Written by: AP on 08/10/2016 23:01:47

The fascination and mystique surrounding Kvelertak may have shrivelled by now, but there is no question that the Norwegian madmen are still operating at the apex of the metal genre. By focusing on rocking out and having a blast at it, the Stavanger-born sextet continues to distinguish itself in a scene dominated by bands that strive to be very serious about their art. Not that Kvelertak is unserious; there just happens to be an infectiously jovial energy about the way the group toys with conventions, and mends together so many styles their music caters to virtually any fan of rock and metal. One could argue that the unique fusion of heavy metal, punk and rock’n’roll traces back to innovators such as the Japanese Poison Arts, but wherever their influences lie, few can contest the proposition that to this day, there is none quite like Kvelertak.

But in shaping that signature sound, Kvelertak has continued to experiment and evolve, and a number of the stylistic decisions taken have expectedly not been to everyone’s liking. On 2013’s sophomore outing ”Meir”, the band started to incorporate overt pop sensibilities into the music, and as a result, that record failed to recall the hype storm its predecessor, 2010’s magisterial ”Kvelertak” whisked up. Yet rather than reverting to old habits in cowardice, this third album “Nattesferd” actually ups the pop factor with hitherto unseen degrees of melody, turning black’n’roll into something now resembling ‘blackened arena rock’ more often than not. The songs are catchier than ever, but generally their nature no longer has anything to do with Kvelertak’s moniker, which of course translates to stranglehold. Indeed, the choking intensity of tracks like “Ulvetid” is now but a faint echo ricocheting amongst big, badass rock songs.

The utilisation of gang-roared clean vocals to a much larger extent in the likes of “Svartmesse”, not to mention the tone shift from sinister to uplifting in those trademark eruptions of tremolo and blastbeats housed by “Dendrofil for Yggdrasil” and “Berserkr”, are tell-tale signs of gentrification, and with Erlend Hjelvik now also prone to abandoning his earsplitting growls in favour of an almost gruff-punk delivery in places, the tendons to the genre that birthed Kvelertak have indeed grown slim. By now fans should be accustomed to such transmutations, however; to expect the unexpected and to embrace the evolution. But on “Nattesferd”, the six musicians are operating beyond cosmetic retouches — they seem to have applied an altogether different philosophy of writing (and producing) music. Gone is the raw ad hoc approach of just stitching together raucously extreme metal’n’rollers; virtually every song from the blasting title track to the stoning “Nekrodamus” now sees the band making the most of its three guitarists, riffing, jamming and solo’ing like it’s the ’70s or ’80s rather than flooring the pedal or clenching you by the collar. All of that culminates in “Heksebrann”, which at 9+ minutes is the longest piece Kvelertak has composed to date, and ends up sounding like a minor-key rendition of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” after its proggy, jammy beginning.

In opposition to Kvelertak’s prior doctrine then, most of “Nattesferd” requires patience and multiple listening sessions to etch its impression on the psyche. The majority of the songs thrive on subtleties rather than brazenness, so the instant appeal that has made the group such a hit in the past is missing — sans the two most ‘Kveler-typical’ picks, “Nattesferd” and “Bronsegud”, that is. And that by itself is not the cement shoe here; what drags the overall impression down is the production, courtesy of Nick Terry, which inexplicably is so thin and flat it removes every shred of danger, not to mention a significant amount of oomph from the music. It is consoling to know that the problem will not exist live, but it does inevitably add a disappointing dimension to an otherwise rewarding album. Be that as it may, Kvelertak’s at once poppy and improvisational third baby is an intriguing turn of events, one which grows on the listener but also raises further questions about the band’s future direction.


Download: Nattesferd, Svartmesse, Bronsegud, Heksebrann
For the fans of: Poison Arts, Queens of the Stone Age, Thin Lizzy, Van Halen
Listen: Facebook

Release date 13.05.2016
Roadrunner Records

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