Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Album Review: Kvelertak - Meir

Album Rating: A-
Kvelertak is the sonic representation of a Nordic rampage. If you were to envisage – and I’m sure you regularly do on a daily basis – a horde of Scandinavians ransacking villages whilst partying, then you’d already have a pretty good idea of what Kvelertak sounds like. Imagine hordes of bearded behemoths kicking children, roasting copious amounts of farmyard animals, and drinking barrel upon barrel of potent ale, all with the greatest sense of merriment and camaraderie. Then give this rowdy bunch some instruments and a microphone.

But then, what else would you expect a Norwegian black metal and punk band called “chokehold” to sound like? Lyrically, rough translations pertain to Norse myths, beer, ancient gods, drugs, metal, and of course, more beer, and they’re exactly the topics you want and expect to be covered given the style of music and the band’s heritage. Scandinavia and the countries therein are no strangers to metal and its sub-genres, but few have mixed black metal with punk rock and classic riffs, a sound which Kvelertak all but perfected on their self titled debut album. Meir largely builds upon that sound but with subtle variations, seeing little reason to oppose the age old cliché of “if it aint broke, don’t fix it.”

One thing which remains unchanged is just how huge the riffs are, and if anything they’ve grown in stature since the debut. On Meir they are simply colossal, and whether it’s the ending of the assault that is “Trepan,” the middle segment of “Bruane Brenn” or pretty much the entirety of “Evig Vandrar,” they dominate the rest of the instruments fiercely and without remorse. What’s more, you only ever find yourself encouraging them in the process – and that’s only the album’s mid-section. It isn’t just the huge riffs which steal the limelight however, as carefully placed acoustic moments brilliantly accentuate the work done by their electric cousins, and their contributions are seen both at the beginning, “Snilepisk,” and the end, “Evig Vandrar” of songs.

The guttural lead vocals of Erlend Hjelvik shine brightest on the heavily black metal influenced romp “Trepan.” The verses are among the heaviest in the Kvelertak catalogue, and yet the characteristics which made their debut so inviting are still present: the bombastic, head-banging riffs, the soft-loud dynamic at the song’s midpoint, and the free roaming instruments which are encouraged to see the song out without Hjelvik’s assistance. A surprise comes in the form of the almost radio friendly album closer “Kvelertak,” which sees Hjelvik tone down his usual style to more of a rasp, but even so, it’s a successful experiment, and one which results in the catchiest song Kvelertak have ever penned.

Ambitious progressive segments are often the next natural step for bands looking to evolve, and Kvelertak is no different. The extended, patient build up on opener “Apenbaring” is both refreshing and effective, and it shows impressive restraint from a band whose first instinct was always to coax and cajole that bull in the china shop into wreaking his havoc. Similarly, the trio of “epics” towards the end of the album all exceed six minutes in length, crowned by the almost nine minute giant “Tordenbrak” which sees vocals shelved in favour of tight, expansive rhythm sections. Meir is the subtle evolution of a band that has maintained their ransacking roots but demonstrated their efficacy as musicians, a fine combination which makes a highly welcome addition to their discography.

Track List:
  1. Apenbaring
  2. Spring Fra Livet
  3. Trepan
  4. Bruane Brenn
  5. Evig Vandrar
  6. Snilepisk
  7. Manelyst
  8. Nekrokosmos
  9. Undertro
  10. Tordenbrak
  11. Kvelertak

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