The mixture of punk rock and black metal may seem antithetical to some but it’s not exactly as if NOFX are driving their van up to the slammer to jam with Varg Vikernes (yes, I imagine them hopping off the plane and driving a Scooby Doo style van, solving Norwegian mysteries, kinda like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo but for kids. Or am I thinking of MxPx?). In reality the mixture is most natural. I’m of course talking about genuine grassroots hardcore punk and not the high school nostalgia bands previously mentioned. Perhaps it’s not as inevitable as the crossover days of Anthrax and Cro-Mags, for example, which built bridges between scenes and are the reasons why metalheads practice the art of the mosh. Nonetheless, the reality is that punk and black metal were and are two very acute phenomena of counterculture, the former being primarily socio-political and the latter religious. Both are chemical reactions to strong forces within the human condition. Now can the two be successfully fused musically? That is a question which Norway’s Kvelertak set out to answer a few years back. Their groundbreaking self-titled album has recently been re-issued on Indie Recordings, a label that puts out way too many cool acts to name. Upon drinking from this vile concoction, the listener will also find elements of prog, stoner and rock n’ roll attitude. The band is great for fans of black metal, hardcore punk, darker psychedelia like Argentina’s Dragonauta and even Red Album Baroness.
Now for some highlights. “Sjohyenar (Havets Herrer)” is probably the most salient conceptuaization of what they are trying to do and also one of the most fun tracks on the album. Genuine blackened punk with a infectious riff/lead combo at about 1:30 that really ties it together well. “Sultans of Satan” fishtales through Sabbath riffing, a cool solo, a viking sing-along chorus and some black metal blasting but all the above are a bit overshadowed by a complete copy of the riff from “Foxy Lady”. This almost ads to its charm and before you know it, it’s simply over with a Country Western style echoing chord strum. “Nekroskop” brings to light their love of stoner riffing, which I find awesome. In fact, the music of the last couple of tracks combined with the artwork remind me of what caused me to be so stuck on Baroness a couple of years back. “Liktorn” is also a highlight and is just straight-up stoner riffery with some quirky guitar harmonies sewn right in. The demos and BBC session tracks included in the latest US re-issue are a pleasant plus. The latter particularly makes me sad bears that the band won’t be hitting the west coast on their current tour stateside. All in all, in there are no cosmetic defects to be found; each riff and transition is done smoothly and the individual elements of punk, stoner and black metal are all done exquisitely.
My only real complaint is that the band sometimes doesn’t seem to make enough of a down-and-dirty effort to genuinely meld the various genres but are instead often content with simply bouncing the genres off each other and reveling in the contrasts. Por ejemplo, one of the strongest tracks, “Offernatt”, has zero black metal elements in it and simply sounds like an awesome hardcore punk track peppered with some gritty rock swagger. Other tracks weave between black metal riffs, punk riffs and stoner riffs but never really create any hybrids. Yet, in a time when more and more bands are mixing black metal with jangly alt-rock, and failing miserably IMHMO (maybe with the exception of Fen), it’s refreshing to see black n’ roll or more complex fusions like that of Kvelertak taking root. The elements in their music are somewhat disjointed but each element is done so well that you’ll simply cease to care and engage full rock-out mode. Is this the next big thing? Who knows, but the implications are promising.