Back in 2010 when Kvelertak released their self-titled debut, the Norwegian hardcore/metal outfit didn’t make great strides to hide their affinity for classic rock tendencies. Those tendencies weren’t their most dominant trait, by any means—the blast-beat addled “Ulvetid” nodded to black metal heroes Darkthrone while “Mjød” sounded more like L.A. party-hardcore dudes The Bronx. But just beneath the surface of their crusty, Kurt Ballou-produced crunch were honest-to-God rock ‘n’ roll riffs descended down from the summit of Valhalla, be it the Thin Lizzy-isms of fist-pumper “Fossegrim” or the Southern rock melodies of “Liktorn.” Everything on Kvelertak’s surface—their Pentagram-influenced logo, their name (translation: “Chokehold”), their choice to record with a metal guitar hero—suggested they were metal’s new hope. At heart, however, they just wanted to rock.
Six years later, with the release of the single “1985,” Kvelertak signaled that they had fully embraced their destiny as rock ‘n’ roll guitar heroes. It’s equal parts “Jump” and “Cowboy Song,” a stadium-ready anthem that rocks hard and feels good doing so. And it’s almost all guitar—vocalist Erlend Hjelvik gets his growls in (and a righteous “ow!” to kick things off), but this is a showcase for Vidar Landa, Bjarte Lund Rolland and Maciek Ofstad, each of whom is given ample berth to let the fretwork fly. That’s true of the whole of Nattesferd, Kvelertak’s third album and second for Roadrunner. The heaviness of the band remains unabated, as does their tendency toward righteous intensity. The first minute of leadoff track “Dendrofil for Yggdrasil” sets off into a blazing trail of melodic black metal, the likes of which has only previously played a supporting role in Kvelertak records. By the song’s bridge, however, they’ve transformed from helvete-dwelling ghouls into alt-rock titans. It’s truly marvelous how they pull off such pyrotechnic sleight of hand.
That “Dendrofil for Yggdrasil” and “1985″ are Nattesferd’s first and second tracks, respectively, shows Kvelertak’s hand a little. The first is the album’s most explicitly metal track, the second its most unapologetically classic rock. If either pole is too out of bounds, then take comfort in knowing that the remaining seven tracks never swing so wide, instead mostly safe within the boundaries between an incinerated Fantoft and an illuminated arena stage. Once those lines are drawn, Kvelertak runs wild with some of their most vibrant songs to date. The title track sets one of the band’s catchiest guitar riffs against a pulsing bassline, while “Bronsegud” returns to the four-on-the-floor hardcore that characterized their debut and “Berserkr” lives up to its name via furiously driving Maiden worship and some hilariously hammy panning.
When Kvelertak slow down, they truly find the rock ‘n’ roll heroism that they’ve been building toward. The 12-string psychedelia that opens “Ondskapens Galakse” transitions toward their most gloriously rich melody to date. And then there’s “Heksebrann,” a nine-minute monster of hammer-on and pull-off riffs, monster balladry, gentle acoustic mist and vocal harmonization. It’s all of Kvelertak’s most ambitious and audacious instincts stacked up end to end in a tower of hard rock triumph. That it never drags or grows overly repetitive shows that they know what they’re doing. In hindsight, such an ascent to glory didn’t seem so far out of their reach in the beginning. It’s still impressive to see them reach the summit.