The Quietus have just published my review of the new Kvelertak album Meir; you can read their edited version, but here it is in its original form:
In January 2011, in an incident widely reported by the Scandinavian press, a thirteen year-old boy walking home from school in the town of Rakkestad, Norway found himself face to face with a pack of wolves that had wandered out of nearby woods. Bravely, the quick-thinking teen decided to launch a pre-emptive strike: remembering a piece of advice his mother had once imparted, he stood his ground, pulled the headphone lead out of his mobile phone, turned the volume right up and – accompanied by the tinny racket hissing through the its miniature speaker – waved his arms in the air yelling, causing the wolves to retreat. When the story made the news, most headlines focused on the “Heavy Metal Saves Boy’s Life” angle, and if that wasn’t entirely accurate – the animals were more likely put off by the lad’s flailing, and he was listening to Creed, which isn’t particularly heavy and certainly not metal – it was indicative of the spell the genre has cast over the Norwegian people. Over the last two decades it has produced cultural icons and national bogeymen, with churches burned and murders committed in its name; there is probably an exponentially larger number of currently active Norwegian metal bands than there are Jamaican reggae artists, and – whilst I’m by no means an expert on the subject – I’d be willing to bet that none of them sound quite like Kvelertak.
On their second album Meir (simply, “More”), the Stavanger six-piece haven’t exactly refined the kitchen sink formula that made their eponymous 2010 debut one of the most welcome surprises of recent years; rather, they’ve bottled it, destroyed the recipe and knocked back gallons of the stuff like Vikings at a post-pillage feast. As fearless as that wolf-defying schoolboy, these Norse wild-men have thrown together a whole bunch of influences – some heavy, some not so much – that really shouldn’t gel as well as they end up doing here and magically turned them into brain-meltingly brilliant hard rock party anthems. There are probably a dozen metal sub-genres represented in some capacity over the course of Meir‘s fifty minutes, and whilst you might expect black metal and stoner rock, or folk metal and hardcore punk to coexist about as happily as hungry dogs squabbling over a dropped steak sandwich, they actually end up playing very nicely together. All metallic life is here, from Slayer to GNR to Mastodon to Converge (whose guitarist Kurt Ballou produces), but there are also nods to more mainstream heavy rockers, both past (Thin Lizzy, Aerosmith, Meat Loaf) and present (Foo Fighters, Queens Of The Stone Age), Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac, Slade and melodic pop-punks NOFX, to name but a few. On paper it’s a train wreck, a mess of contrasting ideas and opposing ideologies, but these guys make it work, belting out hoarse-throated Cookie Monster vocals and terrace-style group chants over three-part guitar harmonies, thrashy solos and a rhythm section that turns on a dime from grindcore blast beats to glam rock stomp and back again. This is a band that seem genuinely unconcerned with stylistic boundaries, who would no doubt be just as happy opening for Dave Grohl’s Sound City project as they would touring with more obvious contemporaries like Torche or Kylesa; what’s more, you can be sure they would end up converting every crowd into a rabid, rapturous mass of wild-eyed believers.
So, will Meir make Kvelertak the biggest heavy metal band on the planet? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. Although it lacks the element of surprise that boosted the debut’s stock, Meir is a better, stronger, more accessible record overall; however, whilst kudos is due to new paymasters Roadrunner for allowing the band to use the same producer and even the same cover artist (Baroness’ John Baizley) as before, they might have missed a trick by not insisting they throw a few choruses into the mix for non-Scandinavian fans to scream along to. Are American frat-boys really going to flock to download an album by a band whose name they can’t pronounce, whose lyrics they can’t understand and whose artwork suggests some kind of Game Of Thrones-on-acid fantasy bullshit over the English-speaking likes of Darkthrone or close spiritual cousins Turbonegro? Unlikely, but will Kvelertak give a flying fart? Certainly not, and neither should we: it doesn’t matter one bit whether they’re singing about burning bridges or finding trolls under them, and if you’re going to choose a moniker that doubles up as a battle cry (it translates as “chokehold”), then who can blame them for going full Motorhead and recording a band anthem with the same name? Besides, coming from a country where heavy metal is basically the music of the gods, Kvelertak are working for a higher power than the global marketplace, and as long as they keep coming up with this awesome AC/DC-meets-Kiss-meets-Metallica racket, with music that feels this vital, then I’d no sooner argue with them than I would with Odin himself. They may not take themselves as seriously as notorious compatriots like Mayhem or Burzum, but nobody could question the fact that these guys mean it with every fibre of their being, and Meir is music to make Norway proud; a new majestic fanfare to welcome hog-riding warriors into Valhalla.
Meir is out now via Roadrunner; listen to “Bruane Brenn” below.