It feels as though it’s been a lot quieter in the Kvelertak camp lately than it has been. A big part of that is most likely down to the disillusionment felt after 2016’s Nattesferd saw their incendiary black metal / hard rock hybrid neutered for uninspired dad-rock tones with depressing efficiency, a dropoff whose magnitude put an immediate stall on a career that had been rocketing forward up to that point. That’s presumably why the news of vocalist Erlend Hjelvik’s departure in 2018 and the band’s signing to Rise Records came and went so rapidly; at that point, Kvelertak’s stock had simply diminished that much, and in a practice that’s all too common, they’d been left at the roadside to be replaced by whatever new act could fill a similar niche in a more reliable way. But really, there’s not been many bands since Kvelertak’s breakthrough that have reached the same heights as they have, and for a band to captivate a western market while performing in a non-English isn’t something that’s so easily replicated.
Thus, there’s still some degree of expectation that comes with Splid, if only because the amount of changes that Kvelertak have been through in the interim between this album and the last could be the galvanising force they need to reach their old heights once more. And sure enough, that is what this is, but it’s also a progression along the same lines that Nattesferd had its sights down but struggled to commit to. If Kvelertak wanted to double down on their hard rock instincts, this is without question the way to do it, and for all of its familiarity in the vein of previous dalliances with this sound, Splid is the sort of white-hot, rampaging rock album that’s about as comprehensive as rectifications get.
It’s really no deeper than that either; Splid is quite simply Kvelertak going back to the energy and power that proved their greatest assets, and plugging them into the hard rock formula they clearly enjoy pushing forward. That’s particularly telling when the black metal instrumentals seem to have been scaled back drastically, really only pushing themselves to the fore with passages of blastbeats on Necrosoft and Ved bredden av Nihil, but it’s no less of a charged listen because of that. New vocalist Ivar Nikolaisen is a big factor in that, essentially picking up where Hjelvik left off as the grisly Viking putting in the same snarling lead work, but expanding the sound a bit to incorporate greater, more direct melody like on the punk-flavoured Uglas Hegemoni, or even the band’s first dips into English lyricism on Crack Of Doom. And while all of that combined with a more rock-leaning instrumental oeuvre will be enough to get the sellout brigade frothing at the mouth, the sheer dexterity and adventurousness of Splid puts paid any notions that Kvelertak are taking the easy route. A song like Fanden Ta Dette Hull! is enough evidence on its own between its almost-eight-minute runtime and shifts from chugging classic rock to airtight metal riffstorms, but even just the enormity of tracks like Bråtebrann and Delerium Tremens highlights the extra shot of ambition that’s gone into Splid.
And it’s the fact that Kvelertak really aren’t the sort of band to take themselves too seriously that makes this such an enjoyable ride. There’s a very clear irreverence that comes from translating the lyrics that spans from Norse mythology to, on Fanden Ta Dette Hull!, the story of a farmer from the 1800s whose skeleton was finally buried last year (with a title that translates to Fuck This Hole!, to boot), but it’s the freewheeling joyousness that seems so omnipresent and feeds into Kvelertak’s personality so well. Even on Crack Of Doom with a fairly standard ‘party at the end of the world’ spin, the boozed-soaked riffola and an appearance from Mastodon’s Troy Sanders for seemingly no reason hits the perfect sweet spot of hard rock simplicity that’s so appealing pretty much all of the time. Scaling back black metal and some of its more po-faced connotations seems like a wise move in the grander context; it’s there as a chaser and its presence is definitely welcome, but this sort of red-blooded rock ‘n’ roll is where Kvelertak’s greatest strengths clearly lie nowadays.
To top it all off, it’s never like Splid comes across as dated or played-out either; it’s a thoroughly modern take on this sound that leaves everything wonderful about it intact and proceeds to just keep going with it. At a time when Kvelertak needed a significant boost to pull them out of the doldrums, Splid represents that and then some, arriving on what might just be their most immediately likable and entertaining period to date. And as well as all of that, it remains the sort of challenging, brilliantly inventive music that this band where among the top proprietors of, just given a new coat of pain and with none of the luster lost. This is how you do a comeback, and when rock and metal need their most exciting and vital voices to step up and really go for the throat, Kvelertak have answered the call without a second thought.
For fans of: Clutch, Mastodon, Red Fang
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Splid’ by Kvelertak is out now on Rise Records.