Kvelertak: The Night Journey
In Norse cosmology, Yggdrasil (just try to say it how it’s spelt) is a gigantic, holy ash tree found at the centre of the cosmos, connecting each of the 9 homeworlds written about in song, poems and stories with its branches and roots. It is said that the Gods of each world would congregate at Yggdrasil daily. Perhaps Kvelertak are modern Metal’s equivalent to this folklore. The genre-destroying, Norwegian sextet draw, with perfect taste, from all worlds of heavy music, and have managed to make fans out of the Rock and Roll gods (Metallica, Slayer and The Foo Fighters, for instance). With their highly anticipated third album Nattesferd, Kvelertak have cemented themselves musically at the centre of the rock and roll universe. We spoke art, culture, philosophy, and death with lead howler Erlend Hjelvik.
I once read that Happy Tom from Turbonegro told Kvelertak to stop singing in Norwegian if you ever wanted to get out of Norway. Now you’re speaking to a writer from the other side of the world, anticipating the release of your third record. It must feel pretty good to have proven the guy who wrote “Rendezvous with Anus” wrong?
[Laughs] It feels great! You know, I have no idea what it would sound if we did sing in English, but to me it would just sound weird. I’s cool that people are still into the band even if the songs in Norwegian. So yeah, it feels good to prove him wrong, even though he probably won’t admit that he was wrong.
Happy Tom aside, Norway strikes me as a very culturally and musically open-minded country. Kvelertak have appeared on talk shows and award ceremonies on commercial television and there’s not a lot of places in the world that would televise a band like your’s. How different a band would Kvelertak be had it come from a different, less culturally diverse background?
Oh! Norway is pretty important for our music. If it wasn’t for black metal influences, and things like that, it would sound different I think. I’d probably be writing different lyrics if I was from another place. Maybe Scandinavia in general could work for Kvelertak, but yeah, I don’t know. I think it would sound different if it was from somewhere like Germany, then we would have probably ended up sounding like Rammstein or something [laughs]!
Then thank the Gods that Kvelertak are not from Germany! I had a friend help with translations to some of song titles on Nattesferd. It seems that you’ve decided to touch on concepts of Old Norse Mythology and Paganism, which I know you tried to stay away from on the last record, Meir?
After our first album we kind of got tired of being referred to as a party viking rock band. That would start to sound kind of stupid in the long run, so I thought I might just try to stay away from it for the most part. But when it was time to write lyrics again, I thought it would be cool to throw back to the first album, so there are songs on the new album that deal with Norse mythology. I guess you can say that I like to put my own spin on things… The first song, Dendrofil for Yssdrasil. Dendrofil means, in Norwegian, that you have a sexual preference for trees so that title just popped in my head and the rest wrote itself. So yeah, you can imagine the rest…
You obviously have quite an Imagination Erlend. The concept of death seems to be a constant too, not just on this record, but on the previous ones too! Is death something you think about a lot?
[Laughs] Yeah, I guess you can say that. It’s basically in all the lyrics I write. It’s kind of weird but it always pops up in my head when I write lyrics, and it’s probably from listening to way too much black metal. I guess the whole message of the band is that we’re all going to die, so we might as well have fun on the way down! If there is any message thats it!
I think that philosophy sums up Kvelertak perfectly. Are there any books or films you can recommend as a good point of reference for the kinds of concepts that you like to write about?
Oh yeah, definitely! The most important stuff is in the old Edda, but I have an encyclopaedia too, I’m not sure if you can get it in English, but it’s all about the different Gods and all kinds of stories. I really like that movie Valhalla Rising too, thats a great one! It’s one of the best viking movies to me.
“I felt like with what the album was gonna be like musically and lyrically, it just felt right to call it Nattesferd.”
I understand that “Nattesferd” translates to “Night Journey”. That’s cool!
Yeah, we actually had a different working title for the album, but once we got the cover and that was was finished, I felt like with what the album was gonna be like musically and lyrically, it just felt right to call it Nattesferd. It really fits the cover art I think, and it’s a pretty good description of the lyrics. It’s a pretty dark musical journey. The cover kind of reminds me of the Rush – Fly By Night cover I think.
It’s interesting that you mention Rush, because listening to Nattesferd, I was definitely hearing parts that reminded me of bands like Rush, and even Blue Oyster Cult or Boston, maybe more so than on the last records. We’re you guys intentionally trying to channel the 70s?
Yeah, definitely. Those bands that you mentioned (Rush, Blue Oyster Cult) are some of my personal favourites. I think that most of the band are really into that kind of stuff, so that’s usually what we listen to on the tour bus. When you’re on stage and play super loud and intense sets for an hour, its not like the first impulse is to put on some metal when you get on the bus. So we listen to a lot of bands like the ones you mentioned, and even stuff like Scorpions and AC/DC. All the good stuff basically!
And all those band’s records had such great covers too. That visual aesthetic is obviously something that is very important to Kvelertak. Growing up and discovering Heavy Metal and Punk, are there any record covers that you remember making a real impression on you and sparking your curiosity?
That’s a good question [laughs]! I think like Metallica – Kill ’em All or Ride The Lightning were album covers that I really liked when I was younger. They were just really striking y’know? Even Slayer covers. I was listening to a bunch of bad Nu-Metal at the time too, I didn’t think those covers were as cool though [laughs], but yeah, I’m definitely a big fan of metal artwork! It’s pretty important. Just like how old T-shirt designs and things like that were trying to convey what the band was about, so we try to put a lot of effort into that.
The first taste of the record that the band decided to give was “1985”. I read that you cited the ideas of nostalgia behind the George Orwell novel 1984, and Taylor Swift’s 1989 album as points of discussion for the song. Whats so significant about the year 1985?
[Laughs] The reason I picked that title was when I was listening to the music, I started to think about 1984, the Van Halen album, and then about the George Orwell book, but the reason called it “1985” is that I got this sentence in my head which means “I want to return to 1985”. The whole lyric is mostly based on like a future dystopian setting. That’s what the song is about. I think it fits the song because it’s pretty upbeat, so it’s cool to just have some dark lyrics in there. I think thats what the song needs. [Laughs] You cant be too happy, y’know?