"We are here to party, not to fight!" – Words from original Kvelertak vocalist Erlend Hjelvik as he calmed frenzied fans down during their last-minute show in Salt Lake City in 2012 after several fights broke out during their set.
Kvelertak's self-titled first album went gold in Norway – and fun fact – Dave Grohl presented the members of Kvelertak with that very gold record. It would also score the band two Spellemannprisen Awards in 2011 (think Norway's version of the Grammy Awards) for Best Newcomer and Best Rock Band. Two years later Kvelertak would give us Meir–a boisterous, "black and roll " record that embraces punk and black metal with a smile on its face. The band has previously described themselves as “brutally catchy punk rock/metal band with a taste of groovy darkness." A pretty tight way to sum up the overall euphoric sound of Meir and Hjelvik throaty vocals sung in Kvelertak's native tongue. Meir was a game-changer for fans of Norwegian black metal and soon the U.S. would catch Kvelertak-fever and the only cure was more Kvelertak.
Meir was recorded in Witch-City aka, Salem, MA at GodCity Studio some 3,326 miles from Kvelertak's home of Stavanger, Norway. Run by Kurt Ballou of Massachusetts legends Converge, Ballou apparently became aware of Kvelertak after coming across their "weird" name which happens to be the Norwegian word for stranglehold. According to Kvelertak guitarist Maciek Ofstad, the band really wanted to work with Ballou so they emailed him in 2009 literally saying "hey, we're Kvelertak from Norway and we want to record an album with you, is that cool?" and included a demo tape.
Ballou would respond to the email with the words "fuck yes, let's do this." Clearly, Ballou had also caught Kvelertak fever and would record Kvelertak's first record–something the band filmed themselves for a twenty-minute documentary in February of 2010. The decision to record in the U.S. might seem like it makes zero financial sense for a band from Norway. However, according to Hjelvik, it was pretty much the same price as engaging the services of a "super expensive" Norwegian producer.
Kvelertak would return to Salem to record Meir, an album that broke away from songs inspired by their Norse culture and myths on their debut. Instead, Hjelvik (who along with primary lyricist Bjarte Lund Rolland wrote the lyrics for Meir), drew from a fascination with trepanning–the oldest known surgical procedure in the world. The procedure, (also known as trephination or burr holing) involves the drilling and excision of a circular piece of bone from the human skull.
Other themes include running away from your bills and the "big city” as well as exploring darker topics like the “antichrist coming out of a black hole” to invade Earth. No big deal. The buoyancy of Meir will smack you in the face while it tells you that you are doomed to walk the Earth alone. The eleventh track on the album, "Kvelertak" is literally an anthemic nod to the band themselves. Let's dive quickly into Meir's album's booklet that contain descriptions of what the songs are about and that Hjelvik was serious about writing a jam about drilling a hole in your head:
- "Åpenbaring" (Revelation) – A feather clad man breaks into your skull. He has such sights to show you!
- "Trepan" – Trepanning is a surgical intervention in which a hole is drilled into the human skull, releasing evil spirits.
- "Snilepisk" (Snailwhip) – This dark tyrant's whip is made of hair and flesh. He will leave scars across the land.
- "Nekrokosmos" (Necrocosmos) – A green meteor of iron strikes the graveyard. An intergalactic traveler won’t leave until everything around him is dead.
Sure, dark tyrants, meteors, and getting your skull broken into aren't exactly light topics, and they should be expected from a band with black metal building blocks. So how did Kvelertak make Meir sound so euphoric while telling you the moonlight will possess you and make you evil? It's all about practice, pals. And having the drive to create something that breaks out of a defined genre without apology. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the Norwegian government provides support grants to bands specifically to fund their tours.
As far as the concept that practice makes perfect, by 2013, Kvelertak had already toured the U.S. three times to crowds that only got even more frenzied each time Kvelertak came through. I saw them twice and can vouch for the fact that the second show was even more wild (and at a much bigger venue), than the first one–and that's saying something. Kvelertak believes band playing live as much as possible, is what helps them keep moving forward. That's why Kvelertak played 300 live gigs in support of Kvelerak and over 200 more in support of Meir.
When Meir was released ten years ago its album cover once again featured the compelling artwork John Dyer Baizley, the vocalist and guitarist for Baroness. There were several vinyl variants including one pressed in red, blue and white– the colors of the Norwegian flag.
Meir got a repress in 2016 by Indie Recordings in Oslo, Norway. Two more repressings would follow in 2018 (purple vinyl/gatefold) and 2019 (180 gram gatefold), as well as a 2021 gatefold reissue on orange and purple splatter. So there are lots of options out there for you if Meir is missing from your record collection. Listening to it ten years later only helps solidify what a solid record Meir is. I mean, Kerrang! called Kvelertak the “best Norwegian band since A-Ha,” and I'm here to tell you I'm not going to disagree with Kerrang! on that one.
Speaking of listening to Meir, let's do just that as loudly as possible.