While lockdown live streams have generally played it safe, Norwegian metallers Kvelertak do anything but.
Don't get me wrong – at times like these, there’s nothing wrong with reverting to the sentimental. A little bit of acoustic guitar and balladry never did any harm. A spot of anodyne crooning over the piano might just be the balm we need. But without wishing to deride the heartfelt efforts of those artists who have provided perfectly pleasant live streams in the wake of all those truncated tours, there’s been something sorely lacking. And that something is rage. Boy, do we need rage right now. Proper, unadulterated rage. Rage at lying leaders, rage at a media that’s no more than a PR machine, rage at the broken state of things that got us to this point. Glorious, glorious rage that just for a moment might shake us out of our zombie reality and remind us who we might be.
Step forward, then, Norwegian six-piece Kvelertak, a study in rage if ever there was one. Genuine, screaming, white-knuckle rage, albeit rage underpinned with an intelligence and finesse that sometimes belies its most ear-splitting furies.
At one point during this ‘Live From Your Living Room’ stream – which emits from a dark, airy venue complete with atmospheric lighting and the kind of pyro perhaps not seen since the Crazy World of Arthur Brown – the band’s new frontman Ivor Nikolaisen tells the eerie space in front of him that the next song will be about hope. And then he laughs. “Only joking: THERE IS NO HOPE!” he yells, and launches headlong into another round of tonsil-ravaging vocal gymnastics. Not for this lot any mid-set slowies to take things down a notch. Instead, it’s out-and-out nihilistic charge all the way until your major organs are on red alert and your intestines are thrumming like overworked power cables.
During the live chat that occurs alongside the stream, fans make comparisons to the likes of Iron Maiden and AC/DC. Flattering though these might be, this is a much more complex, headier brew: you would have to put early Queen and classic Judas Priest in a centrifuge, toss in a good dose of straightforward punk and even a dash of light prog to get even close. It might be fair to say there hasn’t been a band this appealingly infuriated since the original Nineties line-up of Kory Clarke’s Warrior Soul. Yet Kvelertak’s lyrics, mostly in Norwegian but occasionally English, maybe rest more in traditional metal territory: ‘Sabotage! Dehumanize! Gonna crucify! Gonna vandalize!’ goes the scream-along chorus of the punk-infused ‘Crack of Doom.’ But no matter: all the easier to get on board with this incendiary two-fingers-up to, well, just about everything.
We begin with a close-up of a slightly comedic model owl – the mascot that features on a lot of the band’s merch – its red eyes pulsing in the dark. It summons the tone for a set that, while never wallowing in metal cliché, certainly acknowledges it with a wry smile. From there, without any time to get properly strapped in, we’re off into the extraordinary, choral-laced juggernaut of ‘Rogaland’ from new album ‘Splid’ – the band’s fourth outing – and they barely let up until an hour and fifteen minutes later, by which time they’ve showcased the unapologetic breadth of the new material as well as some gigantic cuts from the back catalogue. If they’ve got a Bohemian Rhapsody in the making, it’s most likely "Bratebrann", which has it all in terms of length and semi-classical might. Not to mention the necessary eccentricity.
Nikolaisen, like Erlend Hjelvik, the vocalist and founding member he replaced, is undoubtedly a screamer of the purest metal variety who would no doubt obliterate even the old school practitioners on those YouTube ‘Best Metal Screamers’ top tens. Yet there is definite light and shade to his voice that sits perfectly over the triple-guitar onslaught of Bjarte Lund Rolland, Maciek Ofstad and Vidar Landa: their enormous, chest-walloping hooks and layers conjure up heaven and hellfire in equal measures, marrying bloodcurdling power to something that, at its most harmonic, might be descended from Beethoven give or take a bunch of rampant punk riffs. Meanwhile, Havard Takle Ohr, another recent recruit, makes a huge, rounded drum sound, grinning photogenically and mouthing the lyrics like he’s having the time of his life. Nikolaisen, in skinny jeans and leather jacket, throws plenty of angular shapes and pulls some great faces but he’s a million miles from your average posturing rock frontman. You get the impression he means everything he screams.
From the lighting to the camera work to the rather worrying bearing of flaming torches (the interruption of the stream during the last number is, not surprisingly, caused by the fire alarm) the whole thing is really, truly magnificent – maybe even more so because it reminds us just what we’re missing. When the noise stops and Nikolaisen speaks to the faceless audience – all those laptops from Stockholm to Seville to Shetland – you really feel the weight of deadly silence, the sadness that comes from knowing it isn’t the real thing after all. Still, at the moment, this is as close as we’ll get. The roar of the crowd will return in good time. Until then, this is probably the most rock n’ roll you’ll ever get to feel without taking off your slippers.
Live stream available at: https://vierlive.no/acts/kvelertak
For more info: www.kvelertak.com