Wednesday, July 21, 2021

CD Odyssey Disc 1491: Kvelertak

I am just back from a whirlwind family visit and while it was fun to get some highway driving in my new car, I admit the experience has me a bit knackered. This next album got its listens on a BC ferry to and from my destination.

Disc 1491 is…. Splid

Artist: Kvelertak

Year of Release: 2019

What’s up with the Cover? This is what would have happened if John James Audubon had an interest in gene splicing in addition to bird watching.

How I Came To Know It: I read a review of this record when it came out and decided to give it a listen. I liked what I heard.

How It Stacks Up: Kvelertak has released four albums, but “Splid” is the only one I have so it can’t stack up.

Ratings: 3 stars

According to Wikipedia Kvelertak means “stranglehold” or “chokehold” in Norwegian. This is disturbing until you realize that English has two words for the same thing. You know, in case you need to express some nuance in that choking. Or strangling. Frankly, while ‘choking’ is obviously violent, “strangling” implies even greater malice and a degree of finality to the experience. So maybe it is more troubling that Norwegian doesn’t differentiate. Anyway, I digress.

As for Kvelertak’s music, it is evocative of neither choking nor strangling, but it is heavy metal, so it’s not full of whimsy either. Instead, these Norwegian rockers engage in traditional heavy metal, crossed with groove metal and a few other odds and ends thrown in as the mood moves them. The one constant is their heavy (and brilliant) reliance on guitar.

Three of the five band members play guitar, with Maciek Ofstad taking lead duties. At times it feels like a chorus of guitars, all harmonizing with one another in service to the tune. The riffs are exceptional throughout. I didn’t listen to this album during my highway driving time (I was checking out some new music on the road) and I regret not having time for at least one spin of the record in the car. The riffs seem simple, but they have a natural circular quality, akin to a good fiddle tune, cycling ever in on themselves, with each iteration amping up the energy. These tunes are built as driving anthems, although you would do well to keep an eye on your speedometer while indulging.

As for what the songs are about, most are in Norwegian so I have no idea. I’m going to guess that “Stevenemote Med Satan” has something to do with…Satan? And “Delirium Tremens” is probably about sobering up, since that’s a Latin phrase used by both languages.

The one song in English is “Crack of Doom” which is a pretty dope tune that features Mastodon singer Jason Sanders, making it that much doper. This tune is balls to the wall energy, although with lyrics as gratuitously confusing as:

“Revved up and ready to roll
Trading nights for days
Trading in my soul
Get a fix, guzzle and yowl
Watch me fly
Like a goddamn owl”

I’m just as happy to listen to Norwegian. Then again, there is nothing wrong with flying like a goddamn owl!

My favourite tune on the record is “Bratebrann” which opens with some killer drum rolls (although the band tends to put the drums a bit too low in the mix – see “three guitars” above). It then switches to a guitar riff that is reminiscent of early Motley Crue with a side of Judas Priest. There is also a creepy evil chorus that would make Ghost proud. The combined effect is gratuitous in all the right ways.

The album has a lot of tunes that evoke earlier metal gods, and you can tell the boys of Kvelertak are enthusiastic students of metal’s history. “Fanden ta dette hull!” is particularly glorious and had me thinking of Canadian metal god Thor.

They draw on multiple sub-genres, often mixing these on a single song. The echoing guitar at the start of “Tevling” evokes eighties New Wave (which is paired with some Hard-Core screaming. On “Necrosoft” they add in Black Metal screaming, while eschewing the double bass drum.

And although not specific to the music, the liner notes for “Splid” are brilliant. Instead of printing the lyrics or a bunch of band photos they provide 2-4 lines that describe (?) the song, or just evoke a crazy image for no apparent reason (since I can’t understand Norwegian, I don’t know which). Some of my favourite tracks for these “liner notes” are:

Necrosoft: “There comes a day when you have to choose between the free-flowing river, and electric guitar.”

Uglas Hegemoni: “In your newly knitted sweater from Baphomet’s ball of yarn, surrender yourself to the Owl’s hegemony and suck Mammon’s cock.”

Stevnemote Med Satan: “Death’s hokum is waiting for you again. You’ve been cooked and damned. You’re on a date with Satan.” (ed. note: I knew it!).

Kvelertak can sound corny in places, but it is always the best possible corny, and their musicianship is solid. They also knock out more powerful, energized guitar action than you can shake a stick at. As for Satan, do they love him or is it more of a Ghost-like act for entertainment purposes? I have no idea. They do seem to be genuinely fond of owls.

Best tracks: Crack of Doom, Bratebrann, Fanden ta dette hull!, Tevling, Stevenewmote med Satan

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