Every great metal band has its own self-titled anthem — Black Sabbath, Mötörhead, Saint Vitus, Angel Witch, Iron Maiden, et al. — and with second album Meir, Kvelertak have finally joined the hallowed fraternity. “Kvelertak,” a four-minute stadium rock stomper, closes the album with extra meaty hooks, euphoric, lager-spilling masculinity and power chord riffs that crash down to earth like sledgehammers. In essence, “Kvelertak” is basically an AC/DC song — simple but soaring, accessible yet rowdy, and populist on a level that most heavy metal or hard rock doesn’t quite achieve. It’s also totally fucking awesome.
Kvelertak have always, on some level, been a party band, layering the songs on their 2010 self-titled debut with shout-along choruses and blast beats alike. And while the Norwegian group certainly isn’t the first to merge stadium-sized melodies with the crusty urgency of underground extreme metal, they’ve definitely been the most successful at finding the right fusion. Their mosh pits remain rowdy, and their riffs sick as hell, but there’s also little mystery why the band was hand-picked to open for Foo Fighters on a leg of their European tour in 2011. Kvelertak aim for something much higher than underground niche esoterica.
Meir, the band’s first for sorta-major label Roadrunner, largely adheres to the same stylistic makeup of its predecessor. By and large, Kvelertak continue to refine their signature blend of hardcore punk immediacy and black metal intensity, and much like their first album, Meir features crisp, crunchy production from Converge’s Kurt Ballou, as well as illustrated, mystical artwork from Baroness’ John Baizley. Yet, true to the album’s title, which translates to “more” in the band’s native Norwegian, Meir delivers what the band offers in heftier doses. It’s only a minute longer than the group’s debut, but it contains considerably more depth, as well as a greater attention to detail in songwriting that reveals more than a few fun surprises — the Southern rock riff that closes out “Spring Fra Livet,” for instance, or the mesmerizing guitar-harmony spiral coda of “Tordenbrak,” or the melancholy and spaced-out interlude of “Trepan.”
Vocalist Erlend Hjelvik still sticks to growling in his native language, which, for English speakers, might make some of the record decipherable on a literal level. Musically, though, that’s not a problem — the 11 tracks on Meir are plenty melodic, and plenty rocking, strong enough to overcome any linguistic barrier. With opening track “Åpenbaring,” Kvelertak wind up their ferocity into a taut coil of tense, psychedelic riffs, then cut the rope at 1:50, launching a full-speed catapult assault of black ‘n’ roll that lasts a little longer than a minute, but makes every second count. More direct is “Spring Fra Livet,” a stunning triumph of metal composition that turns the tables on black metal’s “evil” sound, instead delivering an onslaught of blast beat-driven melody that seeks, rather, to open the gates of Heaven. And the clean-sung chorus of “Bruane Brenn” is the most idiosyncratically commercial moment here, its couplets like “Aldri gå på film igjen / Aldri gå på jobb igjen” requiring no translation to spark a sing-along.
In the stretch of “Nekrokosmos” to “Tordenbrak,” which marks an epic lead-up to the closing anthem, Kvelertak stretch out a little and expand their high-octane hardcore to six-plus minute epics. And for a band that’s second to none in packing as much action as humanly possible into a three-minute ripper, these tracks are seemingly longer than they really need to be, though such a critique is easily forgotten once that ascendant coda of “Tordenbrak” arises. But a little bit of bloat is a small sacrifice for an album on which the band’s outsized ambition hardly ever misses its mark, and for that matter, never stops being fun. Meir is the rare metal album that aims to be all things to all listeners, and against all odds, actually pulls it off.