Release Date: May 13, 2016
Record label: Roadrunner Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Heavy Metal, Punk Metal, Black Metal
Kvelertak are one of those groups who pop up every few eras to make you question where the boundaries of genre end and begin; this can be hell for the purists who, say, try to shame Rob Zombie about his Babymetal hookup, and fjords full of fun for the rest of us. Is Fetty Wap rapping, singing, or yodeling in the uncanny valley between? Is F**ked Up a hardcore singer who got lost on the way to practice and decided to front the Canadian Foo Fighters instead? This Norwegian sextet are collectively the Truman Burbank of black metal, sailing to the edges of the genre’s containment dome and trying with all their might to pierce through and find out what awaits them on the other side. This means that on 2013’s entertainingly schizoid Meir they immediately followed the almost spooky F**ked Up impression “Spring Fra Livet” (if Damian Abraham screamed in Norwegian, anyway) with the blast-beat-besotted “Trepan,” which won’t cause any kvltists to break into hives.
Before Metallica basically turned metal into a speed-racing contest, older acts like Accept, Raven, and Metal Church had already embraced fast tempos while keeping one foot planted in what we once called metal but now look back on as traditional hard rock. Sonically speaking, these bands formed a kind of connective tissue between the poofy-haired stuff and the more aggressive styles that arose in part to purge the genre of its focus on backstage hedonism. If they referenced the rock'n' roll lifestyle, though, they tended to do so with a tough-guy attitude, as if partying, sex, and cars weren't the ultimate endgame but the reward for sticking to one's guns and making METAL an all-caps priority for life.
For all their extraordinary success, Norway's eclectic hybrid metal experimenters Kvelertak have found themselves under a great deal of aesthetic scrutiny. They turned lead into gold with their first self-titled record, blending everything from black metal textures to fat, classic hard rock riffs to hardcore punk structures, a musical-alchemical feat that led to a meteoric rise. Their follow-up album, Meir, maintained the same winning formula, perhaps even further refined and clarified, and while the magic trick still worked, it lost the miraculous feel of their first successful attempt.
Any metal fanatic worth their salt keeps tabs on the vast and encompassing Metal Archives, a site which classifies and organizes almost all known metal bands, both active and inactive. That being said, I was surprised to find Norway’s Kvelertak hasn’t made the cut. I thought that the Scandinavian brand of headbanging hard rock these guys were playing was surely metal.
Black metal is no damn fun, what with all the painted-on frowns, dudes mailing each other pieces of their dead bandmate’s brain, and a nasty habit of getting pigs’ blood all over your Vans. Thing is, Kvelertak, a bunch of ragers from the black-metal bloodlands of Norway, love fun and some of the frostier, more ferocious sounds of the country they call home. About the fun part: Kvelertak has shot videos featuring gangs of rowdy kids jamming out their tunes, peddled their own brand of beer, and generally seems like the kind of good-time bros you’d want to party with—at someone else’s house, of course.