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In 2018, Kvelertak were riding high. Third album Nattesferd had cracked the top 30 in Germany, Finland’s top 10 and made #2 in their Norwegian homeland, winning them a Spellemanprisen in the Rock category for the third time, and they had just completed 25 dates with Metallica across Europe.
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Then wildman vocalist Erlend Hjelvik abruptly announced his departure just as the rest of the band were thinking about starting on a new album.
“It was a real bummer,” admits founding guitarist Vidar Landa with dry understatement. “We were all ready to start work on something new and then Erlend told us he didn’t want to be in the band anymore!”
A key member splitting from a group right as they hit their stride has sent many into a death spiral, and Landa says that for a brief moment Kvelertak were at a loss as to what their future held. Finding a replacement who could fit into their wildly unpredictable riff salad style of hardcore and metal wasn’t going to be easy. Their saviour appeared in the shape of Ivar Nikolaisen of fellow Norwegian units Silver and The Good, the Bad and the Zugly, a long time friend who had worked with the band before, contributing vocals on Blodtørst from their debut. Changing horses in mid-stream actually turned out to be something of a blessing in disguise for Kvelertak as they settled in to get to work on Splid, which was released on 14th February.
I really love the feeling of chaos on this album.
[ Vidar Landa ]
“After ten years, I think it may have been starting to get more difficult to start having some new ideas. I have to admit that I’m not sure what direction the new album was going to go in at the time,” Landa says. “Ivar coming into the band the way he did gave us a whole new creative energy and we just fed off that chaos. I really love the feeling of chaos on this album.”
Splid follows the same path of mayhemic black ‘n roll destruction as Kvelertak’s previous albums, where moments of chaotic hardcore slam into extreme metal barrages like particles in the Large Hadron Collider before giving way to unexpected moments of melodic clarity. Like Nattesferd’s 1985, Splid has its stadium rock side too.
“Ivar is able to do a lot of different things with his voice,” Landa reveals, “and that lets us do some things we haven’t been able to do before. Like Tevling, which is almost like a power ballad, for us!”
If power ballads end by teetering on the brink of a black metal abyss, then, sure, but it’s as close to that staple of 80s and 90s arena rock as this band gets. Despite the chaos, Landa wants to make one thing clear: “This is a really fun record,” he says. Splid also continued their relationship with producer Kurt Ballou, who has so far worked on every one of Kvelertak’s albums. Ballou, Landa explains, “brings in ideas about how the drums should sound or how the guitars sound,” but he’s essentially hands off when it comes to the material itself.
“All of the songs were pretty much written before we went into the studio,” the guitarist says, with one of those songs, Crack of Doom, featuring the booming vocal contributions from one of Kvelertak’s biggest fans and supporters: Mastodon’s Troy Sanders. Their relationship goes all the way back to the first time the bands played together, on Soundwave in 2012.
“Troy recorded the vocals at his studio in Florida,” Landa says. “He and all the members of Mastodon have always been great supporters of us. We actually met them for the first time in Australia, at Soundwave. Even before we had met them, all of them were already fans of our music. It’s been great for us that guys like Mastodon have been so supportive.”
Any band’s success and longevity depends on the support of their fans, and Kvelertak’s fanbase features some powerful figures from Metallica’s James Hetfield to the Crown Prince of Norway. On the strength of Splid and the reputation they’ve built so far, it’s a pretty good bet that the Stavangar maniacs still have a long future ahead.