Interview: Kvelertak’s Ivar Nikolaisen Talks New Album And The Meaning Of Owls

Norwegian black-n-roll miscreants Kvelertak have just gifted us with a new record, Endling. Their fifth overall, and second with new vocalist Ivar Nikolaisen, Endling is another killer dose of Kvelertak, mixing metal, punk, hard rock and the catchiest choruses you’re likely to hear all year. Once again, Kvelertak, which also features guitarists Bjarte Lund Rolland, Maciek Ofstad, and Vidar Landa, along with bassist Marvin Nygaard and drummer, Havard Takle Ohr, have delivered another blistering record, which could likely land them on many Best Of lists at the end of the year. Now, into their second decade as a band, they still remain vital and relevant. They aren’t performing on autopilot. They still slay.

So, with the new album just released, we decided to get Nikolaisen’s thoughts on the new record, how catchy choruses are like candy, and the meaning of owls, among other topics Kvelertak.

Below are his answers.

On the new album, many of the songs deal with themes concerning Norwegian folklore. What made you decide to go in this direction?

Kvelertak has always been a band that likes to convey history in a way that sounds brutal, but at the same time humorous. We used to focus on the viking stuff, at a time when this was reserved for the underground scene. Now, this theme has become so popular. You can see it in the Netflix series and here in Norway there are festivals for viking bands. At Wacken, in Germany, the biggest metal festival in the world, they have a huge viking village. So we decided to downplay this theme a bit, and focus more on the newer Norwegian local history from where we come from. There are so many unbelievable stories just waiting to be told. So it’s not only folklore anymore; we don’t write about trolls, it is true stories about real people.

What is the meaning behind the title of the new album?

According to Wikipedia an Endling is the last known individual of a species or subspecies. Once the endling dies the species becomes extinct. You can interpret it however you want.

In addition, the cover of Endling, features owls. In the past, owls have been a constant visual theme for the band appearing on album covers, t-shirts, and even a mask your former singer used to wear. What is the fascination with owls for this band? Why this particular creature?

Owls are often associated with darkness and death. The owl has a special place in Scandinavian folklore. For the Norwegian people it symbolizes good luck and hope since it could navigate in the dark. It also symbolizes wisdom, which is the opposite of the members in Kvelertak. We need the owl to make us look wiser and smarter.

Your previous album, Splid, had a few songs sung completely in English. On Endling, you have gone back to mainly singing in your native tongue. Was this a conscious decision? Or was it just how the songs turned out this time?

On Splid we had Troy from Mastodon and Nate from Converge as guest singers, we just didn’t have the heart to make them sing in Norwegian. So we had to do it in English, it went pretty well, but it’s hard for me to write lyrics in English since my English skills are low, and we pretty much end up sounding like everyone else. The Norwegian dialect we have is way more unique, no one else does what we do. I`m not saying that we ́re never gonna do any songs in English again. Maybe a whole album in English would be cool, but not for now. Then we need help!

From a musical standpoint, when you write songs, do you write them with the live show in mind? Or do you just write, and let the chips fall where they may?

I am not really sure, since I don´t write the music. I think the smarter members in the band can have two thoughts in mind at the same time. Guess it comes naturally. We actually recorded most of this album live, the only thing we missed was the audience.

For as aggressive as your songs are, you never forget to throw in a catchy chorus or an interesting melody, along with all the riffing. How important is it to have these moments in your songs?

We are just children. And children like catchy stuff. Children like candies and cake. But some children eat too much cake, and they end up fat and boring. You can see this in the rock and metal scene today. What happens when you eat too much cake? You throw up! You have to eat some wholemeal bread too. And when you bake the cake, do it properly!

Splid came out a few months before the world shut down due to the pandemic. You really didn’t get to go out and tour around it. Now, it’s three years later and you have a new album. Are you looking forward to hitting the road for an extended period of time? What songs will comprise the set list? Will it be a mix of the two most recent albums?

True. We haven’t played too many shows after Splid. We only did two weeks before Germany shut down. England shut down one week later. I remember I saw videos of Turnstile playing in England with a crazy fucking crowd, while we were stuck with paranoia in our bus on the way back to Norway before they closed the border. But there’s no sorry for us. Many people were in deeper shit. And we did lots of festivals in Europe during 2022. Now we`ve had a break again and are ready for another round. When it comes to picking songs … the challenge is that the fans like different stuff. Some people only wanna hear the new shit and some people like the old stuff. We try to make a good mix, and of course we focus on the two latest albums with the new lineup, but I never get tired of playing “Blodtørst” and “Mjød” live.

Will you be coming to the United States to tour?

God willing! It’s a dream that we really hope will come true. Kvelertak hasn´t  toured the states since 2016. But it’s more of a hassle now than it used to be. Work visas, etc. Expensive! Hopefully 2024.

Now that the band is well into its second decade of existence, did you ever expect it to last this long? You’ve gotten to open for Metallica, won Norwegian Grammys and even had your music featured at the end of a movie. When you first formed the band, did you ever expect to have the career you’ve had?

Well, I don’t know if I can speak for the others since I joined the band only five years ago, but it’s been a lot of hard work. They did the shitty work. Opening up as the first out of three bands, day after day, playing 200 shows every year. It’s a long way to the top… I joined the band when they were already doing pretty good, so I skipped all the hard work.

How much longer would you like this to go on?

It can end at any time. The atmosphere in the band is oppressive, but inshallah, we have seven more years!

Buy Endling here.

Photo courtesy of Stian Andersen.

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