Black metal is no damn fun, what with all the painted-on frowns, dudes mailing each other pieces of their dead bandmate’s brain, and a nasty habit of getting pigs’ blood all over your Vans. Thing is, Kvelertak, a bunch of ragers from the black-metal bloodlands of Norway, love fun and some of the frostier, more ferocious sounds of the country they call home.
About the fun part: Kvelertak has shot videos featuring gangs of rowdy kids jamming out their tunes, peddled their own brand of beer, and generally seems like the kind of good-time bros you’d want to party with—at someone else’s house, of course. (The stains are never coming out of that carpet, guy.) So, what does this bunch have to do with black metal’s why-so-serious vibe?
On their two previous albums, the band’s answer has been to take various genre signatures—indefatigable blast beats; stabbing, staccato guitars; tonsil-torturing vocals—and leaven them with shout-along punk ’n’ roll and prog-rock flourishes. The result remains suitable for soundtracking a kegger at Satan’s pad.
On Nattesferd, Kvelertak continues to barrel down this left-hand path, at least in places: Lead-off track “Dendrofil For Yggdrasil” lunges with blood-blister-inducing drumming, while frontman Erlend Hjelvik’s vocals sound like someone’s fingernails are digging into his windpipe as he tries to form his words. “Berserkr” opens as an icy, raw-throated ripper. Both songs eventually blossom into something else: The former gallops into the kind of climactic rocker meant to be played in packed arenas as pentagram-shaped confetti rains down from the rafters; while the latter boasts a beatific, post-rock coda.
Kvelertak has explored its more tuneful side in the past, but here, it pushes things further—and more seamlessly. First single “1985” is the band’s most radio-ready tune yet, with Hjelvik’s phlegmatic vocals buoyed by sunshine-bright triple-guitar harmonies. Similarly catchy, “Svartmesse” is a manic, Hives-worthy jam peppered with jubilant “woos.” Meanwhile, the album’s title track opens with guitars that are a dead ringer for the intro to Stevie Nicks’ “Edge Of Seventeen.”
Nattesferd isn’t all about instant gratification, however: “Heksebrann” is the band’s longest, most elaborate number yet, though it’s infectious and energetic enough to come and go more quickly than its nine-minute running time might suggest. With Hjelvik continuing to sing in his native tongue, Kvelertak does have barriers to duplicating on American shores the success that the band enjoys in Norway, where they’re a gold-selling act.
Still, if we don’t know what Hjelvik’s saying exactly, we have a pretty good idea: If he’s not going on about pounding brews astride a soaring dragon while raining fire down on lesser bands, we’d be disappointed—and that’d be the only letdown on this fierce collection of party starters.