Big and Dumb 

Kvelertak Doesn't Mind Backhanded Compliments

KVELERTAK Owly plays the maracas!

KVELERTAK Owly plays the maracas!

READING KVELERTAK'S press, one of the recurring themes seems to be a compliment shrouded in a playground insult. According to Pitchfork, the Norwegian black 'n' roll band sounds "smartest when they're playing it dumb," while Stereogum says Kvelertak embraces "every big, dumb thrill" metal has to offer. And CMJ calls "Bruane Brenn," the lead single off their sophomore album Meir, "bigger, dumber Chili Peppers-style rock." (The Chili Peppers part of that makes little sense, by the way.)

None of this bothers Erlend Hjelvik, Kvelertak's dynamic, gravel-gargling vocalist. "I don't mind it because most things that are fun, they're usually kind of dumb," he said in a recent telephone interview. "I'd rather be called dumb than pretentious."

Kvelertak—which means "chokehold" in Norwegian—came out of a fertile mid-'00s hardcore scene in Stavanger, Norway, where they compensated for their lack of chops by pumping up the showmanship. "We were the weird guys when we started," Hjelvik says. "We were pretty shitty live, so we had to make up for it with being pretty outrageous. We did stuff like get naked and roll around in glass shards just to make up for the shitty playing."

Things have changed. Hundreds of shows later, Kvelertak is lauded for its live exuberance and visceral appeal, while Meir is a breathtaking and genre-blind amalgam of thunderous sounds that both crushes skulls and inspires sing-alongs, often within the same song. The band effortlessly roams from soaring alt-rock riffage and melodic hardcore to swaggering classic rock and blackened thrash befitting their Scandinavian roots. They sound like Fucked Up with a permanent case of Pink Eyes, or the heaviest, harshest moments of the Foo Fighters catalog battered, shredded, and stretched tautly across a full-length album.

Kvelertak's self-titled 2010 debut was such a surprise critical and commercial success, the band tried to ignore expectations when making Meir with metal producer god Kurt Ballou. "We just made 11 songs," Hjelvik says. "We don't really over-think stuff too much. As long as it sounds good, that's good enough for us."

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