(Our man BadWolf reviews the new album by Norway’s Kvelertak.)
Spring ’13 brought with it a bumper-crop of highly-anticipated follow-ups to albums I loved in 2010, and perhaps not one of those records came with higher expectations than Kvelertak’s Meir, the followup to their self-titled debut.
If you missed the boat, Kvelertak’s bizarre and infectious mix of black metal, hardcore punk, and classic rock blew through the internet, and later the international tour circuit, like a storm, complete with professional endorsements from respected musicians like Baroness mastermind John Dyer Baizley (who painted the covers to both their debut and Meir) and Converge guitarist/master-producer Kurt Ballou (who produced both records).
Let’s put this in perspective: Four years ago this band was a bunch of nobodies, and in 2013 they opened for Kiss in Norway. Kvelertak played support to Torche and Converge in the autumn of 2012 and are about to embark on a US headlining tour, playing after The Cancer Bats, a more senior band. Meir, a record sung in Norwegian, got love from mainstream blogs like Stereogum, and was released by Roadrunner who, lest we forget, puts out Nickelback records
As far as I’m concerned they deserve every ounce of praise and success they’ve received.
For one: they’ve got to be one of the best live acts of any genre I’ve seen. I recently saw them at the basement of St. Andrew’s Hall, and they completely destroyed the artist vs. audience barrier, getting all in our faces, pulling their songs off with expertise, and most importantly giving the attendees a really great experience. Kvelertak do not put on shows, they throw parties to which their music is the soundtrack, and I cannot think of better party music. Their self-titled was a full-speed barrage of beer-fueled euphoria—rock for rock’s sake.
Meir… took a couple listens. Another high-profile metal blog made no bones about labeling it a mediocre example of the sophomore slump, and if I only listened to the record once I would probably agree, but now that I’m well onto my twentieth listen I take the opposing stance: Meir is excellent.
Where Kvelertak started off with a bang, Meir starts off a bit low-key. The opening track on Kvelertak, “Ulvetid,” literally opened with the band telling you how to pronounce their name; “Åpenbaring,” by contrast, starts off with a distorted vocal sample, then eases into kind of a sassy guitar riff, which the band vamps on for half the song’s length. It’s a low-key way to start.
After that, “Spring Fra Livet” launches into punk stylings, and then punctuates that with major-key tremolo picks and blasts—the same uplifting effect Liturgy was going for, pulled off in a much more effective way—and ends with a soaring, classic rock solo. The first few songs serve as samples of the many tricks Kvelertak have innovated from other bands and use many times on Meir—obviously the members of Kvelertak really like Torche, and probably pull that band’s happy hardcore schtick off better as well. These songs are short, sweet, and less aggressive than the tracks on Kvelertak, but the first act still feels like it needs a kick.
That kick comes. To the teeth. “Bruane Brenn” plays, and out come the knives, sharp as ever, and you realize that Kvelertak were just lubing you up and rubbing you down. Acts two and three are much, much heavier than act one. “Bruanne Brenn” adds in melodic gang-shouts and an Allman Brothers-esque riff style to the mix, but still snarls.
On the entire album, the classic rock influence has been brought to the fore, not so directly—there are no direct lifts such as the “Foxy Lady” passage on “Sultans of Satan”—but rather a warmer, more upbeat feel to Meir, alongside more big chunky Kiss riffs, more acoustic passages, and more big Def Leppard style drum breaks. It’s definitely a playful record: behold the military march in the middle of “Evig Vandrar,” and the middle-east-by-way-of-Steely-Dan vibe drizzled over “Snilepisk”.
But Meir has one definite improvement over its predecessor: while Kvelertak floundered during the long songs at the end of their self-titled, the longer, more progressive songs that make up the back half of Meir are excellent. “Nekrocosmos” alternates between black metal, sludge, and Pink Floyd, all the while maintaining the sense of fun that makes Kvelertak work. Oh, and they end the song with a weird dance-drum break. “Tordenbrak,” the penultimate track, is every bit the massive sing-along that “Mjød” was, except it goes on for nine minutes, diverging into the nooks and crannies of Kvelertak’s taste-library. And what a big library it is: Only the digital age could generate a band with such a massive swath of influences and styles, all emulated more-or-less flawlessly.
Ultimately, Kvelertak share their greatest strength with The Melvins and Faith No More—these boys are all obviously music nerds with massive collections. But where those bands only genre-hopped between songs, Kvelertak shift gears radically several times within a song, and their transmission system must be made of some Ferrari-level shit.
So when you’re asking yourself: what do I want to listen to today? Are you going to pick another fucking metalcore band that sounds exactly like the last metalcore band—a Lincoln band—or are you going to ride in the Ferrari?
Go get Meir.
(Meir is out now on the Roadrunner label. The full album is streaming at Stereogum, and two tracks are available for listening below.)