Kvelertak’s Vidar Landa on embracing air guitar, discord and moving out of his guitar comfort zone

The Norwegian guitarist explains why old-new gear and getting intimate in the studio birthed the band’s kinetic new album, Splid.

Splid is the first Kvelertak record to feature English words supplementing those in their native Norwegian and four of them, drawled by new vocalist Ivar Nikolaisen midway through the euphoric Bråtebrann, stick out. “Air guitar, come on!” he commands. As hokey it is, it’s an invitation you’ll find it hard to pass up.

On the band’s fourth LP it feels like their three guitar attack – comprising Vidar Landa, Bjarte Lund Rolland and Maciek Ofstad – has reached its final form, pinballing with pyrotechnic power between Thin Lizzy-style twin leads, feral thrash breakdowns and ringing power-pop riffs.

Having produced its predecessor, 2016’s bruising Nattesferd, in their home city of Oslo, Kvelertak opted on this occasion to return to Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou’s GodCity Studio in Salem, Massachusetts, where they tracked their first two LPs. “We knew we wanted a producer so that we didn’t have too much responsibility ourselves, and we could focus on the playing,” Landa says.

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“It wasn’t too bad when we produced ourselves, but there’s still six people with different feelings on everything. Going with Kurt again, with him being the seventh member… whoever he agrees with, everybody respects his opinion. He’s very organised, and when all six of us are together it’s not the easiest band to get to do anything.”

Kvelertak spent three weeks at GodCity, sleeping in an apartment above the studio. “We were on top of each other night and day, which was intense,” Landa adds. “But in a weird, sadistic way we enjoyed it.” In the record’s second big change of circumstances, Nikolaisen came along for the ride for the first time, having stepped into the sizable boots of founding vocalist Erlend Hjelvik around 18 months ago.

“We’ve known Ivar for so many years, all the bands he’s been in, and what he can do creatively,” Landa says. “It was very natural from the first rehearsal. He felt like an old friend who’s always been there. It was a good thing for him to go on tour with us and get settled in the band before we went into the studio.”

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When it was written… SPLID – out 02/14

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On Splid, Nikolaisen strips paint with a screech that recalls Refused’s Dennis Lyxzén in his pomp. Around him, serrated riffs and thunderous slabs of melody pour from Landa, Rolland and Ofstad’s guitars. If Hjelvik-era Kvelertak was a metal gut check founded on primal power, then this new iteration is more surgical in its approach.

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And it has to be, because their music has become very, very complicated. Enter Ballou, and the decision to largely ditch the live approach that gave Nattesferd its sludgy punch. “I enjoyed the Nattesferd process a lot,” Landa admits. “I think my playing is better live than playing to a click.

“But when we saw how the songs for this album evolved we thought it would be fitting to do it with Kurt again, playing to a click. We tried not to be too picky and to keep a dirty sound to it. Kurt is pretty amazing at doing that…but he’s also super picky so we ended up spending a lot of time getting every note right.”

Once they’d pitched up in Salem, Ballou’s expertise and restless creative spirit became invaluable. “He knows that room so well,” Landa adds. “And the amps. Most of the things we recorded with are his own guitars that he’s kind of made himself, and pedals he’s made himself. I think the only thing he hasn’t made is the amps, but he has an arsenal of them, and guitar sounds. It’s super fun to play around with, especially a band like us with three guitarists.”

One hurdle that Landa had to overcome while in the studio was that the band left all their gear at home, including his prized Nik Huber Krautster II. “For me that was a challenge, but I enjoyed it,” he says. “Kurt has guitars that I’m used to playing, like the same Les Paul that we did a lot of the stuff on the first two albums on.

“But sometimes we’d switch just to have a different sound, and some of the riffs are pretty hard to play. None of us are really schooled musicians, so I found that difficult. I’d be laying down some of my tracks and then suddenly, ‘You should try this guitar instead.’ And it’s a different setup, and you don’t want to waste anyone’s time. So there were a couple of those times when I was thinking, ‘I should have just brought my own guitar.’”

One thing that didn’t alter was the democratic approach to dividing up parts. Each of Kvelertak’s guitarists have their own strengths, and more than ever the songs appear to be elaborate, interlocking puzzle pieces. Bråtebrann, for instance, feels like a cascading rush of hyper-melodic lead lines and solos, while across eight minutes Fanden Ta Dette Hull! fuses Boston, the Replacements and Metallica into some kind of monster.

“We had all the arrangements and all the main lead parts, but a lot of it is stuff we do in the studio with different voicings of the guitars,” Landa says. “We sort of have a system, and we switch up on doing leads. I’d say Maciek is the main shredder, he does things that I’m not capable of doing, and Bjarte has his own technique where he plays without a pick.

“That can be quite challenging, especially in the studio on more tight, tremolo stuff. But it’s very beautiful on chords and overdubs. In the studio it’s whoever plays the part best. We switch around. Live, and when we make songs, it always falls into place. With the years we’ve found a way.”

Once Kvelertak are back on the road, Landa’s Krautster will come out of hibernation and help facilitate this latest batch of songs’ integration into setlists that will soon combine the band’s brutal early work with the deft, mellifluous spirit of Splid. “It’s been on so many flights and it’s so beaten up at this point but it still plays perfectly every night,” Landa says.

“I’ve just gotten so used to playing it, even the weight of the guitar, but first of all, I fell in love with the tone and I liked the very simple setup of it. It looks cool, I like the design. As musicians on the road as much as we are it often just comes down to that it’s always in tune and it never breaks. I don’t have to fix the input every other day.”

Kvelertak’s upcoming tour dates may have something of an edge to them. Splid loosely translates into English as “discord” and many of its lyrics acknowledge that things aren’t quite right. Once the house lights go down, Kvelertak and the people massed in front of the stage will be able to figure some things out through the medium of riffs and screams. It’s a classic recipe.

Splid is an old word that’s not used too often anymore,” Landa says. “It describes some of the things that are going on in the world that influenced some of the lyrics, and things we’ve been through as a band and in our lives since the last record. It’s a fitting title on many levels.”

Kvelertak’s Splid is out on 14 February through Rise Records.

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