Kvelertak’s self-titled debut garnered no shortage of buzz among metal fans. Death metal shrieks, crunchy grunge riffs, drum beats capable of bringing even the most seasoned mosh-pitters to their knees: Kvelertak absorbed all the best parts of metal’s many sub-genres and re-envisioned them in what can best be described as the Hives’ cousin from hell, by way of Venom and every Scandinavian black metal band you never heard. It was a heavy sound, no doubt, but still very hummable—the stuff of standards like Living Colour and even AC/DC. A debut album that invoked the forefathers—it was a big undertaking, and one well received. The pressure leading up to the release of their new record, Meir, is understandable. Did the band’s new partnership with Roadrunner (home to Nickelback) indicate the beginning of regular Chad Kroeger guest appearances? Would they be able to balance hooks and hardcore with the same effortless ease? Would Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou’s production be as crisp and balanced as his work on the first album (or ideally, as that of his band’s most recent record, All The Love We Leave Behind)?
Stop worrying, and just listen to the first single. “Bruane Brenn” is an enthralling tug-of-war between snotty thrash and bigger, dumber Chili Peppers-style rock, centered around a glammy guitar solo. These types of melodic intricacies could be heard on the last album in songs like “Liktorn,” but Ballou sharpens the contrast more noticeably this time around, making the guitars more potent and the vocals more organic. The other immediately noticeable difference is the role to which arena-ready anthemics influence the proceedings: Many of the album’s more propulsive tracks, such as “Spring Fra Livet” (which recalls Foo Fighters’ “Learn To Fly,” as performed by a grindcore band) and the cocky “Evig Vandrar,” constantly strive for the giddy, brutal sugar-highs of the choruses, book-ending them between robust guitar harmonies. It’s a similar approach to the one the sludge lords in Baroness took last summer with the widely praised Yellow And Green, an album which abandoned the bleak, leaden soundscapes that had become commonplace in the genre and, rather than blowing them to bits, just breathed a bit of life into them.
Lest we get too kum-ba-yah about the changes, it bears reminding that Kvelertak’s name comes from the Norwegian word for “chokehold,” and they aren’t tapping out when it comes to the punk aggression. Meir contains some of the rowdiest, most ambitious stuff the band’s ever released. The Middle Eastern-tinged solo that snakes in halfway through the d-beat tantrum of “Snilepisk” (Finger cymbals? In my metal?) incorporates a welcome element of surprise into an otherwise standard (but good) hardcore song. The album’s longer, six-minute-and-over songs—which are all, inexplicably, crammed into the second half—come rigged with unexpected blasts of noise: the Guitar Hero-crazy solos that sprout up in “Manelyst” are only topped by “Nekrokosmos”‘ coupling of spooky chants and seismic breakdowns. Trust me on this: Listen to this album with headphones, and your ears will get sore after a while. Kvelertak takes the “black” in black ‘n’ roll very seriously, and Meir‘s technical work, reminiscent to that of Zyklon or Emperor, reflects the band’s life-long love for Norwegian metal.
There were a lot of ways that Kvelertak could have let us down with this LP—by growing too accustomed to the standard punk formatting, by restraining the youthful abandon that made them such a revelation in the first place, by getting Chad Kroeger to translate the lyrics. Thankfully, they don’t: They expand upon the thrills of the last record with acerbic aplomb, catching us unaware with hooks and then relentlessly, lovingly, plugging away at the daily, death-y grind.