Why KVELERTAK’s new album “Endling” is such a dividing topic.

Written by Album Review, Chronique, Featured

What in the world? Kvelertak, this band with such a strong sonic and visual identity and a skyrocketing career is back with a fifth record but it appears the hype is not as present amongst the heavy music lovers. It’s about time we dig into this new effort and try to understand why so many fans seem to, quite unfairly, ignore it. 

Let’s start with a flashback. The year is 2011 and Kvelertak comes out of nowhere, kicking everyone on the way. Way before all the shoegazey bands decided to do so, they were embracing black metal roots (quite noticeably on vocals and blast beats) with their yet very accessible heavy rock. The recipe was already there: hard rock / heavy riffs with a punk hardcore flair (who said crossover?), ultra-catchy choruses in Finnish, harmonized guitar parts between the three guitarists always epic and intense like an Irene Maiden that forgot to be kitsch and all of that with a rock n’roll delivery. Just add an owl head as a mascot and very high production value for their music videos and you get the ONE band the entire metal community was waiting for. 

The tour de force came with the following album “Meir” in 2013. After bringing together fans of both punk hardcore and black metal as well as everything modern metals the band was finalizing their evil plan: being a band accessible enough for the occasional metalhead that did not fully decipher every influence. As you know, this was a massive success, greatly helped by Kurt Ballou’s impeccable production and an iconic artwork designed by John Baizley. 

At that point, we all could see Kvelertak on the right track to be the major metal band of the decade. But that’s when things changed. Feeling that they lost a bit of their initial fanbase or wanting to prove their legitimacy, the band released “Nattesferd”, their most sophisticated but harder-to-comprehend album to date with way fewer instant hits. A tad more proggish and with a clear 80’s vibe, it was a delight for the hardcore fans but had less appeal for the mainstream metal audience. And this first difficulty for the band started a big series of changes. Their singer and drummer left the band. And with them, we could say goodbye to the black metal elements. 

Replacing them with industry veterans, the band still showed how good of a live act they are. Despite the COVID crisis, they released the excellent “Splid” in 2020. Embellished by famous guests, this is a remarkable turn in the band’s career. The extreme metal influences are gone. The band has calmed down but is progger than ever before, adding contrast with full-on punk vocals. And here’s maybe the first problem with 2020’s Kvelertak. While this change worked incredibly well on me and the whole “I love Mastodon, Baroness and anything related” part of their fanbase, they did lose a fair bit of their initial audience.

So here’s where Kvelertak is at now, a crossroad: will they affirm their choice and new direction? Or will they try to catch their old fans back? The answer comes with “Endling”.

First, let’s look at what will please everyone. Kvelertak is still Kvelertak. Choruses are still very anthemic and we can feel that right from the opener “Kroterveg Te Helvete”. This song’s structure is a clear call back to the opening track for “Meir” ( the excellent “Apenbaring”). The very punk rock chorus has an old-school Die ärzte feel, for the connoisseurs. 

Big fat riffs are still a key part of the songwriting like on the amazing “Likvoke”, raging, blasting, quite frankly the best number on the album to me. The lead guitars we know and love are still present, especially on the intro for “Endling”. Some of the guitar solos might be among the best the band ever offered us. I’m thinking about the closure of “Morild” with this darker facet of Kvelertak, almost haunted, magnified by these astonishing lead guitars. Better yet, we have Kurt Ballou, back on the production for a result that is still very powerful but a bit more subtle than usual and that fits perfectly with this album’s arrangements.

Oh boy, we have to talk about the arrangements because there’s quite some freshness here. If I talk about banjo on the surprising yet incredibly heavy “Dogeniktens Kvad”, if I talk bells or even the intro of “Svart September” all in acoustic springy guitars (yes despite the song’s title, that’s how they feel to me) and you could be scared. But the truth is that it’s never too much. It’s always on point, it serves a purpose and it’s not just a distraction here and there. These arrangement choices show that the band is fully embracing the direction they started to follow with the previous effort, not caring about how some fans will react to it. The same feeling can be felt with “Skoggangr” and its semi-Irish heritage that could throw off a few listeners. 

It’s also clear that this record, like the two previous efforts, lacks one or two easy hits, these shorter and more direct bits that started it all for the band on their two first albums. And so, as we speak about this album’s qualities, being a concrete link between the band’s previous productions but unapologetically proud of making strong artistic choices, we start to understand why the hype is not as strong as one could have hoped. 

We are, objectively, facing one of the band’s best records to date. It’s more subtle, more sophisticated and better produced than any other before. It’s up to you to see if there is, on “Endling” the elements that made you fall in love with the band initially. I know that it’s definitely the case for me. 

Last modified: 6 November 2023