Kvelertak = The Sword + Mastodon + Black Star Riders
Let’s face it: Metal can get kinda boring. Granted, there have been countless innovations over the genre’s 40-something year history, but after a while, bands engage in pissing contests with each other (and themselves) to prove they are the truest, the kvltest, the brutal-ist, the pentagramy-ist. When Kvelertak released their self-titled album in 2010, it threw all pretense out the window by seamlessly melding the speed of black metal with the energy of punk and the swagger of early hard rock, making them the coolest Scandinavian party gods since Turbonegro. Meir followed in 2013 and refined the band’s formula a bit, throwing the tremolo riffs to the wayside and integrating more melody and a bit more classic rock swagger. Now with Nattesferd, the band follows in the footsteps of Mastodon and Baroness, and though they are still much more innovative than many modern metal bands, they may be on a quest with the aforementioned bands to become the Thin Lizzy-est.
The album opens up with “Dendrofil for Y’gdrasil” (oh yeah, these guys are from Norway), which is about as close as the band ventures towards “classic” Kvelertak territory, complete with blastbeats and upswept guitars. It’s a decent track, but it starts something of a trend on the album of songs with long, boring outros. The last two minutes of the song doesn’t feature vocals, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the passage is a bit too boring to justify its length. “1985” was the first track released ahead of the album a few months ago, and I admit that the first time I heard it, I hated it … but now it’s probably my favorite track on the album. It features a slow, groovy riff that would fit right in on the soundtrack to the super-cheesy Heavy Metal movie from 1981—it’s hard not to imagine the band playing the song atop a giant owl and surrounded by unrealistically proportioned barbarian babes. Again, though, it closes with a long instrumental portion, at least this time there’s a pretty cool guitar solo to spice it up.
The title track is another highlight, picking up the pace with a fun, fast riff complemented by some acoustic accompaniment and some great lead guitar work—Kvelertak has three (!) guitarists, and this is one of the few tracks in their catalogue that makes great use of all of them. Erlend Hjelvik’s vocals are strong throughout the entire album, and are especially great on “Nattesferd,” steering the band toward their more aggressive tendencies with his gruff growls, though the clean chorus vocals are also part of the track’s success. “Nattesferd” is probably the best example of Kvelertak combining their classic style with their ’70s influences, recapturing the energy and excitement of their first album in a new way. “Bronsegud” is another standout, with the song’s structure broken up by fun shouts in the midst of Hjelvik’s verses, and features some cool riffage.
The more I listen to Nattesferd, the more I like it—the band has definitely tapped into the grooviness of classic heavy metal on most of the album’s tracks, but it doesn’t quite have the punch of earlier Kvelertak albums. Some of the tracks feel a bit disjointed as Hjelvik’s harsh vocals don’t always meld with the band’s less aggressive new sound (“Svartmesse”), and a couple of the tracks are straight-up boring (“Ondskapens Galakse,” “Nekrodamus”). Fans may have a hard time adapting to the new Kvelertak sound, but underneath the shiny new veneer of classic heavy metal lies the same band. –Ricky Vigil
Piñata Protest = Mariachi El Bronx + Manic Hispanic + Flogging Molly
Opening with a 45-second intro declaring Piñata Protest “los mas chingones de la musica norteña punk,” El Valiente certainly delivers on that description. Fusing accordion-fueled Mexican music with high-energy punk rock, Piñata Protest are one of the most entertaining bands to emerge from Texas in a long time. “Vato Perron” is a straight-up party song, in which vocalist Alvaró Del Norte proudly shouts about his penchant for drinking and dancing, much to the detriment of his “pobre corazón.” “Tomorrow, Today” and a spirited cover of “La Cucaracha” keep the party vibe going, while “Life on the Border” is a bit more weighty and serious in its subject matter. It’s interesting to see the band switch between English and Spanish within their songs, and it’s executed in such a way that it isn’t at all jarring. The standout track is easily the cover of “Volver, Volver,” which is appropriately reflective and measured—until it explodes into a punk rock rager at the song’s end. Do your abuela proud and pick this record up. It’s perfect for quinceañeras, funerals, anything really—just no pinche Cinco de Mayo parties. –Ricky Vigil
Fat Wreck Chords
Sundowner = Dave Hause + Fake Problems + Chuck Ragan
Out-surviving the punk rock singer/songwriter fad that swept through the country a few years ago, Chris McCaughan has returned for a third album under the Sundowner moniker. As the more mellow and introspective vocalist of The Lawrence Arms (read: the one who doesn’t sing about farts), McCaughan’s style is well suited to a stripped-down style. McCaughan is a great lyricist, with an eye for metaphor and unique concepts comparable to a grittier John K. Samson. Neon Fiction showcases his songwriting prowess, specifically on “My Beautiful Ruins,” which is a forlorn love letter to his hometown of Chicago. Themes of coldness, loss and drifting permeate the album, but there is a wistfulness that seems almost hopeful. Neon Fiction lacks some of the more aggressive songs from previous Sundowner albums, but it is easily the most consistent and fully realized album under the name yet. Now about that new Lawrence Arms record … –Ricky Vigil
Inter Arma = Baroness + Tombs + Yob
As listeners, we tend to flock to the genres and sub-genres that we like because of the satisfying sameness. I love simple, stupid punk rock, and if a band sounds like they might have only ever listened to Venom, there’s a solid chance I won’t like them once they stop sounding exactly like Venom. That said, it’s awesome to hear bands who aren’t entirely what you expect. Inter Arma could be described as a sludge band—they definitely have the typically slow pace and thick riffs of the genre down—but calling them a sludge metal band would be a disservice. This band is firmly rooted in the muck and grime of sludge, but throughout Paradise Gallows, they aptly incorporate a vast variety of influences and styles.
