Kvelertak, 'Meir' (Roadrunner)

8
Meir
SPIN Essentials
Release Date: March 29, 2013
Label: Roadrunner

by Kory Grow

The best extreme metal bands want to be electrifying, terrifying, putrefying. Rarely, do they want to be fun. So when the unapologetically free-wheeling Norwegian group Kvelertak, whose name translates to "stranglehold," blindsided headbangers with their rollicking self-titled 2011 debut, it was unexpected and refreshing. Their blend of dog-bark vocals, garage-rock riffs, and genre-leaping, progtastic song structures created a perfect maelstrom, and even though it didn't exactly hang together — intricately festooned sensory overload is still sensory overload — the result was undeniably entertaining.

The fact that the record came with votes of confidence from tastemakers like Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou (who produced it) and Baroness frontman John Baizley (who handled the artwork) made Kvelertak a shoo-in for praise, too. But it didn't end there. These Viking descendants, who had never been in a "real band" before, received two Spellemann Prizes (the Norwegian Grammys), and earned kudos from their country's Crown Prince, as well as one of American rock's sitting kings, Dave Grohl, who not only invited them to open for the Foo Fighters, but personally presented them with a gold plaque at the show.

So now Kvelertak are in the precarious position of releasing a follow-up on a major label that will live up to its predecessor's hype. Luckily for them, Meir delivers not "more" — as its title promises in the band's native tongue — but, thankfully, a little less. Restraint is the order of the day: While their debut had enough meatballs-to-the-wall ragers to fill a fjord, this one highlights the group's songwriting skills. They're still wildly unpredictable — and still committed to not singing in English — but the dichotomy between the adrenaline rushes and chill-out moments seems a bit more purposeful.

And so, opener "Åpenbaring" kicks off with a single, swinging riff that leads to the sort of heavy post-hardcore meltdown emblematic of Fucked Up, followed by a full-on sung bridge and a rousing, GNR-esque closing. The album's second (and best) song, "Spring Fra Livet," mostly consists of a blast of major-key euphoric black metal when it's not breaking down into a '90s alt-rock shuffle. Lead single "Braune Brenn" is a gang-vocal punkapalooza that takes off when one of the sextet's three guitarists goes ham on a smooth, Slash-like solo. The only song that stays consistent from beginning to end is the closing cut, the straight-ahead "Kvelertak," which is more Mötley than Mayhem.

It would be easy to claim that Kvelertak have transitioned gracefully into hard rockers on Meir, what with acoustic-vibing moments like "Evig Vandrar" or the tambourine-driven shakedown of "Tordenbrak," were it not for the occasional barn burner like "Nekrokosmos" or vocalist Erlend Hjelvik's insistence on stretching his shredded vocal cords to their limits throughout. The group's multiple personalities work in tandem far more effectively these days, but the excess still occasionally comes across more like an ADHD episode than something musical. One thing has remained the same, though: Whether they're jumping from pile-driving metal riffs to acoustic balladry or raspy chanting to a rare moment of euphony, there's not one instant on Meir that doesn't sound like they're enjoying themselves.

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