The history of heavy metal on a global scale is one with rich tapestry, a deep mythology and enough tales to fill a library’s worth of books. It’s never more apparent than when one dives into the history of black metal, which is wrought with terrifying stories of death, re and murder – all of which hit a young Erlend Hjevik like a tonne of Satanic bricks growing up in Rogaland, a county in the west of Norway.
“I was a kid when the church burnings started happening,” he recalls. “I was pretty terrified of it all – I mean, most things are terrifying when you’re seven years old, but it was quite an intense thing to see on the nightly news. As I got older, I worked my way into listening to metal in high school. I ended up finding myself drawn to black metal in particular – the lyrics, the aesthetic, and the sound. Bands like Satyricon, Darkthrone... even Dimmu Borgir at the time were considered a black metal band. When you’re at the age when you’re starting to become a rebellious teenager, you definitely throw yourself at things like that.”
Although he wouldn’t grow up to burn down any churches of his own, this period of his life is still at least partially reflected through Hjevik’s role as frontman of Kvelertak, perhaps Scandinavia’s most commercially-successful contemporary metal band. Playing what’s known as “black & roll” – a hybrid of blackened metal and the structure and melodics of rock music – the sextet have scored a #1 album in their homeland, opened for the Foo Fighters and cemented a solid live reputation through high-energy shows across the world. Their third album, Nattesferd, follows on three years after the critically-acclaimed Meir, and sees the band continue their triple-guitar warpath as they parade through blast-beats, head- banging riffs and banshee howls that can be heard the next town over.
“When we make music, we go with what feels good to us,” says Hjevik. “It’s not a matter of over- thinking the process of what we do. That almost happened with the last record – we were going into it, thinking ‘Oh, we should do a song like this, and we should do a song like this. By the time we actually got around to writing and recording it, though, it just kind of turned out the way it was going to turn out. We kind of just decided to let the songs come to us and to write themselves, in a way.”
Ahead of the album’s release, fans got to hear one of Nattesferd’s key tracks, the charging throwback ‘1985’ – a song which, as the title suggests, is a nostalgic tribute to the likes of Van Halen, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and other arena-filling names from metal in the 80s. From its slamming four-on- the-floor beat to its piercing dual guitar solo – with plenty of pitch-shift harmonics thrown in for good measure – it’s about as nostalgic as Kvelertak have ever sounded. Although Hjevik says it’s not necessarily the kind of music that he grew up on personally – “I don’t think I was ever allowed to listen to metal growing up,” he quips – the love for this music as shared by his bandmates has been hard to shake.
“I probably didn’t really get into that style of music properly until I was in my 20s,” he says. “Before that, it was all black metal and extreme metal through my high school years. I wouldn’t have been caught dead listening to anything else. When I grew up a bit and started to appreciate the classics for what they are, it definitely influenced the kind of performer that I wanted to be. That’s stuff that we all listen to quite a bit, as well – we love Scorpions, we love AC/DC, we love Blue Öyster Cult. We have so much fun listening to that sort of stuff, we figured it would be just as much fun to make a song in that sort of style.”
Although still at a level where they are filling smaller clubs and theatres on an international scale, Kvelertak have very much become a mainstream commodity in Norway. Aside from Meir hitting the top of the charts and the band performing at the Norweigan equivalent of the Grammys, the Spellman Awards, the band have also had a blessing of sorts from the country’s royal family.
“When we opened for the Foo Fighters, we were approached backstage by the Crown-Prince of Norway,” says Hjevik, his tone still holding disbelief that the story he’s telling is true. “He went out of his way to tell us that he really enjoys our band. He came to see us when we were doing a show in San Francisco, too. He arranged this big meet-and-greet with us, and there was all this media there. That would have to be one of the weirdest things that has ever happened to this band.”
Touring in support of Nattesferd is already well underway, with Hjevik reporting that the audiences are already responding well to new material. “There’s been a lot of people at these shows,” he says, “And thankfully they’re really into it!” As for when the band will make a return visit to Australia, the vocalist is uncertain. “We’re pretty much booked until next year,” he says. “But we’ll definitely make it down there again.”