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Kvelertak’s “Splid” is Rowdy Fun and Slightly Dangerous

splid

Despite reports to the contrary, Kvelertak is and always has been a rock band. For the first few years of their life, from the release of their initial Westcoast Holocaust demo to their second full-length Meir, writings about the group tended to fixate on elements of their sound ranging from black metal to hardcore punk to the occasional nod to post-Mastodon sludge. And while these elements are certainly present in their sound, foregrounding them like had been done presented a skewed image of the band, one which didn’t dissuade fans but did orient some people toward the group that otherwise would have no interest in them. Things clarified somewhat on the heels of the release of their third full-length Nattesferd. It helped that it was the group’s best thus far, clarifying their intent by placing album-oriented rock and hard rock impulses dead-center of every song, with the extreme metal, punk rock, hardcore, and prog flourishes used as garnish to offer more hoariness and grit to their euphoric concoction.

The record sounded often like Odin driving the interstellar Camaro from the 1980s animated classic Heavy Metal, the great lance Gungnir laid across the backseat still wet with the blood of its self-crucified master, like if Van Halen got really into Immortal and Enslaved instead of the other way around.

So it makes sense that the group would stay true to this path for Splid. There was a change of drummer and primary vocalist, sure, but this was always a band driven by their dense but melodic triple-guitar attack. The vocals and drums, while important, have always existed more to provide energy for Kvelertak than explicit meaning or clear imagistic shape to the group. This in turn seemed to make things easy for them to find replacements; they clearly knew the exact sound they were looking for, having spent three albums honing it, so to the uninitiated or the casual fan, it wouldn’t be shocking if the personnel shift went unnoticed. There are moments of metallic grit on Splid that gesture back to those first two more hardcore-driven releases, counterbalanced against chord choices and guitar energy that feels almost more like a contemporary record from prog-hardcore band Fucked Up than a heavy metal group. In fact, the hoarse roar of Fucked Up’s frontman Damian Abraham is a better point of comparison to the general vocal timbre than to, say, Abbath or Ihsahn or any of the new school of OSDM vocalists.

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The (positive, loving) comparisons to Fucked Up don’t end there, either. Like that well and rightly acclaimed contemporary punk band, Kvelertak play a whip-smart hybrid of styles on Splid, at once too smart and artsy to be balls-out hard rock but too energetic and pure and unbridled to be art rock, fusing at once the celestial gaze of rock like Nektar and Eloy to the big dumb fun rock riffs of AC/DC and Kiss. It’s been this way for their entire career: Splid simply continues to deliver the goods, a formula that hasn’t run out of worthwhile material yet. Kvelertak tap the vein of what Lemmy, that undersung genius philosopher of rock-‘n’-roll, pointed out. To Lemmy, the Ramones, Metallica, Thin Lizzy, and Hawkwind were all part of the same flesh, that of rock-‘n’-roll, with the underlying bifurcations between prog and punk, art rock, and hard rock rendered as more like rooms of a great mansion rather than separate continents.

Kvelertak are agnostic in their pursuits, placing huge and hooky southern rock choruses like .38 Special (same number of guitarists, too) right next to hardcore ragers that bring to mind more Fugazi than Asia, only to drop into a stiff-armed early thrash riff as a bridge.

Is it metal? Sort of. Is it punk? Well, punk is undoubtedly in here. But answering either of those questions for Splid feels about as useful as parsing the same questions regarding Guns N’ Roses. And even in the interests of academic pursuits of finite and specific answers to otherwise useless questions, the answer is no. Kvelertak is a rock-‘m’-roll band, freed up at last to pursue anything that might mean in any subgenre space that might touch, so long as it kicks your fucking ass and makes you hoot and sing like a euphoric bawdry drunken hooligan, whether you understand a lick of Norwegian or not.

The album is s a small evolution, feeling as tightly bound to Nattesferd as the debut and Meir were to one another. And truthfully, that seemingly large gap between their second and third records isn’t so great a gap either; Kvelertak has always known what they are, it was only ever us that sometimes saw them as something else. On this one, things are a little sharper, a little more clear. The individual songs are perhaps a smidge less compelling than those on Nattesferd, which still has a kind of Ur-mythic weight aided admittedly by the bong-smoke choked airbrushed van hood-worthy cover art when placed next to its lite-prog harmonized riffing. But Kvelertak are also remarkably consistent, with their worst only inches from their best.

That’s the power of this kind of wild and unfettered rock-‘n’-roll: so long as you have the energy, the grit, the attitude, the distortion, and the hooks, it’ll all work out. And Splid has it all wrapped up in a blood- and beer-flecked bow.

Splid releases Friday via Rise Records.

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