Scar Tissue - The deep scar tissue of the Red Hot Chili Peppers
Probably one of the most formative aspects of human experience gives us humans the opportunity to expose and fathom more deeply the complexity of existence through artistic creation, be it through performing arts, expressive poetry and prose, and especially the creation of music; a meta-commentary on being in the form of detached vibrations that are meant to transport the inner to the outer. In its essence, music is possibly the expressive art form that most aptly brings the human conflict closer into something tangible and comprehensible, hence the seemingly unlimited mass of diverse musical outpourings that bring together the entire spectrum of the mystery of man. A short excursion into Kvelertak's cosmos follows.
Nordic mythology and hard-as-nails rock'n'roll, a pairing that seems predestined to either drift into something overly kitschy, possibly even into ancestor worship, as has often been the case in the recent past, or to take a 180 degree turn and create glorious, optimistic and above all language barrier-shattering sounds that are capable of making the whole world dance and celebrate together at the same time in honor of rock'n'roll. If the focus is then on the Nordic region—in this case Stavanger in Norway—a frequent correlation between the myths of yesteryear and snotty rock music appears in the form of Kvelertak, which translates roughly as stranglehold. The name is musically groundbreaking, because this is exactly what is offered here: uncompromising, playful and absolutely devoted Rock ’n’ Roll. It is composed of the components Classic Rock, Hardcore Punk and Black Metal: the so-called (un-)holy trinity of Rock'n'Roll, and is chased through the speakers as a boisterous berserker, or where the crowd is electrified live by their anthemic hooks and held firmly in the strangle-hold-like grip.
Other prominent Nordic representatives such as Amon Amarth mutate into an embarrassing gimmick throughout the course of their career. This happens by throwing themselves too much into cloak and dagger and invoking reactionary slogans on a distorted nostalgia for a time no one alive now has ever experienced—for example, using Manowar galley as obligatory stage prop—to create a semblance of artistic authenticity at Odin's beck and call, but ultimately only end up in unabashed kitsch. Kvelertak cleverly circumnavigate these waters more or less free of tiresome and forced gimmicks and instead focus on celebrating glorious, snotty rock 'n' roll in its purest form. Formed in Stavanger in the southwestern Norway in 2007, the six-piece troupe worked vehemently on musical output, first in the form of the demo "Westcoast Holocaust" two years after the band's founding, only to finally make their mark in the music world a year later, just in time for the summer solstice on June 21, 2010, with one of the most sensational debuts in rock history.
If (as the American writer and lyricist Henry Wadsworth Longfellow formulated) music is the universal language of our species, then singing, or rather singing in these circumstances is, so to speak, the pure mother tongue of all people, invoking the statement of violinist Sir Yehudi Menuhin; in all cases, music represents one of the most communicative forms of human expression, capable of dissolving all the limitations of the linguistic level and generating and, above all, conveying shared experiences. What is special about the self-titled debut of the six gentlemen with attitude is the prompt refusal of quick commercial acceptance due to the absence of English lyrics, which have clearly dominated the genre of rock music to date, which is difficult to deny in terms of the history of rock'n'roll.
Instead, since the dervish-like debut "Kvelertak", with the exception of 2020's "Splid," which features a handful of songs in English and ironically translates to something like discord, the band has been shouting as much as singing in Norwegian throughout. The magic of the music begins to work once it no longer has an effect on those listening in what specific language is being sung and the music alone does the talking. The debut album is very conversational: Driving and inciting, as well as energetic and frenetic, making you want to grab the opportunity by the throat and bawl along to the catchy verses and hooks, the gaping language barrier notwithstanding, as the content is mercilessly hammered into your auditory canals by the dynamic riffs and beats of songs like "Mjød" and "Blodtørst".
To all appearances, this content deals with aspects of Norse mythology, occultism and debauched hedonism, which can be inferred from the official booklets (since the band publishes almost no lyrics officially). All these are indications of the roots of the Norwegian underground in its most extreme form—Black Metal—which is completely present in the DNA of the musical creation of "Kvelertak," but never collides with the other two main influences— Classic Rock and Hardcore Punk—and makes them seem thrown together, but always makes the jointly created sound organic and homogeneous, as if this wild bastard of musical genres was always intended in this constellation.
The vocal performance of both extremely charismatic singers should definitely be emphasized in the whole team, fluctuating between frenzied shrieking and drunken joy, which is particularly evident in their spectacular and degenerating live performances; Erlend Hjelvik lent his voice to Kvelertak from its inception until the third album "Nattesferd", when he left the band in 2018 due to the famous artistic differences, to be replaced the following year by Ivar Nikolaisen, who, unlike his predecessor, already has band experience in the form of punk rockers The Good, The Bad And the Zugly.
A large majority of Kvelertak's fans were extremely skeptical about this exchange, as Erlend Hjelvik was remembered for his insane performances, as with his boisterous stage presence between mania and pure bliss, his euphoric interaction with the audience, and his effectively used mask in the form of a hollowed-out owl, which almost put him in a shamanistic scene. Live is the sphere in which the band completely shines and skillfully demonstrates how easy it can be to overcome fundamental language barriers.
Earlier doubts were laid to rest with the release of the current album and the associated promotional tours, because in terms of energy and snotty attitude, Ivar Erlend is in no way inferior. His talent and euphoria mean you can be incredibly excited about the future of the band and expect to keep getting language barrier-breaking music from the mountains of Norway.
Retrospectively, the insane debut is an absolute poster child for how a first album should be designed. Rarely are debuts arranged so confidently and professionally, which is also due to the fact that, with the exception of one album, Kvelertak have engaged their internal producer for their sound, namely Kurt Ballou, who puts the necessary finishing touches on the recordings in his GodCity Studios in Salem, Massachusetts. The fact that Salem was the site of the infamous witch trials of that very place on the American East Coast at the end of the 17th century is another story.
The band's history, on the other hand, is a true success story, which has consistently conquered more fans with each successive album, from the 2013 release of follow-up "Meir" (More) to the other two discs. Kvelertak passes the test of time with ease, because the ecstatic mix of black metal bombardment and sophisticated flashbacks to the heyday of rock'n'roll paired with gritty punk anthems remains inspiring even twelve years after the release of the first work and celebrates the youthful esprit of rebellion and at the same time combines 60 years of rock history into a homogeneous whole with ease.
The title of the eponymous track by Bill Haley and his Comets is program on mukken.com, not necessarily limited to the rock genre, but in the sense of movement there is a lot going on on this portal. More artist profiles and reviews can be found here, as well as professional instructions on various areas within the musical spectrum. If you are actively making music and want to network professionally, or want to hire similarly minded people, this is also possible on mukken. If you liked this article, then this article about Zeal and Ardor might be something for you as well and just listen to the music of Kvelertak, because it stands out from the crowd and will nip boredom in the bud in no time.
Originally published on January 25, 2023, updated on January 25, 2023