Norwegian rockers Kvelertak are just the type of act to appeal in America, where we deep fry everything—pickles, ham sandwiches, even Twinkies. The six-piece is to black metal/garage-punk what Nirvana was to American hardcore, a surprisingly palatable blend of crisp crunch and high fructose hooks, held aloft by oversized truck wheels. It’s odd and deliciously bad ass at the same time.
Kverlertak formed nine years ago in Stavanger, Norway, inspired by bands like local heroes Turbonegro and New York underground metal icons Converge. Kverlertak is the Norwegian word for stranglehold and according to guitarist Vidar Landa, everyone in the band quickly agreed it made a great name.
“No other band had taken the name yet, which was surprising when we started Googling around,” said Landa. “It just sounded awesome and it fit the music.”
The music is unapologetically catchy, bouncing along on to the churn of its chunky bottom-end while three guitarists push thick riffage mined from classic rock DNA and sprinkled with bursts of aggression similar in spirit to Motorhead or the Stooges.
“It’s always been about making catchy hooks,” Landa said. “We’re not afraid to be catchy, even though there’s all these blasting beats and black metal influences.”
What is a bit unusual is that while they are fluent in English, they sing in their native tongue. Landa makes the argument that, in their style of music, lyrics aren’t the most important facet.
“It’s screaming vocals,” Landa said. “In Norway the lyrics are not in the booklet, so even if you know the language, you don’t know what the fuck we’re singing about anyway. It’s more like the energy in the screaming vocals as an instrument than anything else.”
Kvelertak’s eponymous 2010 debut went gold and won two Norwegian Grammy awards. (The album was barely released in the states.) They signed to Roadrunner Records in the U.S. and recruited Converge’s Kurt Ballou to produce the 2013 follow-up, Meir. Musician/painter John Baizley (lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist for Baroness) returned, again contributing the salacious, psychedelic cover art.
Meir proved a breakout album that brought international recognition and Kvelertak’s first American tour. Now they’re back in advance of their third album, Nattesferd, which will drop in late May.
Kvelertak self-produced the album with mixing and engineering help from Nick Terry (The Libertines, Absentee). Before writing Nattesferd, the band took a couple of months off.
“We were really clear that we need a little break from all the touring because we’ve been touring almost nonstop since we put out the first record,” Landa said. “We wanted to have more time just to hang out in the rehearsal space and jam together and just see what happened. It was really clear that we wanted to do it different this time. We wanted to try record live to try and bring in how we actually sound when we play live into the recording.”
There weren’t many overdubs—a few acoustic guitars or the odd 12-string guitar track—as the band focused on a sound it could easily recreate live. Having spent the past five years of their lives on the road, the band members sought to better capture the immediacy of their live performances.
“I think that also influenced how we wrote and arranged all the songs, since we knew we were going to have to pull it off in the studio and the live setting,” Landa said. “Before we went into the studio we started picking out the harmonies and who’s going to do what and all that stuff. It was more laid out beforehand, which was a really fun thing to do.”
That said, he’s not expecting fans to be surprised or disappointed.
“All of our albums including the new one have the same ingredients,” said Landa. “It’s always been in the band, so I never really felt that we were doing something completely different the fans that already like us wouldn’t be into. But also while we drew influences from all over the different genres … there may be more of that classic rock stuff than some of the other fans may be happy about.”
They’ve already premiered the first couple tracks, including “Berserkr,” about the “wild Vikings who drank animal blood, took mushrooms, dressed up in animal skins and went crazy” and the insanely catchy “1985,” which sounds like a sequel to George Orwell’s classic book 1984.
“[It’s about] technology and how it has kind of evolved into this—everything from Facebooking people showing their food all over to how you can, no matter what opinion you have, you can go online and find somebody who supports that opinion,” said Landa. “People are not critical enough about where they get their information. You can be a racist and you can delve into the dark halls of the Internet and just have a worldview that you want and by people that support that. That can take us to some very dark places.”
If the songs are sometimes dark, the sextet’s attitude is still strong. No one has left the band since it formed, and there’s a sense that they’re doing exactly what they want—even if they began with no expectations or ambitions at all.
“I think the most important thing is to have fun with whatever you do,” Landa said. “That’s what music is supposed to be about. We take all the songwriting and our live shows serious and all of that, but at the end of the day we’re just some friends trying to have a good time.”