Kvelertak – ‘Splid’

By Fiachra Johnston

The lines between genres tend to blur the deeper you get into metal. The desire of fans to somewhat incessantly categorise and organise their favourites doesn’t complement the style’s relatively freeform nature (i.e. get mad and get loud, but beyond that it’s up to you). So for Norwegian band Kvelertak, who take great pleasure in defying categorisation, ‘metal’ is more a rough guideline than a defining trait. Somewhat pariahs of the traditional sound of heavy metal, the aces of “Black ‘n’ Roll” – hard black metal mixed with riff-heavy rock – have made a name for themselves in this uniquely contrarian sound, floating between one style or the other, but ultimately enticing fans of both.

Newest release ‘Splid’, an album exploring the titular concept of ‘discord’ through western gluttony and foolishness, continues this practice, but is perhaps somewhat of a soft reboot for the band; presenting both an easy entry into their own discography, and, for those not particularly in tune with their headbanging side, an entertaining and energetic introduction to the world of metal.

Perhaps this new energy has something to do with Kvelertak’s two newest inclusions: new vocals, and new lyrics. Ivar Nikolaisen of The Good, The Bad, and The Zugly takes over screaming duties from the band’s longtime vocalist Erlend Hjelvik. Nikolaisen is no stranger to the group, guesting on ‘Blodtørst’ from their debut LP, and he fits in like he never left, aiding in providing the kind of rowdy noise only a Nordic metal band can. This complements their lyrical evolution as well, as ‘Splid’ is the first of Kvelertak’s four albums to contain English language tracks – in part due to the excellent guest performance by Mastodon’s Troy Sanders on second track ‘Crack Of Doom’ (Sanders, much like Nikolaisen, feels like he was always a member of the group by the end). It’s a nice inclusion that invites less familiar listeners in, and its presence isn’t as jarring as some may have feared.

Yes, ‘Rogaland’, the album’s opener and a more typical Kvelertak track, doesn’t quite connect one-to-one with, say, fourth track ‘Discord’, with its guttural English vocals and Foo Fighters-style traditional rock elements – but both are conjoined, along with the rest of the track listing, by the sharp, unrelenting signature sting of their three guitarists. Bjarte Lund Rolland, Maciek Ofstad and Vidar Landa all deliver noteworthy performances throughout the album, with lead single ‘Bråtebrann’ boasting a perfectly performed and mixed set of guitar lines that contain multiple early contenders for riff of the year.

‘Splid’ seems to focus more clearly as the LP careens into its second half, appearing more like a traditional heavy metal record by the finish. It feels intentional, with the first half of the album dedicated to easing you into the heavier side of Kvelertak, so that by the time ‘Uglas Hegemoni’ starts at the record’s midway point even the most novice of metalheads would be ready to throw themselves into a pit of hell screaming bloody murder. This doesn’t always work in the band’s favour though, and the album feels bottom heavy because of it. Longer and more complex songs clump together rather than being interspersed between the more simple power metal tracks – and while songs like ‘Fanden Ta Dette hull!’ and ‘Delirium Tremens’ are both headbanging classics with bass lines that would crack a pavement, at seven to eight minutes long they can feel sluggish and imposing after already making your way through eight other tracks. It’s less of a compositional problem and more of an arrangement problem, one that takes away from the songs in between, like ‘Stevnemøte Med Satan’ and its wonderfully unorthodox solos.

Still, Kvelertak have done something very impressive with this release, producing an album with a slap-happy heaviness that will entice the most hardcore of metal fans, but also one with an uncomplicated joy to it – the kind anyone can find enticing. It’s the kind of music you show to your pop-loving friends as an example of just how manic and cool metal can be, and while Ivar Nikolaisen’s vocals – like Erlend Hjelvik’s before him – will be a deciding factor as to whether or not some of the more discerning musical palates will find this record enjoyable, the energy carried and the pure giddy fun to be had outweighs many of the nitty-gritty arrangement criticisms of the album. It’s not an orthodox record by any stretch of the imagination, but if this blood-pumping sugar rush of an album is unorthodox, then we don’t want to be normal at all.

FIACHRA JOHNSTON

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