I’ll preface this by saying no shit, I know this album has been out for two months already.
I’ll also preface this by saying I haven’t been in a fight since I was 16. The fight consisted of me in a ball while this dude just unloaded on me on the bus. It didn’t hurt because I’m surprisingly good at just curling up in a ball and waiting for things to end (hello, unpaid student loans). I say this because the Kvelertak record that came out this February, Splid, has me feeling a specific kind of positivity: giddy to punch a dude at a cookout. But, like, in a fun way. The way klingons fight at the bar or some shit, and it ends with a lot of back slapping and additional beer. So although this is a bit late, given our current dystopian shitshow it’s not the worst idea to look into something fun.
Now, I’m not saying this feeling is going to be universal. If you’ve heard their previous releases and it didn’t click, this one isn’t a game-changer. Kvelertak’s growth as a band is intensely incremental. Even with a change in drummers and vocalists it’s an AC/DC Back in Black barely-a-difference level of change. Still, there are some interesting moments and the general 70’s/80’s dad-rock pool they supplement the hardcore/black metal with seems to get a bit wider with each release.
On Splid it seems like they’re pulling more than usual from prog rock, especially the less-respected 80’s output of groups established in the 70’s. Think Yes’ “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” and not Yes’ “Roundabout.”
It’s a welcome, if small, change. There’s more room for riffs to breathe, the inevitable triple guitar harmonies feel a little more earned and hit a little harder, and the repetitions feel more necessary compared to previous releases where I’d sometimes think of a car trying to get up a steep hill in the snow, just back and forth in second gear until finally we’re moving somewhere new. Not to say that there isn’t some of that, but there’s more scenery on the way. The drive feels like a road trip instead of a commute.
Oh and there are more clean vocals. Sorry. Feel free to quit the band just like the last singer if this bums you out. There are also fewer blast beats. More cleans, less black metal, more major key (read: happy) stuff going on. Some of it’s even in English. If the next record adds falsetto singing we’ll have a blackened hardcore “I Believe In A Thing Kvlt Love” and I’ll be ready to drink cheap beer in a back yard to it. I’m already doing that, but it might be cool to add other people some day.
I’ve been referencing other bands and songs a lot specifically because the “special thing” a band like Kvelertak does isn’t experimentation or innovation in a traditional sense; it’s in how they blend what they borrow from. Kvelertak write original songs, sure, but the “oh shit” moments generally come from things that made me originally gravitate to stuff like Girl Talk back in the aughts: They do a familiar thing I didn’t see coming over another familiar thing I didn’t see coming and above all it stays catchy. “Stevnemøte Med Satan” starts with an arpeggio that feels like Rush-by-way-of-Doomriders, verses are a mid-tempo Refused-style angular riff repeated, we get some disco “boots-and-cats-and” drums reminiscent of a few Baroness tracks before the solo, then a weedly-weedly-wah 80’s thrash shred (classic divebombs!) to start it followed by some VERY Crack the Skye Mastodon guitar and synth work before going right back into that Refused part again to bookend it. It’s nothing new in its parts, but taken together it’s fun and surprising and full of earworms to latch onto. (This isn’t even a particularly strong track compared to the rest, there’s just so much going on and I couldn’t help but catch myself doing some involuntary rhythmic head-nodding.)
The biggest strength here, as with most Kvelertak releases, is how everything is anchored by hook after hook after hook. That’s the whole record, hooks and dad rock in and around all the yelling and (some) blast beats. I’m sure there are purists who hate all of it with every fiber of their being and have since the first record, but I’m very happy to have realized via Kvelertak that, you know, REO Speedwagon sometimes kinda slays.
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You can pick up Splid, out on Rise records, at Kvelertak.com. It’s also on Spotify. They’ll be on tour…whenever people can do that again. Until such time as we’re all able to party again, I’ll be hanging out poolside by myself with this record on heavy rotation making the best of it.