is something that very few other bands on Earth are capable of, and that’s unite seemingly opposite ends of the metal spectrum into one cohesive whole. Like Motörhead before them, Kvelertak are able to tap into a kind of primal humanity that revels in kinship and the joy of feeling like you’re part of something bigger. That’s why you can sing along, that’s why you can air guitar your way through the album – and the world is a better place for it. Superb work.