Three years after their most successful album to date, Kvelertak return to regale the world with Norwegian tales of death, history and local folklore.
While there’s no right time for a pandemic to completely ruin a band’s livelihood, releasing a record as a virus is spreading the globe is certainly terrible timing.
Norway’s Kvelertak released their highly-anticipated fourth album, Splid, in February of 2020. Their first with new vocalist Ivar Nikolaisen and drummer Håvard Takle Ohr, it should have been a defining moment for a band that spent most of 2018 touring Europe with Metallica.
But like every other band on the planet, COVID ended their run prematurely.
“It’s kind of crazy to look back at it now,” guitarist Vidar Landa said. “We got to do maybe two or three weeks of touring of Splid, which was a bummer that we didn’t get to do [more] but there was sort of this vibe around the band at the time.”
The “vibe” being rabid anticipation for the new songs.
Since their self-titled debut album in 2010 Kverlertak has made their name playing high-octane and frenetic black ‘n’ roll. They’ve blossomed from an unknown commodity to sharing the stage with Ghost, Mastodon, Anthrax, Slayer and a whole host of metal’s elite.
Their three guitarists – Landa, Bjarte Lund Rolland and Maciek Ofstad – trade licks and leads while Nikolaisen howls in their native Norwegian. It’s the kind of music perfect for smoky, sweaty, beer-soaked clubs where limbs, hair, hats and shoes fly from the first note to the last.
Maybe that’s why Splid found its audience even when they couldn’t play to one. It was the closest many could get to feeling the energy of the live experience, an imperfect simulation of something desperately missed.
“Looking back at it, that’s my impression as well,” Landa said. “That it became sort of the COVID album for a lot of people. We kind of understood that the album didn’t get lost. People were still talking about it all the time in sending us emails or in social media. So two years later when we started touring with the European festivals, suddenly we could play new songs like they were old live favorites.”
KVELERTAK TRANSCENDS LANGUAGE BARRIERS
Despite lyrics sung almost exclusively in Norwegian, Kvelertak have infiltrated the hearts and minds of metalheads and rockers the world over. With the speed, loudness and ferocity of Motorhead, the guitar harmonies of Iron Maiden, and aggression fused with both their punk roots and the black metal of their native land.
Their music transcends language barriers, as does their attention to the visual aspect of their band. Their first two albums belong in the pantheon of album covers drawn by Baroness frontman John Dyer Baizley.
“It’s kind of always been important for us, like with many metal bands, to have sort of the visual of either enjoying music videos, or the artwork to sort of create a visual profile,” Landa said. “So even though you can’t understand what we’re singing about you can sort of go to a world that is clear.”
Kvelertak recorded Splid with Coverge’s Kurt Ballou at his famous GodCity Studios in Salem, Massachusetts. Landa praised Ballou’s work, saying how the recording process was so tight and honed that it brought out the best of what they wanted to do at the time. The results speak for themselves.
But for Endling they wanted to create something different; something that allowed all the members in the band space to really let their individual voices shine. Landa thinks they only used a click track on one song for Endling, as opposed to using one every track on Splid.
“We’ve had more of our personalities [on the record] because a lot of it is based on live takes and everyone has always been doing their own parts,” Landa said. “When you get [to] play really freely we have sort of different playing styles on the guitars and I think you can hear that more on this album. There’s more details there that you wouldn’t find in the previous ones. More ear candies and stuff you can hear when you listen, especially with a headset.”
Work for Endling began almost immediately after the reality of the pandemic became clear. Their tour for Splid kept them a few steps ahead of the European lockdowns, but when Norway announced they’d soon be closing their borders the band ended the run in Germany.
At first they filled their time with livestreams, using their leftover tour equipment to put on a virtual concert in April, then hosting a whimsical, game-show inspired stream complete with fan giveaways and a setlist chosen entirely by a wheel emblazoned with song titles. (“Boris, SPIN THE WHEEL!”)
But those were no way to make a living, so they buckled down to create Splid’s follow up.
DANCING WITH THE DEAD
Endling is a raucous time that sees Kvelertak both employing the same tricks they’ve always been known for, while bringing in more classic elements that wouldn’t be out of place on a Blue Oyster Cult or Deep Purple record.
“It definitely feels like a different type of album for me as well, but it’s hard sometimes,” Landa said. “Sometimes I feel like we do something really different, then you play to people and they’re like, ‘Yeah, it sounds like Kvelertak.’”
But it’s hard not to sound like Kvelertak when you’re Kvelertak.
Beyond the music, the band focused even more energy on their Norwegian lyrics, mining national libraries for archives and history books that told tales of their native land.
“It’s not something you could teach in school,” Landa said of the stories that inspired the lyrics. “You’d hear about the Viking Age and all that stuff but these other crazy stories you don’t hear that much about and was a way for us to try to write something more original.
“We’ve tried to dig more into local myths and stories from the area where we grew up. Mostly because there were so many crazy stories from around that area that nobody has really made songs about before. We sort of found out that a lot of it fit very well with heavy metal lyrics. Everything from like, old burial traditions to, to these sort of like religious sects that still exist today.”
“UP UNTIL THE MID-1800S IN NORWAY, IT WAS VERY COMMON TO HAVE THE CORPSE IN THE COFFIN INSIDE THE HOUSE AND [THROW] A PARTY.”Vidar Landa on lyrical inspiration for “Endling”
For instance, the song “Likvoke” describes partying with a corpse, a Norwegian tradition until the mid-1800s.
“It was very common to have the corpse in the coffin inside the house and [throw] a party, and it was a lot of drinking as people got really drunk,” Landa explained. The parties got so wild that people believed they saw the corpse dancing to fiddle music.
Another song, “Fedrekult” is based on a graveyard between Landa and Nikolaisen’s homes where the dead are completely separated according to the sect of Christianity they belonged to.
“It’s not something people commonly think about Norway,” Landa said. “They don’t think about Christian culture, they think of a very secular country and stuff like that. So we sort of made a song based on one of these stories about a family sort of torn apart because of these very, very specifically small theological questions that they were disagreeing about.”
At the end of the day, Kvelertak want people to have a good time listening to their music. But on Endling they put extra special attention into as many details as possible, both sonically and lyrically, so that people could immerse themselves in the music and the stories of their home.
“When we started working on this album, we wanted it to be an hour that people could sort of escape into a little bit. We wanted it to be more of an album that people could dive into and spend some time escaping in. Have the vinyl, look at the cover art, maybe even try to translate the lyrics for themselves. There’s some names and places you can spend some time trying to figure out. So that was the intention, that there’s some layers that they can spend some time with.”
Endling by Kvelertak is available now via Rise Records. Order the album – HERE