Why have Kvelertak ditched black metal for classic rock?

Kvelertak 2016

How do you stop a runaway train? You don’t. You cling on for dear life, see where it takes you and hope that you don’t hit any brick walls along the way. Kvelertak have been hurtling onwards and upwards for almost a decade now. Armed with a wild hybrid of hardcore, black metal and honest-to-goodness rock’n’roll, the Norwegians’ proud square peg status has already taken them much further than they ever expected, with tours around the world, support slots with the likes of Slayer and acclaim for 2010’s self-titled album and 2013’s Meir. So far, so very good indeed. In terms of their burgeoning presence on the world stage, Kvelertak’s next move is crucial. Fortunately, new album Nattesferd is another winner, albeit one that sees the band frequently move into classic rock territory.

Self-produced, rawer and more live-sounding than its predecessors, it’s an unexpected but effective sideways step that, oddly, may yet propel Kvelertak ever further along the road to glory. What becomes apparent when chatting with frontman Erlend Hjelvik and guitarist Vidar Landa is that they are as bemused as anyone by their own intuitive evolution.

“Honestly? We never planned anything or talked about what we were going to do this time,” shrugs Erlend. “The songs turned out the way they are. The approach in the studio was just different this time. Before, we recorded with Kurt Ballou in the States, and we’d just do one instrument at a time. This time, we wanted to use all the live experience we’ve got from all the years of touring, so the whole band is playing together, live in the same room, and it sounds more dynamic and more organic.”

“It basically sounds just like Kvelertak!” grins Vidar. “If you come to see us live, that’s what you hear. Recording to a click track and playing one riff over and over it until you get it right, you end up sounding like a machine, but on this record it’s just one session with all the mistakes included. And I guess there’s some more classic rock stuff on this record, a few more mid-tempo songs…”

It’s hard to tell whether they are being disingenuous or have genuinely only justnoticed that Nattesferd is a significant musical departure. This album absolutely reeks of straight-ahead hard rock bluster. A handful of tracks aside, theirpunk rock and extreme metal influences are outgunned by the thump of AC/DC, the arena-metal pomp of Scorpions and the clatter of Van Halen. It works, but it’s curious that a band so celebrated for their ingenuity should amble down such a well-trodden path.

“It’s a reflection of what we were listening to,” says Erlend. “When we’re hanging out on the bus after a show, we’re exhausted, so we tend to listen to stuff like Scorpions, Van Halen, Thin Lizzy and AC/DC. But we’ve always liked that stuff.” “I think everyone was listening to more metal when we made the first album,” adds Vidar. “The classic rock vibes started sneaking in on Meir, and maybe even a little before that, but I feel like it’s always been musical common ground for us. Some of us came more from the hardcore and punk scene, and Erlend’s always been more into the death and black metal stuff, and the others are into everything from pop music to metal.”

“Yeah, it’s The Beach Boys and Burzum!” laughs Erlend. As amiable and softly spoken off stage as they are untamed and ferocious on it, Erlend and Vidar are relaxed about their rise to prominence. Despite hitting the Number One spot in Norway for Meir, and landing the European support slot for Slayer and Anthrax’s tour at the tail-end of last year, they remain unaffected: Erlend is still the archetypal laconic, unkempt metalhead; Vidar, the thoughtful, bookish guitarist. Neither exhibit a shred of arrogance or inflated ego, but their confidence in what Kvelertak are about to unleash is plain to see. Nattesferd sounds likethe work of a band that are firing on all cylinders and having the best of times. It’s easyto see that they’re no more interested in winning over fans of Rival Sons or Halestorm than they were in converting black metal purists to their genre-shredding cause back on album number one.

“That retro classic rock thing and those bands you mention, they aren’t anything I’m interested in,” Vidar notes. “But hey, if we can get new fans from anywhere, then that’s cool!” “I think my vocals probably wouldn’t help with that audience anyway!” Erlend laughs. “We still get comments online, saying, ‘Oh the music is fantastic, I just wish they had clean vocals!’ or ‘I wish they had a good singer!’ Ha ha! Go and find a different band to listen to.”

Another aspect of Kvelertak’s music is that Erlend continues to sing in Norwegian. Rammstein and Babymetal aside, it’s hard to recall a single metal or metal-related band that have achieved a significant level of success without singing primarily in English.

“I’m just surprised that there are not more bands doing it!” says Erlend. “I think it would be more interesting if bands sang in their own language instead of worrying about who’s going to listen to it outside of their own country. I’ve actually put the lyrics on the album cover this time, so people can feel free to put them through Google Translate. I’m not sure it’s gonna work, but it’s worth a try! Ha ha!”

Before fans start panicking that Kvelertak’s partial musical evolution means that they’ll start singing songs about booze, babes and backstage parties, Erlend offers some reassurance. “It’s still the same themes as before,” he nods. “I just sing about whatever I think is cool and evil. It’s everything from Norse mythology and occult themes through to a HP Lovecraft tribute. One of Metallica’s best songs is about Cthulhu, too, so that works for me! I listen to too much metal and I can’t write about anything else. There’s not a lot of feelings on this album! Ha ha!”

Nattesferd seems destined to help Kvelertak recruit new global converts. In their homeland, of course, they have more or less assimilated into the mainstream. “In Norway, I feel like we almost get everyone from teenage girls to 55-year-old grandads,” says Vidar. “It’s very different from how it is in the States. We’re like an underground band over there, but when we come back to Norway we’re more mainstream.”

However, Kvelertak are beginning to sound like potential world-beaters. You wouldn’t bet against any band that can support Slayer for aEuropean tour without once being hounded from the stage by impatient knuckleheads.

“That tour was a lot cooler than I thought it would be,” Erlend admits. “I assumed that we wouldn’t get to meet any of the guys in Slayer, but they came out to watch us and they were really friendly and hospitable.”

“And now we’ve played with Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth…” grins Vidar. “All the Big Four bands!” Erlend adds. “I’d never have guessed that when we started out. I guess we’re doing something right!”


Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.