Kvelertak’s current line-up is, from left to right, guitarists Vidar Landa and Maciek Ofstad, vocalist Ivar Nikolaisen, bassist Marvin Nygaard, guitarist Bjarte Lund Rolland, and drummer Håvard Takle Ohr. Photo by Jonathan Vivaas Kise
Norwegian metal titans Kvelertak are a band in transition. They have a new frontman, Ivar Nikolaisen, who replaced founding vocalist Erlend Hjelvik, and Håvard Takle Ohr took over on drums from the departed Kjetil Gjermundrød. That’s created a new dynamic that has impacted their sound—particularly with Nikolaisen’s expanded range and melodic depth, which has let them experiment with things like more complex interlocking guitar and vocal lines, and anthemic hooks.
On the gear front, after almost a decade-long association with Orange amplifiers, Kvelertak took the plunge and embraced Kemper digital profilers, which solved multiple problems, especially when touring.
“The Kemper is easy to bring around. You have your same sound everywhere you go, you know what you’re getting, and it’s solid,” says guitarist Maciek Ofstad. “The reason we went for the Kemper is, you profile your own amp. I still have my Orange Thunderverb 50. It’s just in a computer now, which is strange, but you can’t hear the difference at all. I hate to say it, but the zeros and ones … they work.”
But some things haven’t changed. Kvelertak is still a triple-guitar threat, featuring Ofstad, Vidar Landa, and Bjarte Lund Rolland, plus bassist Marvin Nygaard. And their signature sound is still heavy-yet-singable metal. They also went back to GodCity Studio in Salem, Massachusetts, and reunited with producer and Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou to record their most recent album, Splid, after cutting their previous release, 2016’s Nattesferd, in Norway with Nick Terry.
Splid differs from its predecessor in that the guitar parts were layered one at a time, as opposed to being recorded live. “We were lucky,” Ofstad adds. “Our new drummer, Hårvard, had a week to record all the drums, but he was done in three days. That gave us a lot more time to mess around. We had the ability to try different things and experiment. When we do this stuff in the rehearsal space, you play your part and that’s it. But when you sit in the studio, you can play ball with Kurt and the other guys in the band, and try other things.”
Splid showcases Nikolaisen’s melodic abilities on tracks like “Tevling” and the power-pop-leaning “Uglas Hegemoni,” but despite that finesse, this is not a kinder, gentler, Kvelertak. The album still burns with their brand of riff-centric metal, especially on songs like the opener “Rogaland” and the almost proggy “Stevnemøte Med Satan.”
“We’re often very inspired by the bands we tour with,” Landa says, which helps explain the diversity of Kvelertak’s catalog. “I feel like every tour we’ve done, there’s always a new song after that tour that ends up on the album, which is inspired by the bands we toured with. You can clearly hear some Mastodon influences on this new album. On Nattesferd, we came back from a tour with Slayer and Anthrax, so on a song like “Berserkr,” for example, that was because we wanted a Slayer-type song after that tour. When you hear a band every night when you’re on tour, even if it’s not always something you aim to do, it just happens. There are so many different influences with Kvelertak, and it’s been like that from the start.”
Premier Guitar spoke with Ofstad and Landa as Kvelertak were getting ready to hit the road in support of Splid. We discussed their recent switch to Kemper digital profiling amps, their experiences recording with Ballou, the joys of rehearsing and writing with their new lead singer, and why it’s not anathema to add bongos to a heavy metal album.
When did you join the band?
Maciek Ofstad: I joined in 2009, and the band started in 2006. I didn’t join for the first demo, but things didn’t really start happening until they got a new drummer. Marvin played drums before that, and he can’t play drums.
Vidar Landa: I played bass in the beginning. I’ve always been a guitarist, but at the time I was done playing in bands. Marvin had these friends that he had met at school—Bjarte and Erlend—and they were starting a new band. Marvin was playing drums, and he said that I should play bass … do something different. After a while, we figured out that it was better to go back to the instruments that we actually play well.
How did you become a three-guitar band?
Ofstad: It was more of a cool thing than it was anything else. At least, that’s my perspective. Bjarte would say something different—that he wrote the songs to fit three guitars—and there is so much going on in there that it definitely helps being three. At one point we were four [laughs], but that was for a second. Then we figured out that that was a stupid idea, and we went back to three, which is still a lot of guitars.
What do you do to distinguish tones, so that you each stand out?
Landa: We didn’t really do too much about that before we started recording. We didn’t have any money, so we played the guitars and the amps we had.
Ofstad: That took a good while. Over the years, we definitely started to leave space and think about how this shit actually sounds [laughs]. I feel like from about 2014 or 2015, somewhere around there, we nailed who is where in the picture. But I don’t think you can ever get good enough. You have to experiment as you go. We’re in a good place guitar-wise right now.
TIDBIT: The band used producer Kurt Ballou’s extensive collection of amps, pedals, and guitars to cut their new album. “He has a lot of pedals that he’s built himself or modified,” says Vidar Landa.
You recently switched to Kemper profilers, why did you make the change?
Ofstad: We did a tour with Metallica, and when we did that tour, we had to be self-served with monitoring. We started using in-ear monitors, which was super weird, but after a while that was very nice, and we also had these Box of Doom isolation cabinets with us. We were carrying so much weight on tour that the bus company that we were using at the time didn’t want to bring the gear anymore. We were just too heavy. We were also flying around, doing these festivals in Europe. We’ve always rented the backline from whatever backline company the festival is using, but you don’t really ever know what you’re going to get, and every amp sounds kind of different. We tried out the Kemper thing to lose the weight—a Kemper weighs like six kilos [about 13 pounds], and you can have it in your backpack. We were very divided—we had very mixed feelings about playing a digital computer—but it works really well. It makes touring very easy. We all still prefer normal stuff, but for the road it’s a very simple setup.
Landa: I can’t really tell the difference, especially because we use much high gain. Kemper has become so good now that I can’t really tell if it’s the Kemper I am playing or my Rockerverb. I can still hear the difference on the cleaner tones, but on the high-gain stuff, the digital amps are getting pretty good.
Do you profile your pedals, too, or do you travel with them separately?
Landa: You can, and I tried that. I simulated and recorded all my tones from my pedals, but I just found it so weird. Those knobs are so small, and that makes the board easier for traveling, but it just felt so weird onstage to not have my pedals. I use my pedals through the Kemper.
Ofstad: I still use pedals, too. I tried the built-in effects, and it works well, but I keep stomping on the wrong thing and changing presets. I fuck up so much, I need normal pedals.
You recorded your new album with Kurt Ballou, at his studio, GodCity. He recorded your first two albums, too, but didn’t record your previous release, Nattesferd. Why did you go back?
Ofstad: There are a lot of reasons. First, the songs we made fit Kurt’s sound really well. We wanted to work with Kurt again, and we wanted to have that sound. Also, going through all the changes we had internally with the band—changing the drummer and singer—to go to another studio is to add another uncertain thing. Is this going to work? Are we going to hit it off with this producer? Going to Kurt was safe. You know what you get, and what you get is really fucking good. Also, we missed Kurt. We missed his face [laughs].
How did you meet him?
Ofstad: We sent some demos to Kurt back in 2009. We made a list of who we wanted to work with, and said, “Let’s shoot Kurt Ballou an email.” We were definitely not expecting to get a response at all, but it was worth a try. He hit us up a couple days later. He wrote, “Fuck yeah; let’s do this,” and that was it.