Norse warriors Kvelertak rage back with glorious, unstoppable new record ‘Meir’

Having gigantic expectations to live up to is both a blessing and a curse. First, it means you’ve had a modicum of success and that the next thing you do will be under heavier scrutiny and will be met with a mountain of anticipation. Second, it means the next thing you do better be good, or your stock will drop like a rock.

Such is the situation that greets Nordic band Kvelertak on their second record and follow-up to their mammoth self-titled debut from 2010. That thing lit the world on fire with its mix of black metal, hardcore, and rock and roll, and it seemed after a while, everyone was on board with this raucous crew and owned at least some piece of their merchandise. I think Kvelertak is the band that I see represented most when I peruse local metal shops, and why not? The artwork is colorful, the band is killer, and everyone just seems on their way riding the tidal wave of their good fortune. It’s the feel-good metal story of the 2010s.

meirNow comes their follow-up effort “Meir,” released by powerhouse label Roadrunner (it’s nice to know they have at least one other good band besides Opeth) that has been met with the fervor I expected. From the John Dyer Baizley album art (you can tell his work from across a stadium blindfolded) to the songs and lyrics written and sung in their native tongue, to the Kurt Ballou produced-sound, everything is in place for Kvelertak to not only make good on coming up with a proper sophomore album but to take this rowdy machine to the next level and capture even more souls. But would the music on “Meir” measure up and be what it needs to be for these guys to continue slaying the masses? You bet your ass it is. Imagine throwing Immortal, Guns n Roses, Turbonegro, Judas Priest, and Converge into a pot, and you’ll have a good starting point for how this record sounds.

While there are some stylistic and textural changes on “Meir,” fans of the band from their debut will feel right at home otherwise. The band still plays big, loud, and spirited, the vocals remain delivered in a sharp, harsh bark, and the hooks and melodies are enough to bury you alive, but leave you feeling pretty damn good about it. This is a great rock record with cutting metallic edge to boot, and if rock radio wasn’t a corporate block structure, these guys have what it takes to be a real phenomenon. Yeah, so they don’t sing in English. Big deal. I’m glad they didn’t bend to American needs and kept their own ways about creating their art, because it would have been the only genuine way to go about it. Plus, once you hear these crushing songs, you won’t give a shit if the band is cursing out your own family in alien tongue. You’ll be too caught up in the music to care.

The album takes a few minutes to get moving into high gear, but that’s only because the opening of “Åpenbaring” lets the noise sizzle at the start before it launches into a Torche-like melody and Erlend Hjelvik’s trademark shrieks come barreling in and douses you with craziness. “Spring Fra Livet” is built on glorious classic guitar riffs, more screamy vocals, and a blast of adrenaline that is impossible to ignore. “Trepan” starts more black metal-based with fast guitars and crushing vocals, and eventually exuberant gang shouts and sugary rock goodness take control. “Bruane Brenn” is one of my favorite cuts on the record, with punk meeting Southern rock fire, a garage rock style of play, and a fun chorus that I can’t decipher for the life of me but always captures me nonetheless. Seriously, it’s such a good time. “Evig Vandrar” has an acoustic opening that explodes all of a sudden with menacing screams, though the tempo of the track stays toward the middle. It’s a cool changeup.

“Snilepisk” seems a little Wild West at first, but more black metal thunder spills in and the pieces go flying all over. “Månelyst” is punchy and, like every other song on the record, impossibly catchy, and  that sets the stage for an interesting three-song pack that extends the time limits, lets the boys jam out a bit more, and shows what they can do. “Nekrokosmos” is the nastiest of the bunch, feeling like an evil spirit that crept out of a Nordic forest looking for blood. There is plenty of black metal fury within its confines, but also adventurous guitar work and, after you think the song has ended, a wacky little instrumental section that’s designed to flick you in the nose. “Undertro” has some sleazy glam metal riffs within it, spirited shouts, and even some passages that sound like AC/DC’s longer, more ambitious guitar lines. “Tordenbrak” is the longest cut at 8:53, and it has some slick bluesy guitar licks, ultra-catchy melodies, and a section toward the end that sounds like them trying to stretch out a Southern rock noodling session all the way to Norway. Then their namesake song ends it on a blast of a note, a song perfect for firing back quality beers and singing along at the top of your lungs, even if you don’t know the words. That’s the power of this album.

Kvelertak are one of metal’s great success stories, and with two unstoppable, classic albums already on their resume, they seem primed for total domination. “Meir” had gigantic shoes to fill and enormous expectations to meet, and they blew it all away. What’s scary is this band is only at its start, and they’re already a terrifyingly well-oiled machine.

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