It’s intriguing how change can be a force for good or bad within the context of metal. We applaud bands that progress and evolve their sound and song writing, but as soon as it goes too far the reaction swings the other way. The challenge for the majority of bands nowadays is to now try to incorporate a fine balance of new ideas and influences, without upsetting or alienating an existing fan base. In the case of Norway’s Kvelertak, they’ve thrown caution to the wind and changed a whole raft of facets of their new album (different producer, different album design, different approach to songs, etc.), but this raises the question: has the sound changed?
In a word: no. They’ve not completely changed genre (although for a band that incorporates so many genres into their sonic brew it would be difficult), instead they’ve adjusted the proportion of influences and sounds that informs their own identity. Instead of an equal blend of black metal, hard rock, classic rock, and hardcore, greater emphasis is placed on the soaring melodies drawn from classic rock, with a twist of 70s prog thrown in as well. Admittedly, the band were more inclined to head in this artistic direction- just look at Nattesferd’s melodic and chorus-driven predecessor Meir. But before you fret about your favourite Norwegians losing their way, its worth a reminder that all the aspects that we’ve all come to know and love about Kvelertak are still present.
Frontman Erlend Hjelvik still screams and shouts like a man possessed, with his black metal vocal delivery providing the music some much-needed edge and grit. There are still traces of tremolo riffs and flailing blast beats in numbers such as album opener “Dendrofil For Yggdrasil” and “Berserkr”. And most importantly, there are still the awesome kick-ass tunes that you’d expect from the band. However, these similarities between previous works are presented differently and enlivened up on Nattesferd. The aforementioned “Dendrofil For Yggdrasil” is tapered with progressive melodies that meander towards the end of the song to create dreamy soundscapes. Likewise, “Berserkr” features some 70s style guitar leads and a mid-paced bridge to juxtapose the black/thrash riffing (I swear guitarists Vidar Landa, Bjarte Lund Rolland and Maciek Ofstad are channelling their inner Skeletonwitch), the harsh shrieks and furious drums. In fact, the song that sounds most like ‘old Kvelertak’ would be “Bronsegud (SSQ)”, a faster and more energetic track with gang chants, sweet leads, driving drum work, and a killer solo (imagine an upbeat rendition of “Manelyst” from Meir).
There’s also a fair portion of tracks that, whilst not as heavy and fast, will still be enjoyable to your old-school fans as well. Album closer “Nekrodamus” features some slick grooves that will satisfy fans of singles such as “Evig Vandrar”, and “1985” (which sounds a lot better in the context of an album rather than as a standalone single) fuses the rhythmic interplay of “Apenbaring” with the feel-good spirit of the eponymous track from Meir. The title track swells with retro rock swagger, with hummable melodies and choruses and female vocals underpinning the raw and raucous guitar work. Likewise “Svartmesse” stomps and gallops along with rollicking guitar licks, and “Ondskapens Galkse” sounds like the lovechild of Foo Fighters and Darkthrone. Which can only be a good thing.
If anything, the only track that perhaps may be of any real controversy would be the nine minute track”Heksebrann”. It’s arguable whether the first half of the song, a delicate and soulful composition, would necessarily fit with the dirty and gnarly nature of Kvelertak, but when it’s delivered with such mastery and brilliance its hard to argue against it. The mesmerizing instrument work takes you on a euphoric journey with gorgeously layered melodies, before an acoustic guitar builds up into a crescendo of distorted guitars, rolling drums and Erlend’s vocals. The addition of female vocals atop the harsher screams help to provide some vocal melodies, a feature that Kvelertak haven’t utilized to this degree before.
What the band has essentially done on Nattesferd is take all the familiar elements that we’ve come to love about the band, and by rearranging the balance of these elements, have given their music a new lease of life. I think a significant part as to why these seemingly familiar aspects sound so fresh is due to the production on the album. By dispensing with usual producer Kurt Ballou’s clean and pristine production the songs have a distinct warmth and organic quality. The lo-fi sound quality gives the songs a loose feeling- you’re not listening to a CD or a download, but you’re actually listening to the band jamming right where you are. Although this may not sit well with new and younger music fans that are accustomed to sterile modern productions, the pure and unfiltered sounds the band conjures are full of character and nuance.
If there is any criticism to be thrown at Nattesferd, it’s perhaps that there isn’t any track that stands out amongst the others- a clear single that hooks you into the album (like “Bruanne Brenn” or “Mjod”). This album works better when listened to whole and repeatedly, allowing for the subtle details to sink in and reveal themselves through multiple listens. So don’t head into this expecting immediate hooks and riffs- the real enjoyment of this album comes from immersing yourself in the music over time.
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