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Interview: Erlend Hjelvik, frontman with heavy metallers Kvelertak

NORWEGIANS have no shame, it seems. In fact, press Erlend Hjelvik on his band’s imminent debut in the North East – in the light of his country’s historical reputation for ransacking the region – and he’s in no mood to hold back.

Norwegian heavy metal band Kvelertak
Norwegian heavy metal band Kvelertak

NORWEGIANS have no shame, it seems. In fact, press Erlend Hjelvik on his band’s imminent debut in the North East – in the light of his country’s historical reputation for ransacking the region – and he’s in no mood to hold back.

“I won’t feel too guilty about it when I look out at the Newcastle crowd,” insists Kvelertak’s long-haired frontman. “I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of.

“Anyway, most of the time the Vikings were just trading, weren’t they? I went to the Jorvik Centre in York when I was a kid and I remember seeing a lot about trading. I remember the market place and the incredible craftsmanship.

“I know Vikings had a reputation for some bad stuff, too. I just wish I’d paid more attention – me and my friends were more interested in causing trouble on our first trip abroad. I just ran through the museum and I must have missed all the raping and pillaging!

“I’m proud of the contribution my ancestors made to British society. It’s not something I spend too much time thinking about. But on reflection I definitely feel the Norsemen made their mark in a positive way.”

Kvelertak are doing the same in their own, inimitable fashion. With new album Meir set to catapult the Scandinavian six-piece into metal’s big league, this is their time and a first, full UK headline tour reflects their status as one of the genre’s buzz bands.

“I try not to think too much about that kind of stuff,” adds a modest Hjelvik. “We just write the music we want to write and try not to believe the hype. We do the best we can and never take ourselves too seriously.

“Of course, the buzz right now is interesting. But I’d like to think it comes back to the quality of the songs. I think we’re bringing something new to the table and hopefully it sounds fresh. It’s still metal – which has been around for decades – but it’s metal with a twist.”

The band’s debut album dealt exclusively in Norse mythology, but Hjelvik insists Kvelertak aren’t bound by the constraints of history. Instead he envisions constant evolution and ambition.

“On the new album we’ve stayed clear of that sort of stuff,” he explains. “I don’t want to be writing about the same subject all of the time. It was just what I was reading about at the time we were putting together the first record and it rubbed off on the songs.

“I don’t have a set formula for a song that I write – I just pick things that inspire a good lyric. You can boil it down into something effective – the new album’s all about a doomsday scenario. I just write about what’s in my head right now.” The band’s Stavanger roots may have seen Kvelertak pigeon-holed as just another Norwegian black metal band, but theirs is a sound far more accessible – hence a major label deal with mainstream metal specialist Roadrunner Records.

It’s a sound that appeals to the UK’s hard rock community, even if it’s a sound influenced by one of the North East’s heaviest exports.

“I like Venom and they were definitely one of the building blocks for this band,” added Hjelvik. “They created black metal and were instrumental in terms of influencing the Norwegian scene.

“In my teenage years I was mostly listening to Metallica, and I’m still into older metal now. Of course, I got into black metal as a kid growing up in Norway, and until a few years ago, I was still very much into that scene and listened to as much music as possible.”

In 2013, Kvelertak have created a sound commercial enough to pique the interest of mainstream metal fans and hard enough to find favour with the more demanding fan base.

This month’s British invasion is unlikely to cause the controversy that enveloped Hjelvik’s marauding ancestors. But it may still be wise to lock up your valuables.

:: Kvelertak play Newcastle’s O2 Academy 2 tomorrow. Meir is released on March 25.

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