Kvelertak – ‘Endling’

By Fiachra Johnston

It’s not all pentagrams and pessimism in the heavy music industry. Certainly Scandinavia does the dark art of metal like no one else, and the punk scene of the Nordic territories has had a significant impact on the rest of the world, with bands like Refused often cited as an influence to contemporary artists, but no one ever cites just how fun things can get. The pure fanatical energy mixed with hundreds of years of culture and storytelling tradition lends itself to the kind of music you want to get up and get every bone in your body moving to; cynicism and satanism be damned. It’s on this thin line between heavy rock and heavier metal that the Norwegian Kvelertak lies. Draped in this surprisingly lighthearted, metal-tinged punk that they’ve made their own, their fifth album ‘Endling’ is another frenetic entry into their discography, a confident reassertion of their place in the scene despite a tumultuous couple of years.

Kvelertak’s style is such an odd combination at times it’s hard not to draw comparisons to try and make sense of it. The classic rock riffs that build up the tension in the eight minute opener ‘Krøterveg Te Helvete’ or the triple-harmonies that pilot ‘Likvoke’ will immediately evoke the work of Swedish greats Opeth, but the bursts of black metal of ‘Fedrekult’ suggest they can still go heavier when they want to. Even more so, the thrashing punk vibes of ‘Paranoia 297’ also incur memories of their sardonic countrymen Turbonegro. Hell, ‘Døgeniktens Kvad’ opens to an off-kilter banjo accompaniment that would have Primus shedding a tear in its absurdity.

There’s so much to unpack throughout if it’s your first record of theirs, connections to make and styles to compare, but no matter what, it’s impossible to group ‘Endling’ under one genre. It feels wrong to do so anyway, given that Kvelertak ties the record together more through its frantic energy than it does sound. It’s been the band’s modus operandi through five albums now, even with their move away from more black metal elements in previous record ‘Splid’, but little surprises sprinkled throughout keeps ‘Endling’ from feeling like a complete retread of old ground.

What hasn’t changed is vocalist Ivar Nikolaisen’s instantly identifiable scream-singing. It’s only Nikolaisen’s second record with the band, but here he retains and builds on that emotive rasp that made him an instant click with the band. ‘Motsols’, which channels some Brit punk vibes in its stalking guitar line, will connect with anyone on an emotional level even if you don’t speak Norwegian. If you do, throughout the record you’ll find a host of both bleak and nostalgic observations on Norwegian history and modern tradition that are rather poignant for a band such as this. The group’s trio of guitars heavily direct not just pace, but style, moving from more punk-leaning tracks to the likes of ‘Svart September’, a slower contemporary rock piece featuring some thumping Novoselic bass. For all the in-your-face energy both the instrumentals and vocals exude though, all these style changes are more subtle than you expect, a testament to how cohesive the record sounds without resorting to a more homogeneous style.

There’s no denying how fun ‘Endling’ is from end to end, but on the backend there are still some long standing issues older fans may have hoped the group had avoided this time around. Despite three producers taking the reins throughout, the messy mixing is reminiscent of albums past forcing each instrument to clamber over the others to be heard, as though the band is in competition with itself. The fuzzy production that made much of the instrumental details near invisible in previous records has been alleviated somewhat, and Nikolaisen no longer feels completely drowned out as he has before, but this still feels like a mixing that gets in its own way.

Force of will can get you far however, and Kvelertak are at their best when returning to their simplest roots. The titular ‘Endling’ is pure punk with some weighty bass lines that careen the album into its second half, and the closing ‘Morild’, like its twin on the opposite end of the record, is an instrumental treat of heavy rock, delicious guitar solos and drum lines building up more and more, playing up the epic scale of the final track to close us out in a suitably hyperactive manner.

Kvelertak are as keen as ever to steep you in their mythology, and ‘Endling’ continues the Norwegian hard rockers journey deeper into their heritage with all the usual gusto they are capable of. It’s a Kvelertak record through and through: While their weaknesses in mixing are still noticeable, their inimitable sense of character remains just as prominent as ever; their ever-chaotic blended style of punk metal on steroids still carries them forward with an unstoppable momentum that is so much fun to listen to no matter how many times you hear it. While ‘Endling’ has an ominous sense of finality of to it, it’s as great a jumping on point into the band’s discography as any other release, and if you’ve stuck with the band over the last thirteen years, the sheer bedlam this record incites will be just as joyous a riot for you as any previous album

FIACHRA JOHNSTON

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