Written by: AP on 15/04/2020 15:45:24

It was love at first sight when I stumbled across Kvelertak’s début album in 2010. The Norwegian six-piece had such a wild attitude and sounded unhinged like no other metal band at the time, and all of it was perfectly embodied by the voice and antics of frontman Erlend Hjelvik. And as such, it was bad news when Hjelvik left the band in 2018, citing irreconcilable differences of opinion with regard to charting the musical direction for Kvelertak’s future efforts as his main reason. It did not take long before the remaining members had a new vocalist in place, however, and by virtue of his cameo in the song “Blodtørst”, Ivar Nikolaisen felt like the obvious choice — an inkling, which was swiftly validated by his owning of not only Kvelertak’s material, but also their swagger in the live setting from day one. Whether he had the capacity to do the same on record was still a question of course, but after one listen to “Bråtebrann”, the lead single from this fourth and latest offering “Splid”, any skepticism I might have had about his abilities evaporated promptly.

A hardcore punk vocalist at heart, Nikolaisen swaps his predecessor’s marauding Viking spirit for a a rabble-rouser, whose wild energy provides exactly the right fuel for firing up the metal’n’roll engine just as the haze of Dire Straits-esque jamming in the beginning of “Rogaland” is starting to grow a bit histrionic. It is a long intro, and inadvertently an omen of things to come, for if there is one thing that leaves a bitter taste after “Splid” has wound to a conclusion after 58 minutes, it is that in too many of the songs it feels like the band gets stuck in free gear, revving and roaring but never really getting anywhere. It was their brazenness that drew me to Kvelertak in the first place; the band’s penchant for creating music that was bloodthirsty, catchy and fun all at once without needing to compromise on their musicianship or their extreme metal veneer. But while “Splid” certainly regains some of the bombast and bravado that became lost in the jam on Kvelertak’s third studio album “Nattesferd”, it is hard to escape the feeling of an opportunity foregone to harness the fresh blood from both Nikolaisen and new drummer Håvard Takle Ohr to reinvent or at least innovate on the band’s signature sound. Instead, Kvelertak seem to have locked themselves into a holding pattern for the past three years and recycled the brunt of their ideas for “Nattesferd” to produce another album in dire need of a trimmer.

The good news is that “Splid” is wrapped in far better production, and offers more lasting value than its predecessor, so the band’s continuing tendency to meander in tracks that have the length but not the dynamics of progressive music is somewhat easier to ignore here. Moving on from the opening track, the mouthwatering prospect of Kvelertak collaborating with Mastodon’s Troy Sanders in “Crack of Doom” fails to impress, with especially the latter sounding uncharacteristically lackadaisical in the chorus and thus counteracting the bite of the instrumentation. But the disappointment soon wanes, as a cavalcade of standout tracks kicks off with “Necrosoft”, which recalls Kvelertak’s rowdy début days with a propulsive riff that pairs each crotchet with a piano key in homage to the aforementioned “Blodtørst”, and spates of blastbeats and harmonised tremolo melodies that wink at “Ulvetid”. Right after it, “Discord” then mimics the bright tone and festive choruses of tracks like “Spring fra livet and” “Bruane Brenn” off 2013’s “Meir”, rendering it a surefire staple of setlists to come — even if Nikolaisen’s electing to sing it in English does yield some dubious rhymes for us to bawl along to: “We fell down a ditch / picked up a B.C. Rich / to cure our aching itch”. Yeah… Let’s keep it in Norwegian, shall we Ivar?

Lead single “Bråtebrann” suffers from the prolongation fixation mentioned earlier, but unlike some of the other offenders, a lot of that extra space is filled with blinding pageantry by the band’s trident of guitarists — Bjarte Lund Rolland, Maciek Ofstad & Vidar Landa — rendering it a satisfying listen both for guitar nerds, as well as those of us with a soft spot for classic AOR. But if you want evidence that Kvelertak possess the artistry needed to create progressive, and not just artificially elongated songs, then be sure to home your ears on the consummate highlight: “Fanden ta dette hull!”. It is audacious, unpredictable and quintessentially Kvelertak, shifting key and tempo like it’s nobody’s business and wavering seamlessly between languid tritone gloom and blistering crossover thrash. It is neither as dark nor as extreme as the epic closing track “Ved bredden af Nihil”, but in terms of encapsulating the bold, adventurous spirit of this band and (hopefully) setting a precedent for the eventual fifth album, it finds no equal on “Splid”.

When push comes to shove, however, few of even the standout tracks on “Splid” manage to surpass the nerve of their counterparts on Kvelertak’s first two records, while the rest of the material leaves the impression that someone forgot to turn the engine off. Songs like “Tevling” and “Stevnemøte med Satan” churn away without purpose or direction, and for a piece clocking in more than eight minutes of runtime, “Delirium tremens” delivers an astonishingly meagre soundscape in which the only highlight is a juxtaposition of grimness and elation. So instead of taking another leap forward for better or worse, the Stavanger-based outfit is caught treading water, adding a handful of potent tracks to keep the pits going at concerts to come to their repertoire, but ultimately leaving their fans hungering for a bit of the rebellion that used to be their defining characteristic.


Download: Necrosoft, Discord, Bråtebrann, Fanden ta dette hull!, Ved bredden af Nihil
For the fans of: The Good the Bad and the Zugly, Ondt Blod, Poison Idea
Listen: Facebook

Release date 14.02.2020
Rise Records

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