Kvelertak – Nattesferd
Label: Roadrunner Records
Release Date: May 13, 2016
As any serious music fan well knows, Scandinavia has produced an inordinate number of quality metal bands over the years. The region’s rich historical and cultural heritage lend an undeniable influence to the music, so much so that it is relatively easy to identify a Scandinavian metal band by both their sound and the subject matter of the lyrics (Vikings, Norse mythology, how cold it is, etc.), provided you can actually understand them. That’s not to say that the music the region produces is one dimensional—it’s actually anything but—however it is generally linear in theme while being disparate enough from other permutations of metal that it has pretty much become a genre unto itself. And while bands like Amon Amarth, Dimmu Borgir, Meshuggah, and Opeth (despite their recent forays into prog-rock territory) still proudly carry the torch for the genre’s forbearers, the region’s sonic palette has diversified considerably in recent years with the emergence of bands like Graveyard, Witchcraft, Truckfighters, and Ghost playing music heavily influenced by genres that are more palatable to a wider audience, such as stoner, psych, and—perhaps most notably—retro and classic rock. So then where does a band like Norway’s Kvelertak fit into the equation? Well, unlike many of their peers—who are seemingly hellbent on laboring over the minutiae of ever-expanding sub-genres, often times to the detriment of the actual music—Kvelertak has always seemed like the type of band whose main goal is just to have a good time. They are the musical equivalent of the guy who shows up to a fancy party wearing a faded AC/DC shirt, carrying a half-drank case of cheap beer, and immediately asks where the stereo is so he can “get the party started.”
Aside from the absolutely killer album cover, courtesy of the legendary Arik Roper, one of the first things you’ll probably notice upon firing up Nattesferd, Kvelertak’s third release, is the production. The album was recorded live in the studio with limited usage of overdubs and, as a result, has a very organic—albeit somewhat muddy—feel. It may seem like a curious production decision for a band featuring six members whose songs require considerable technical ability, but it seems to work for Kvelertak because, warts and all, it suits the overall aesthetic of their current sound better than immaculate production would. Both of their previous albums—2010’s self-titled and 2013’s Meir, were largely underpinned by black metal, which makes Nattesferd’s glorification of 70’s and 80’s era classic rock the most notable shift in the direction of their sound, and so deft are Kvelertak at bending and twisting genres together that it takes several listens before the album’s true genius is revealed. Once it does, it’s a glorious thing to behold.
For whatever reason, I found the album’s opening song, “Dendrofil for Yggdrasil”, to be the album’s weakest track, but from that point on, Nattesferd is solid gold. Listening to a song like the album’s second track and lead single, “1985′, it seems almost impossible that the vocals of frontman Erlend Hjelvik (who shrieks everything in his native tongue) could sit comfortably atop riffs that sounds like they came straight off an old Thin Lizzy recording. As the album progresses, it continues to dole out upbeat and shape-shifting riffage with stupefying regularity. Everything from Survivor (the opening passages of “Svartmesse”) to the Ramones (“Bronsegud”) gets a nod and, at one point, Kvelertak even seems to name check a record that itself was an homage to classic rock, when they channel Crack the Skye-era Mastodon on “Ondskapens Galakse”.
Probably the only thing keeping an album like this from achieving serious crossover success is the Norwegian lyrics coupled with Hjelvik’s vocal delivery which, aside from a few spots on the album where other members of the band contribute vocals, are as harsh and high in the mix as ever. The liner notes contain lyrics but they are all in Norwegian, although there are short English-language passages describing what each song is about. One such description, for the song “Berserkr”, reads: In a dark and dim forest warriors are preparing themselves by drinking blood from wolves and bears. Honestly, do you really need to know anything more than that? As crazy and all over the map as Nattesferd is, Kvelertak pull it all off effortlessly, and to obsess over the album’s influences and eccentricities is to totally miss the point. Nattesferd is an absolute riot to listen to and a stunning example of how legitimately fun metal can be when a band like Kvelertak comes along and, instead of obsessing over every detail, just rocks the fuck out.