Erlend Hjelvik’s decision to part ways with Kvelertak in July 2018 due to a change in “individual goals, needs and motivations” came as quite the shock. The frontman had, after all, helmed the band from their early days mining the (as then) largely untapped veins of black’n’roll into the kind of act that could cause a media furore and play to massive arenas around the world with Metallica. While wearing an owl on his head, naturally.
A talismanic presence within Kvelertak, it’s no surprise to see that Erlend has opted to go down the solo artist route for his next project, pulling together musicians including lead guitarist Rob Steinway (Skelator), rhythm guitarist Remi André Nygård (Inculter), bassist Alexis Lieu (ex-Benighted) and drummer Kevin Foley (ex-Benighted, Abbath).
Perhaps as a direct result of gathering a motley crew from genres as disparate as deathgrind, classic-style heavy metal and blackened thrash, Welcome To Hel simultaneously feels heavier and more ostentatious than anything Hjelvik has done in the past. A big part of this is in the change of the basic framework of each song – removing the oily motor of rock’n’roll at the core of Kvelertak and replacing it with a pulsing heart of distilled – and still somewhat blackened – heavy metal. The result is a delicious triptych of snarling thrash, black metal imperiousness and flashy guitar grandstanding torn straight from the history books.
Even sifting through the filth of metal’s underground, Hjelvik still finds some nuggets of gold to appease the masses and get them howling along. The Power Ballad Of Freyr and Glory Of Hel are riffy floor-fillers, while North Tsar is blackened thrash with all the frosty trimmings, suggesting that as hard as Hjelvik goes on Welcome To Hel, he hasn’t forgotten what it takes to enthral a crowd many thousands strong.