Ace of Cups, Columbus, April 25
by Kevin J. Elliott

I’ll have to admit to knowing very little about Norway’s Kvelertak in the days leading up to this show. All I was aware of was that the six-headed hydra has been gathering larger and larger crowds in their continued visits to Columbus, and that their sophomore album, Meir, was currently pricking the ears of listeners far beyond just metalhead diehards. After spending a full 48 hours with Meir, I was convinced in such a power. It made perfect sense how this earworm of a record—even one sung entirely in the band’s native tongue—was reaching audiences unfamiliar with the tropes of black metal and biker rock. Somewhere between the extremes of church burnings and the cartoonish cult of Turbonegro sits Kvelertak. The difference is Kvelertak pays attention to one thing most other bands of this ilk completely ignore: the almighty hook. So to experience the stranglehold of Kvelertak in a live setting seemed a necessity.

Unfortunately, such awakenings always come with a price, or in this case a penance, and that was having to sit through the post-nü-metal grind of the Cancer Bats. It’s likely for the better that I’d never heard of Toronto’s Cancer Bats as they seemed stuck in time. But alas, it was the crowd’s reaction that was most disheartening. The Cancer Bats had them eating out of their hands, climbing the monitors, chanting choruses, and generally causing a ruckus that I’d hoped was merely because Kvelertak was minutes away from taking the stage. Did I mention that they’re best known for their cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage?” ’Nuff said.

Surely there are metal fans out there who scoff at the arena tactics and polished anthems of Kvelertak, as if they’re not pure enough. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are those with nary a metal upbringing who want to over-intellectualize what Kvelertak do, even giving them made-up genre tags to separate it from their dark, crusty brethren. But frontman Erlend Hjelvik put on a show. By night’s end he was shirtless, sweating and head-banging his hair into the faces of the faithful. It’s those endearing qualities that attracted me. Flanked in front of a wall of Orange amplifiers, the band displayed a general glee for rock & roll. There was no brooding, no posing, no holier-than-thou rock star sniveling. Kvelertak are deadly serious about having a good time. Throughout their set they touched on a number of hallmarks of metal in the huge choruses of songs like “Spring La Fivet” and “Bruane Brenn.” They have the twin leads of Thin Lizzy and the Scorpions, the barreling power-punk of The Dwarves or Karp, the hair-metal sleaze-pop of Ratt and Skid Row—all cut deeply with the visceral speed of thrash and, yes, black metal. In many ways, Kvelertak have done to the latter, what fellow Scandanavians The Hives did with American garage gunk, by effortlessly turning outsider extremes into radio friendly unit shifters. Whether you want to call them the pro wrestlers of the Nordic metal underground or not, the music they make transcends pigeonholing. Kverlertak is unique, vital, and perhaps the best of the heavies playing the circuit these days.