Label: RoadRunner Records
Release date: Out now
Sounds like: Venturing into the strange black night, a silent grave, drinking blood. OWLS.
Ah, I thought I could see the silhouette of an owl in the sky…somewhere in the ice-clad mountains of Stavanger, Norway, six mighty warriors have broken free, scraped the cold from their beards and checked shirts, grabbed their weapons (4 guitars, a drum kit and a mic) and have returned to bring the rock ‘n roll metal party train back.
It’s interesting to note that on Nattesferd, (Night Journey) their third album, Kvelertak have begun to find themselves. Their second album, Meir, was met with perhaps more furrowed brows than they thought – crisper than their first, it was a weird one, with somewhat meandering passages, weirdly forgettable riffs, but still contained one of the finest songs they’ve committed to tape (the remarkable Bruane Brenn, which still sounds so fresh every time I hear it). What will hit you first about Nattesferd is the production and the mastering (done by the band themselves) – the guitars, bass drums all shine through on this meaty explosion of crunching, melodic metal-meets-rock and vocalist Erlend Hjelvik’s set of pipes are as excellent as always. Oh you still have no idea what he’s singing about, but did you ever need to? As Metal Injection stated in their review, “the way he delivers his vocal lines, it’s impossible not to sing along” – Amen to that.
A drone of squealing feedback heralds the beginning of opening track Dendrofil for Yggdrasil, as it suddenly bursts forth into a taunt and bloodthirsty metallic hardcore attack. Tight, pulverising blast-beat drumming, Hjelvik’s rasping Norwegian snarl and thrusting grunts, whilst the guitars meld into an unholy conflagration of raging, howling noise and blackened-metal intensity. Does this blow away the cobwebs? It practically nukes the site from orbit. The coda in the last 40 seconds is as pompous as you’d expect from Kvelertak; riffs left hanging as they tease and tease the end of the track out, before it slams into first single, 1985. A somewhat controversial choice as a returning track, I would admit, on first listens – it did nothing for me. It was Kvelertak-lite. Ordinary. Pedestrian. In the context of Nattesferd as a whole though; it fits and repeated listens, it grows a huge spine; sure, it’s ultimately an absolute cheese-fest; the classic rock style is splattered all over this and it rips past like a Scandinavian Van Halen, crushing beer cans against their head mid-song.
You will struggle to find a better song than the title track this year I reckon. Or at least a song that makes you want to air-guitar into a frenzy. Like Blodtorst from their debut, it has that infectious lick to it – that will swarm and overrun your senses. From the cryptic text in the CD booklet, Nattesferd is about “a traveller venturing forth into the strange black night, with hopes of finding himself a new home…” – I get that; there’s a searching salvation interwoven through the buzzing layers of guitars, which superbly meld together in this electric/acoustic sandwich of hopeful and uplifting raw power, especially when paired with the exploration and answer-searching mystery of the video. Credit to the female backing vocals on the chorus, which are stunning when paired with Hjelvik’s bark and the almost-southern-metal swagger that dominates this strutting, arrogant bombast of squealing delirium and mountain-cracking riffs. Interestingly, another track on the album, Ondskapens Galakse (which does translate as Evil Galaxy) has an almost space-rock prog nuance to it.
Intentional or coincidence that the intro to Svartmesse sounds like Edge of Seventeen by Stevie Nicks? (Or even Eye Of The Tiger?) Amazing work. (Remember the Foxy Lady bit in Sultans of Satan?) Anyhow, this track is hilarious in every way – it’s unusually flamboyant for Kvelertak, ditching their hard-as-nails stance, this is hair metal to the max in places, a groin-thrusting throb of slightly camp brilliance and cock rock assurance.
There’s a real Rocket From The Crypt-vibe to the bounding punk rock of Bronsegud, which thrashes and flails about the place, through 3 minutes of backing vocal whooping, a rolling getaway car of explosive drum patterns, the screeching skid of the ramshackle guitar attack and a mouth-frothing, maddening rush to a sweaty and caustic conclusion. Its partner in crime, the skin-tearing, nerve-shattering Bersekr, is a mic-twirling, rocket-fuel of speed-metal brutality, joyful throaty roars from mighty vocalist Hjelvik (it’s obvious he’s having an absolute ball on Nattesferd) and the signature John Reis-grunts are all in place, and the crunching, hard rock breakdown near the end is as fist-clenchingly triumphant as you’d expect it to be.
The 9 minute prog-rock of Heksebrann drifts by on a wave of shoegaze melody and sounds utterly gorgeous. It takes a good 4 minutes until vocalist Hjelvik gets chance to let rip, yet this trip down the rabbit hole (or owl nest) is a majestic 70s-classic rock shred of sheer ecstasy, as the triple layer guitar attack takes centre stage. Closing track, Nekrodamus (fulfilling Kvelertak’s ambition it seems to have every album with a song beginning with ‘Nekro…’) is a greasy, leeching lurch of stoner rock, that fuzzes and fizzes with an almost Sabbath-churn and a bong-induced hangover of drunken immortality and hedonistic groove.
Nattesferd is the soundtrack as you thunder your motor into oblivion, roaring past everyone, middle finger raised in defiance. Turbulent, frantic and sickeningly powerful in all the right places – joy is restored in this frenzied and glorious third album from the Norwegian titans. Join them on this night journey into the unknown.