By Kevin Stewart-Panko
Two different gentlemen told me, hours apart of one another and on different occasions, those who make the most impact are those who polarize opinion. That is to say, the bands that everyone bitches and argues about or praises and fawn over on message boards or while waiting in line for the doors to open, are the ones in forefront of the extreme music collective consciousness, whether you like it or not. Those sage words were spoken by both Steve Harris and Herman Li and if there are two dudes who know something about polarizing opinion, it’s them two. Unless you want to bring the guys from The Sword into the conversation. Norway’s Kvelertak appear to be setting themselves up for a journey down a similar path and it’s precisely this reason that your humble scribe loves this fucking band with all of my black heart, soul and flesh.
If you want to stand out from the crowd in this over-saturated era, when, despite the supposed death of the music industry and labels apparently haemorrhaging cash like a Chinese river dam leaks water, more bands exist and albums are being released than ever before, you can’t hold your influences in such eminent regard that they can’t be twisted, altered and/or fucked with. Think of the thousands of bands comprising the ‘thrash revival’ and how many of them are too afraid to do anything that isn’t thrash for fear of being viewed as un-thrash or false. They therefore end up musically photocopying everything us geezers lived and breathed 20+ years ago in our suburban basements. How many members of the new school of thrash are any of us going to remember after our memories are supposedly wiped clean in 2012 or when the next revival comes barrelling over the hills? Not too fucking many, I’d guess, and the bands leading this revival are only leaders because of label/promotional pushes (no one will ever convince me that Warbringer doesn’t suck, so stop trying). But I digress.
Kvelertak hold nothing sacred, aren’t afraid to whip out their six schlongs to piss on the walls of convention and are getting the appropriate attention – both positive and negative – because of it, whether you like it or not. It all starts with their sound: a furious, kinetic and coruscating blend of 85 octane burnin’ garage rock, greasy punk, blues, hardcore, Motorhead, black and death metal. They manage to sound like all of the above without exactly sounding like any of ‘em, while still seething with enough animated exertion to have those exposed to their fiery brand throwing beer bottles at limousines, kicking fat girls in their cameltoes and fucking bee hives bareback. They don’t give a fuck about you, I or tradition, as not only are their lyrics in their mother tongue, but the songs are all modern hooligan takes on Norse legends and mythology (example: the summation of “Ordsmedar Av Rang” reads “Tor, the god of lightning, chisels out lyrics with his mighty hammer while beating up trolls”). All that, and they have an owl as their Eddie or Vic Rattlehead mascot equivalent. A fucking owl!
“Ulvetid” is like Zeke jamming out atonal, old-school Enslaved single-note melodies with a twelve-bar shuffle driving everything Kill ‘Em All style. Remember Scum, the punk side-project of various Norse black metal dudes with Amen’s Casey Chaos on vocals? Remember how terrible it was? Apparently, so did Kvelertak as they’ve chiselled “Mjød” out in similar fashion with the difference being their dirty power-chord progression produces aural orgasm instead of disappointment. “Blodtørst” combines a scorching blues riff, gang vocals, a flanged out middle-eight hearkening back to 70s art rock with honky tonk piano wailing away during the songs’ climax. “Offernatt” combines Converge, Black Oak Arkansas, Nashville Pussy, Turbonegro and Raw Power and displays how, despite Kvelertak being just as unoriginal as they are original, the erudite and unstoppable three-axe riff barrage and leather razor strop vocals of Erlend Hjelvik make this a release that will fire up the polemics machine. Can you tell which side of the argument Hellbound is on?