The reaction following the release of 1985, the first single from KVELERTAK’s third full-length album Nattesferd and their first piece of new music in three years, was mixed to say the least. The Norwegian six-piece have shot out of nowhere in recent years with a stone cold classic debut and a more than worthy follow-up in Meir to establish themselves as one of the most exciting new heavy bands of this decade, inspiring more than their fair share of copycats in the process with their exquisite fusion of raucous hardcore punk, frigid black metal and celebratory classic rock. The latter element of the concoction though for some went a bit too far with 1985 right down to its seemingly retrospective title, and the question going into Nattesferd is whether that controversial track is representative of the whole fourty-seven minute affair.
To an extent, the answer is both yes and no. Nattesferd undoubtedly owes a great deal more to THIN LIZZY than to DARKTHRONE this time around, but the ferocity 1985 lacked does make itself known here. The single might have been jarring but on the record KVELERTAK seem to ease people into the shift by opening with Dendrofil for Yggdrasil, overflowing with blast beats and tremolo leads building to euphoria, while 1985’s thudding stomp works far better placed within the context of the album even if it’s still a little too STATUS QUO.
Most of Nattesferd’s highs come when the band really allow themselves to let loose and kick up the dust like on the aforementioned opener, the joyfully energetic title track, or Berserkr which starts with a riff straight out of the VREID black ‘n’ roll playbook. The album’s also home to the longest song KVELERTAK have written to date in Heksebrann which happily turns out to be another of its strongest points, blissful clean backing vocals fusing with frontman Erlend Hjelvik’s feral bark surprisingly seamlessly as the track breezes by in what feels like half of its nine minutes. Unfortunately Nattesferd is not watertight, and it’s the moments where KVELERTAK’s more bestial side is chained up where momentum slips. Heksebrann should probably have provided a soaring finish to the record because the closing Nekrodamus following in its wake manages to do very little, and there are far too many points such as this and Ondskapens Galakse where the pace is dropped but the ideas not interesting enough to carry such material, bringing a tepidness that could never be associated with KVELERTAK in the past.
Really if there’s one objectively negative point that can be made about Nattesferd, it is that the album really misses the presence of Kurt Ballou behind the mixing desk. It’s a move that seemed to suit the band personally and is arguably more in line with the effect KVELERTAK are trying to achieve with this album, but the trademark crunch and visceral edge that marks every Ballou recording is sorely lacking here. Hjelvik’s shrieked vocals are still designed to be the extreme foil to the music surrounding him, and to his great credit the vocal lines themselves do a remarkable job of finding the right spaces to inhabit in order to mesh with the increasingly contrasting instrumentals, but unfortunately the fuzzier mix robs them of some of their piercing impact, no longer sounding like Hjelvik is foaming at the mouth mere centimetres from your face. It also means that the guitar tone and drum sound are stripped entirely of both their weight and their character; highly enjoyable a track as it is, a song like Nattesferd itself never truly takes off in the same way that something like Bruane Brenn from Meir did, and it seems hugely hampered and restrained by its production.
Part of what makes bands fusing such eccentricities together so engaging, whether it be OPETH’s KING CRIMSON-indebted death metal or the myriad of black-gaze bands that have emerged in the wake of ALCEST, is the balancing act at the heart of that fusion. Credit should be given to KVELERTAK for trying something new, especially when it does work as well as it frequently does, but they have undoubtedly lost something in the process. For much of its runtime Nattesferd is a very good and often great record, but the niggling thought remains even on repeated listens that it is not quite as good as it should be, and that this band are capable of a whole lot more.
KVELERTAK’s Nattesferd is available now via Roadrunner Records