Get Crushed by Kvelertak's Unclassifiable Heaviness
Erlend Hjelvik, center, with Kvelertak
It's been a hell of a year for the Scandinavian hard-rock heroes in Kvelertak. To capitalize on the deafening buzz surrounding the sextet's fresh take on extreme-metal tropes, the band spent 2013 peddling their blackened epics to audiences around the globe on an endless tour, and managed to release a fawned-over follow-up to their critically acclaimed debut album.
The well-deserved hype has been magnetic enough to make fans out of heavy-metal royalty, not to mention, y'know, actual royalty. In what had to be a first for all involved, Kverlertak's San Francisco concert at Slim's this past May was enjoyed by both James Hetfield of Metallica as well as Crown Prince Haakon Magnus of Norway and his wife, Princess Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby.
"That was a pretty weird day," says Erlend Hjelvik, Kvelertak's phlegmy lead shrieker. "When the prince showed up, he came in a fancy car with security guards, and there was a lot of Norwegian press taking pictures, so we were just a bit weirded out by that. Then we had to do an interview that was on the national news and stuff.
"It was just a strange experience, and then we went to the show and we saw James Hetfield standing on the side of the stage," he continues, laughing at the memory. "He was a really cool guy to talk to, really down to earth, and he was really into the band. Personally, I was more stoked on James Hetfield being there than the prince."
When the band rumbles into House of Blues on Monday, Houston fans will have the chance to hear for themselves what's made believers out of Haakon and Hetfield. High on Fire, the show's headliner, is easily classifiable in the heavy-metal hierarchy: they're peddlers of stoner metal par excellence. Kvelertak, with its gigantic triple-guitar riffs and intermittent blast beats, is trickier to nail down.
The group incorporates strong elements of Norwegian black metal and hardcore punk into their music, but the foundation of their sound is barroom-ready hard rock in the vein of AC/DC or Thin Lizzy. It's an overwhelmingly loud blend of high-octane rock and roll hysterics that Hjelvik has given up on trying to diagram.
"Whenever people ask, we just tell them we're 'heavy rock,'" the singer says. "I don't want to go into the details of telling them, 'Oh, it's a little bit of black metal, a little bit of punk,' you know. We just like to keep it simple: We feel like a rock band."
That's an understandable response from the front man, but "heavy rock" doesn't quite capture what Kvelertak has created. The group has come up with the most searing and successful integration yet of extreme, underground sounds (guttural vocals, quick-twitch drumming) with polished, accessible rock (balls-out guitar solos).
Add in the lyrics sung exclusively in Norwegian, and you've got a unique metal formula that sounds fresh and exciting to even the most jaded headbangers.
"It's never something we plan," says Hjelvik of the band's potent stylistic blend. "It's not like we have a recipe or anything. We just do whatever sounds cool. Our guitarist, Bjarte -- he's, like, the main songwriter -- listens to all kinds of music; everything from the Bee Gees to Burzum.
"One thing I like about his songwriting is that he manages to make it sound seamless," the singer continued. "It doesn't sound forced even if there's a lot of different styles in one song."
Interview continues on the next page.
Kvelertak's raucous live show translates well on record, helped along considerably by producer Kurt Ballou. Meir, released in March, is the band's second album to be recorded with the Converge guitarist -- an in-demand knob-twiddler with the luxury of picking and choosing who he works with.
"We each kind of made a list of who we wanted to record with, and Kurt Ballou was at the top of everyone's list," Hjelvik says. "I guess mainly because of the sound he's able to get out of bands. We listen a lot to bands that he's recorded, like Doomriders, Converge, Disfear and Torche, and we just thought that that kind of sound would fit us perfectly."
Audiences have agreed. Both of the group's albums have gone No. 1 in Norway, and they've done quite well for themselves in heavy metal hotbeds around the globe. The band has been touring practically non-stop since the release of the self-titled debut in 2010, and now that they're in a groove, they don't figure to be slowing down anytime soon.
"We love being on the road, and just having done it a lot makes it easier, I guess," Hjelvik says. "Next year, I think we'll start working on new material, too. Actually, it's too early to talk about it, but next year is shaping up to be a really good year."
Kvelertak performs with High on Fire and Doomriders on Monday at House of Blues, 1204 Caroline. Doors open at 7 p.m.
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