“Nomini” is a two-and-a-half-minute intro that sounds like it was ripped straight from John Dyer Baizley’s fingers with its stretched-out, echo-y guitars. When we jump into “An Archer in the Emptiness,” Inter Arma embrace their true heaviness with jackhammer drumming, sludgy riffs and sinister growls from Mike Paparo—think Torche minus all the bubblegum. TJ Childers’ drums are the thunderous glue that hold Inter Arma’s chaos together and constantly steal the show, even over the intensely wailing guitars near the end of the track. Inter Arma laugh in the face of brevity, with only two of the album’s nine tracks clocking in at under six minutes, and with three of them over the 10-minute mark. With songs so long, they are able to explore a wide soundscape, switching up tempos and transforming songs while maintaining a consistent thread. “Transfiguration” provides more of the sludgy goodness until the three-minute mark, when a Slayer-like squeal emits from one of the guitars, and Childers kicks into overdrive to convert it into a blackened ripper.
“Primordial Wound” has one of the coolest song titles in an album full of cool song titles, and it opens with some creepy, chant-like vocals from Paparo. The song only switches gears at the end with some harsh, noisy vocal screeches. “Potomac” harkens back to the album’s intro, displaying Inter Arma’s pretty side, complete with a piano throughout. The closing trifecta of songs is among the album’s best, showing the band at their heaviest (“The Paradise Gallows”), scariest (“Violent Constellations”) and prettiest (“Where the Earth Meets the Sky”). Paradise Gallows is a long album, but it never outstays its welcome, thanks to Inter Arma’s constant exploration. Get out of your comfort zone and try something new. –Ricky Vigil
As Above, So Below
Fever Dreams = Full of Hell + Dead in the Dirt + Gaza
Even though they’re from St. George, I’m pretty sure that anytime Fever Dreams play a show in their hometown, we’d be able to hear ‘em all the way up in Salt Lake. This is dirty, mean, evil shit. Fever Dreams’ style of crusty, blackened hardcore wouldn’t be out of place on the A389 or Southern Lord Records rosters, as they aptly channel both chaotic energy (“Shallow Skin,” “Cultmonger”) and deep, dark, dirgey despair (“Below,” “Last Leg”). If you like Nails, Weekend Nachos, Young and in the Way, or any other bands that make you want to set fire to humanity as a whole, then you need to adopt As Above, So Below as your own personal soundtrack.
The Most Lamentable Tragedy
Titus Andronicus = Desaparecidos + Fucked Up + Andrew Jackson Jihad
No strangers to lofty, semi-nonsensical concept albums, Titus Andronicus have struck gold again with this 29-song, 93-minute epic about losing one’s shit. Opener “No Future IV: No Future Triumphant” sets the pace for the album, recalling the timelessness of The Clash or The Who alongside the fury of modern punk rock. “Come On, Siobhan” is among the catchiest songs the band has ever written, and “Dimed Out” is pretty much constantly stuck in my head, even if I can’t quite understand Patrick Stickles’ barking vocals. As there is bound to be on an album of this length, there is some weird shit on here, including a nearly unrecognizable cover of The Pogues’ “A Pair of Brown Eyes,” but it’s really quite shocking how enjoyable this album is throughout its entirety. I haven’t had this much fun listening to any album for a long time—maybe going insane really isn’t so bad. –Ricky Vigil