Album Of The Week: Kvelertak Nattesferd
When was the last time you heard a new metal song at a party? I’m not talking about a nü metal song; that’s something else. (Honestly, I can envision plenty of situations where you’re drunk with friends and you need to hear Alien Ant Farm’s version of “Smooth Criminal” right now. That’s fine. Nobody’s judging.) I’m talking about a recent metal song, something released within the last five or 10 years. This seems like something that would never happen. I guess there are probably groups of metalheads who congregate with one another in large urban areas, and maybe they’ll throw on the new Gorguts record at their gatherings. But I’ve never been in a situation like that. I’ve been in situations where people throw on old Sabbath or Metallica records and everyone’s happy to hear them. But that doesn’t happen with anything new. Metal has become, in a lot of ways, a zero-sum game, everyone trying to perfect their chosen subgenre or find ways to out-brutalize everyone else. Very few people are making music that you might listen to for fun, in large groups of people. Even something as genuinely great and widely beloved as Deafheaven might clear out a room if you suddenly dropped it on a crowd of acquaintances. And that’s what I love about Kvelertak, the Norwegian warriors who are about to drop their third album on the world. Kvelertak are the only underground metal band I can name who make records that you and your friends might enjoy in a binge-drinking situation. They’re fun. How many metal bands are fun?
Back in 2013, Meir, Kvelertak’s second album, sounded like an absolute fucking blast — these hoary ripshit Vikings bashing out rip-your-face-off rock anthems at D-beat hardcore speeds, with black metal ferocity. Their subcultural context was completely different, but to me, they sounded more like Fucked Up than any of their metal peers. They had the same kind of anthemic grandeur working for them, that ability to craft towering ragers out of the most jagged raw materials. They made a brutal, dizzy underground metal album that, at least in their homeland, went to #1 on the charts. Popularity works differently in Scandinavia, but that’s still an achievement. Even singing in Norwegian, as they do, you have to put some immediate mass appeal into what you’re doing to get to #1 anywhere. But after hearing the new Nattesferd, Meir sounds almost like a slog. Somehow, against all odds, the band has found ways to become more fun, more silly, than they’ve been before. They can still bring absolute ferocity when they want, but that ferocity never seems to be the point. Instead, they’re making music that, in its own way, is full of joy.
In the past, Kvelertak have made strategic alliances with some of the greatest minds in America’s metal underground. Converge’s Kurt Ballou produced their first two albums, and Baroness’ John Baizley did the cover art for both. On Nattesferd, Kvelertak have broken with both of them, and they’ve produced the whole thing themselves. When they announced that, plenty of people figured that they were saving money, and maybe they were. But instead, the effect is that they’ve cut themselves off from anyone’s ideas about metal realness or credibility. They’re still very much a metal band. Their rhythm section, most of the time, sounds like an oncoming monsoon, and singer Erlend Hjelvik won’t temper his party-demon growl for anyone. They haven’t softened or slowed down.
But they have raised their hook game to crazy levels. Much of the time, they sound like old-school Camaro-rock, the type of shit that the seniors in Dazed & Confused might blast from open windows while they were hunting down incoming freshmen. Guitar leads that sound like Thin Lizzy! Rhythm guitars that sound like ZZ Top! Solos that sometimes even sound like Cheap Trick! Enormous choruses that well up out of nowhere! Strummy acoustic guitars, deep in the mix, that help push everything forward! Hjelvik is still singing in Norwegian, and it doesn’t really matter; even if you spoke the language, you probably couldn’t understand what he was roaring. Instead, he just seems to be making a series of very happy back-of-the-throat noises. Everything is clean and bright and fast and stuck on overdrive. The band doesn’t show any tension between hooks and ferocity. Instead, they play their hooks so ferociously that hooks and ferocity become the same thing. It’s a glorious hoot of an album.
Look: It’s an overwhelming time for new music right now. In the past few weeks, we’ve had massive late-notice album releases from Radiohead, Beyoncé, Drake, and James Blake. These are the kind of albums where you feel like you need to have an opinion about them if you even want to touch a computer. Within the next few days, Chance The Rapper will join the list, and he might not be the only one. And even beyond the big releases, this is a crazy-good week for new music. This week, we’ve got new albums from, among others, Modern Baseball, Nothing, the So So Glos, Twin Peaks, and Head Wound City. It’s great and brutal at the same time. Maybe you’re overwhelmed; I know I am. And maybe you’ve convinced yourself that you don’t need an album of balls-out Norwegian-language metal in your life. If that’s what you’re thinking, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. You absolutely need it. Your friends probably need it, too. You should all get drunk and play it loud.
Nattesferd is out 5/13 on Roadrunner.
Other albums out this week:
• Radiohead’s long-awaited return A Moon Shaped Pool.
• James Blake’s darkly gorgeous rumination The Colour In Anything.
• Chance The Rapper’s as-yet-unheard mixtape mixtape Chance 3.
• Modern Baseball’s heartfelt, tuneful blowout Holy Ghost.
• Nothing’s gnarly shoegaze miasma Tired Of Tomorrow.
• The So So Glos’ DIY pop-punker Kamikaze.
• Gorguts’ death metal odyssey Pleiades’ Dust.
• Islands’ twin albums Should I Remain Here At Sea? and Taste.
• Eagulls’ gloomy punk bum-out Ullages.
• Twin Peaks’ ramshackle garage-rocker Down In Heaven.
• Jessy Lanza’s tricky, cerebral footwork LP Oh No.
• Pinkwash’s intense, personal punk rock debut Collective Sigh.
• Head Wound City’s hardcore-supergroup debut A New Wave Of Violence.
• Young Magic’s gamelan-influenced experimental popper Still Life.
• Mark Pritchard’s insular electronic album Under The Sun.
• Oddisee’s impressionist boom-bap instrumental collection The Odd Tape.
• David Bazan’s meditative, synthy solo effort Blanco.
• Big Star offshoot Those Pretty Wrongs’ self-titled debut.
• Oscar’s bright, vulnerable indie popper Cut And Paste.
• Torn Hawk’s instrumental world-conjuring Union And Return.
• Laser Background’s dazed psych trip Correct.
• Phantom Glue’s heavy, arty hardcore hybrid 776.
• Michaela Anne’s classic-country exercise Bright Lights And The Fame
• Kikagaku Moyo’s reverbed-out psychedelic rock throwback House In The Tall Grass.
• Jameszoo’s wandering, discordant Fool.
• Orchestra Of Spheres’ politically motivated psych rocker Brothers And Sisters Of The Black Lagoon.
• The Cure tribute compilation Love Cats.
• Colleen Green’s self-titled EP.
• The Staves’ Sleeping In A Car EP.
• Holly Miranda’s Party Trick EP.
• Lil Silva’s Jimi EP.
• Gordi’s Clever Disguise EP.
• Faye’s self-titled EP.
• Kevin Hufnagel’s Backwards Through The Maze EP.
• Evvol’s Physical L.U.V. EP.