Album Review: Kvelertak – ‘Splid’
The Norwegian band once again hit a home run, crafting one of the finest albums in recent memory – an effortless combination of alcohol fuelled classic rock and black metal.
Kvelertak (Norwegian for ‘Stranglehold’) formed in 2007 in Stavanger, Norway and have recently become somewhat of a staple in any discerning extreme metal fans collection. Their unique blend of black metal, punk and classic rock acts such as Thin Lizzy and Queen has garnered the band world tours and support slots for the likes of Metallica. Since 2011, Kvelertak have released three albums – all to critical acclaim – with their self-titled debut standing as one of the greatest metal albums of the last decade. However, in 2018, lead singer Erlend Hjelvik decided to step away from the project and Ivar Nikolaisen took his place, with Splid being his first album at the helm.
Splid sees Kvelertak develop their already complex sound into an even larger amalgamation of different influences, drawing progressive elements from modern metal titans Opeth and Mastodon (Troy Sanders, of the latter, even has a vocal feature on the second single, Crack of Doom). The first track Rogaland sees the band create a slow swell of noise into a mid-paced punk banger with sparse clean vocals. This kicks off the album in an energetic fashion and flows perfectly into perhaps my favourite song the band have ever released.
The aforementioned Crack of Doom sees Kvelertak essentially compiling their best hits into a single song, which makes for an incredible track with soaring hooks, energetic riffing and an infectious energy. Notably, the track is also the band’s first song released with English lyrics. Whilst this may be off putting for die hard fans of their previous output, they manage to pull it off to great effect. As with previous records, the band’s unique use of three guitarists also shines on this record, with Thin Lizzy-esque guitar harmonies often taking centre-stage, worming their way into your brain to nest there for hours after a listen. After a few more solid punk ragers, it becomes apparent that this album’s production is a significant step up from 2016’s Nattesferd, with everything sitting perfectly in the mix and a bright, accessible production value.
'Notably, the track is also the band’s first song released with English lyrics. Whilst this may be off putting for die hard fans of their previous output, they manage to pull it off to great effect'.
Bråtebrann is a sprawling seven-minute track with a strong thrash influence, resulting in one of the best tracks on the album; a catchy harmonised chorus, some impressive drumming and a bridge section that releases so much pent up musical energy it should be illegal. Even Nikolaisen’s loud, cringe-worthy exclamation of ‘Air guitar, c’mon!’ can’t put a dampener on how good this song is – the solo that follows is good enough to rival any guitarist of the old guard with some really tasteful licks and restraining from ‘overplaying’. It also has the best use of sleigh bells not in a Christmas song that I’ve ever heard – fading out to the soft jingle of bells is not something I envisaged myself enjoying on a metal record.
The album continues in this catchy, energetic fashion, with another highlight being Fanden ta dette hull!, a song that tells the story of a museum exhibit skeleton that recently got buried. Starting mid-paced and groovy, the song progresses into the ‘thrashiest’ song on the album with guitar solos and divebombs that would make Kerry King of Slayer proud. The song also sees the band’s black metal influence return in a big way, with Nikolaisen showing exactly why the band chose him to replace Erlend, effortlessly switching between pained screams and excellent punk rock clean vocals. Another notable moment on the album is the song Delirium tremens, which sees Kvelertak release their most progressive song to date, with spacey guitar passages and time signature changes littering the song’s eight-minute runtime. It makes for one of the most musically interesting songs on the record and shows just how far the Norwegian group’s musicianship has come in the last nine years.
'Nikolaisen shows exactly why the band chose him to replace Erlend, effortlessly switching between pained screams and excellent punk rock clean vocals'.
With Splid, Kvelertak produce yet another album of fantastic quality, continuing to show why they are one of the finest acts in the modern metal scene. The record is just as accessible to newcomers as it is excellent to long-time listeners of extreme metal. However, I cannot describe this album any better than guitarist Vidar Landa did himself: ‘It’s an album you can bring to a party but also put on your headphones, out in the woods in the Norwegian winter. It’s Kvelertak’.