Interview with guitarist Bjarte Lund Rolland
by Thomas Pizzola
Six-piece Norwegian punk/metal wrecking crew Kvelertak have come a long way in their 13 years as a band. They’ve won Norwegian Grammys, numerous critical accolades for their albums, and have been handpicked to go on tour with bands such as Metallica, Slayer, Ghost, and Gojira. They are definitely a band on the rise.
That ascension, however, was almost cut short when original vocalist and co-founding member, Erlend Hjelvik, left the band in 2018. Some bands might pack in after something like that, but not Kvelertak. They love what they do too much.
“We wanted to continue with Kvelertak because we think it’s a pretty sweet-ass band, and it’s fun to play gigs and hang out and stuff,” guitarist Bjarte Lund Rolland says.
In order to continue, the band – which also features guitarist Vidar Landa, guitarist and vocalist Maciek Ofstad, bassist Marvin Nygaard, and drummer Håvard Takle Ohr – needed to find a new lead singer. In their minds, there was only one person up for the job, and that person was Ivar Nikolaisen.
In fact, he was their only choice.
“There were no other candidates, really,” says Rolland. “We’re all real big fans of him and his other bands – Silver, and The Good the Bad and the Zugly – and I know Erlend was very much influenced by [Ivar’s] electrifying stage presence. We played a few shows with Silver before we released our first record, and we got to know each other a little. He did guest vocals on “Blodtørst” (he actually recorded both the demo and the album version). He’s just a force of nature and my favorite lead singer on earth, so we’re incredibly grateful that he said yes, otherwise there’s no telling what would have happened to the band.”
With their lead singer issue resolved, the band had to go about making a new record. Given the circumstances – breaking in a new singer, and following up Nattesferd, their most acclaimed album to date – they surprisingly felt very little pressure when it came time to create their next magnum opus.
“You just have to kind of not care about all that, and try to make music that you and the band like. And then hope that others do too,” Rolland says. “Doesn’t really matter if you’re on the first or the fourth record, or if you have new members, you still have to make the best record possible. Sorry for the boring answer, but that’s the only way to go about it, I think. This one took a little longer to make because of all kinds of stupid management and legal stuff. The record itself took less than a year to write and record, so hopefully the next one also won’t take such a long time. Definitely feeling inspired to get a new one out quickly!”
In order to achieve rock excellence, Kvelertak decamped to Salem, Massachusetts in the fall of 2019, to record with Kurt Ballou at God City Studios. Ballou produced the band’s first two albums, and they knew he was the right man to help them create their fourth one.
“It just made sense, with the new vocalist and everything, to go back and record in a safe environment. Helps make the transition easier, I think,” Rolland says. “Kurt is just very easy to work with, and has a very particular trademark sound, with a room and amps and gear he knows in and out. You can just go there and not bring anything, and head home with a finished record that sounds like nothing else, and it’s 100% Kurt. I can tell if a record has been recorded at Kurt’s studio, actually. I can tell if a record has been recorded there, but not mixed there, or vice versa. That’s just a testament to his unique sound, not my hearing [laughs].”
The fruits of their labor, Splid, out now on Rise Records, is a testament to Kvelertak’s devotion to their music and the glory of rock ’n’ roll. Over the course of its 11 tracks, the band deliver another sermon in bringing the rock, early and often. There’s a little more of a hard rock strut this time around, and a little less black metal as on previous releases. Rolland says that this wasn’t exactly thought out in advance.
Well, maybe a little bit.
“There was no real plan in terms of direction, other than it generally gets boring to do the same thing over again,” he says “So we always try to do something new and mix it with the old. I guess you might hear more ’80s and ’90s indie/emo chords this time. No idea why, it’s not like I’ve been listening to that any more or less than before, it just ended up that way. It’s never the intention for the songs to be that long either, they also just end up that way sometimes. It’s almost out of our control. If it feels right at nine minutes, then it feels right at nine minutes.”
Splid is also the first Kvelertak album to feature two songs (“Crack of Doom” and “Discord”) written and sung in English. This is a bit of a departure for the band, since they’ve always written their song titles and lyrics in their native tongue. Troy Sanders of Mastodon also lends his pipes to “Crack of Doom.” The band’s reasoning behind this choice was the need to get noticed a little bit more in the United States.
“We’re trying to get bigger in the U.S. so we can tour there more (because it’s so fun!),” says Rolland. “But the radio won’t play our songs, because they’re in Norwegian. So, we figured if we asked a few friends to sing on a couple of songs, we’d have a good excuse to have something in English, so maybe we’ll get a tiny bit bigger in the States.”
The album’s title, Splid, translates to “discord,” and is a commentary on both the band and the state of the world.
“The title is a reference to discord in our personal lives in and outside the band,” says Rolland. “As well as grown-up stuff like politics and the general lame state of public discourse. With a healthy mix of general silliness (called ‘tøys’ in Norwegian).”
The lyrics also fit the theme put forth in the title.
“The title Splid is descriptive of the general theme of the album,” Rolland says. “Erlend wrote all the lyrics before, so we basically had to build a lyrical universe from scratch. It certainly would not make sense to try to copy Erlend’s lyrics, so we tried to go for something completely different, without losing the tongue-in-cheek vibe. Which I think we achieved. We all tried to chip in, to not just put the burden on the new guy (tempting as it was!). It ended up being Ivar, Vidar, and me writing the lyrics. I think it makes for a more lyrically diverse album with more substance. Yawn, I know.”
Kvelertak have managed to turn potential tragedy into triumph. They have a killer new album in Splid, along with a killer new vocalist. The band’s future is once again looking bright. They have blasted through all roadblocks, and are operating at all systems go, ready for the next phase of their career.
“It’s definitely the next chapter,” Rolland concludes. “I foresee a future heavily laden with our certified face-melting blend of progressive punk rock (or something), for years on end, from the looks of it. We’ll be touring for a while after the release, but hopefully we’ll get to work on a new record ASAP.”