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Review: Kvelertak Grow the Black-Metal Family Yggdrasil on ‘Nattesferd’

SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: May 13, 2016
Label: Roadrunner

Kvelertak are one of those groups who pop up every few eras to make you question where the boundaries of genre end and begin; this can be hell for the purists who, say, try to shame Rob Zombie about his Babymetal hookup, and fjords full of fun for the rest of us. Is Fetty Wap rapping, singing, or yodeling in the uncanny valley between? Is F**ked Up a hardcore singer who got lost on the way to practice and decided to front the Canadian Foo Fighters instead?

This Norwegian sextet are collectively the Truman Burbank of black metal, sailing to the edges of the genre’s containment dome and trying with all their might to pierce through and find out what awaits them on the other side. This means that on 2013’s entertainingly schizoid Meir they immediately followed the almost spooky F**ked Up impression “Spring Fra Livet” (if Damian Abraham screamed in Norwegian, anyway) with the blast-beat-besotted “Trepan,” which won’t cause any kvltists to break into hives.

Kvelertak reach further back on their epic third album Nattesferd, which sounds more like 2016 metal rode a time machine back to the ‘70s and ‘80s to see what blood-curdling shrieks could do for the likes of bar-band glam and proggy power-metal. (Shout out to Ted Nugent; Kvelertak translates to “stranglehold.”) This Delorean-core leads to such temporal impossibilities as the amazing first single, “1985,” which glides and struts with three-part guitar harmonies like Thin Lizzy’s “Whiskey in the Jar,” if the jar was actually filled with a frothy brew of broken glass and ammonia. Even in the context of Nattesferd there isn’t anything else like it, though there’s nothing like any of its other songs either.

Elsewhere in Nattesferd’s first half, the title tune bridges two generations of stoner overdrive, welding the dreamy anxiety of Blue Öyster Cult with the liquid-mercury riffage of Queens of the Stone Age. And “Svartmesse” indeed tops all of this band’s pop-culture shell games with its oft-reported “Edge of Seventeen” intro. But it’s the second half of this album that truly flings nto hyperspace, with polyrhythmically correct guitar fills creasing the corners of the wobbly boogie “Bronsegud” as the beat keeps running into walls. Then the staccato thrash throwback “Berserkr” effectively goes Kvel ‘Em All on us. Unsurprisingly, Norse mythology makes appearances, like on the opener “Dendrofil for Yggdrasil,” a reference to the eternal tree at the Earth’s center.

For the denouement, the nine-minute “Heksebrann” has passages that recall the mandolin-doubled R.E.M. on Out of Time and, well, Mott the Hoople. As far as flavors of hard rock go, this band could be Baskin-Robbins, though none of the above will prepare even the most brazen metal dilettante for the weirdest steal here: the descending licks from Built to Spill’s 1999 epic “Broken Chairs” all over the closing “Nekrodamus.” And you thought Stevie Nicks was a talking point. Whether or not these guys are playing coy about their influences in a time when everyone likes everything, they play the WhoSampled game as well as any Kanye or Drake record. And black metal neither begins nor ends with their encyclopedic guitars, only expands.