Ten years ago, a little-known Norwegian band released their debut album to an unsuspecting metal underground. Adorned by the beautiful cover art of John Dyer Baizley of Baroness fame, what was contained within didn’t quite fit into the sludge metal category that the cover art may have hinted at. In fact, the opening power chord punch of the album had more of a punkish feel to it, but then… a blast beat and blackened tremolo riff carried into a catchy head-bobbing chorus as great as any classic rock song. It was likely at that moment for most first-time listeners of Kvelertak that they were hooked. The best part of all is that their self-titled debut, and the subsequent follow-ups, contained even more musical twists and turns that established these party-animal Norwegians as one of the premier hard rock/metal acts in the world.
It’s always been tough to classify Kvelertak, and their latest effort Splid doesn’t really make it any easier. They’ve established themselves as a band that is very musically adept, but more than anything else, they’re a band that’s just a whole lot of damn fun. Splid carries on this tradition in spades, while simultaneously revealing even more of the progressive tendencies that were experimented with on Nattesferd. The opening acoustic melodies of “Rogaland” may be deceiving, but have no fear: a slow swell builds into the song’s main riff before the band goes all out in their signature punked out, rock ’n roll swagger. This serves as the introduction to the band’s new frontman Ivar Nikolaisen, and it’s clear right off the bat that he’s more than a formidable replacement for Erlend Hjelvik—owl mask or not.
Then comes “Crack of Doom,” which might take the cake for one of the best songs of 2020. Besides featuring a totally kick-ass guest spot from Mastodon’s Troy Sanders, this is easily one of the greatest songs Kvelertak have written, with a hook that gets the adrenaline going and the fists pumping. It’s destined to become a staple in their live show, and it’s also the first song they’ve opted to sing in English as opposed to their native tongue.
Plain and simple, Splid features some of Kvelertak’s most focused songs to date with less musical meandering than on albums past. Not that the meandering was a bad thing; it’s just that they seem to have taken these last four years to perfect their craft and create a record that sounds more like Kvelertak than ever before. Lead single “Bråtebrann” kicks off with a razor-sharp thrash-esque riff that gives way into a Queen-inspired chorus complete with harmonized vocals and even piano. It’s in Kvelertak’s willingness to experiment with different styles that makes Splid such a memorable and addictive listen. “Fanden ta dette hull!" starts off like a long-lost AC/DC cut complete with charming classic rock undertones, but about halfway through, the band goes full-on Slayer, giving guitarists Vidar Landa, Bjarte Lund Rolland and Maciek Ofsad ample opportunity to show their chops.
Speaking of chops, “Delirium Tremens” is the probably the most ambitious song Kvelertak has written. It’s certainly the most progressive the band has ever been, flirting with almost Opeth-ian melodies throughout before bursting into a totally blackened section that almost seems too dark for Kvelertak. But, again, that’s the beauty of Splid. It’s accessible enough even for casual rock fans, but also extreme enough for diehard metalheads.
Guitarist Vidar Landa summed it up best when he said: “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.”