Scandinavia is probably best known for being the “birthplace” of a number of metal subgenres, Norway and places like Sweden’s Gothenburg have always been linked to a very specific sound from the bands they produce. In recent years though, I have felt a distinct downturn in quality from now bands hailing these areas; almost as if just having the location on a band’s bio means they can immediately have all eyes (or should that be ears) on them regardless of the product they are putting out. My perception changed in 2010 with Norway’s Kvelertak‘s excellent debut! Instead of a cookie-cutter Burzum or Emperor knockoff, it felt like somebody had forgotten to separate their metals, punks and stoners before putting them in the wash, and yet it worked so exquisitely well.
Fast-forward two years later and Svölk‘s new album Nights under the Round Table lands on my desk and I could immediately tell I was going to like it. The self-described “bear metal” band create a strange blend of Southern metal and stoner rock that I would never have expected to come out of Norway, but here we are. The music is catchy, full of memorable hooks and very straight-forward groove, obviously cribbing heavily from the pages of Southern rock titans, Down. I was moaning about copycats earlier, but Svölk manage to make their influences theirs, rather than just churning out an album that sounds uncomfortably similar.
Part of this uniqueness is in the thick production. Every note is audible and the prominent bass mix means that the songs are really carried by the low end without the other elements being eclipsed. The guitar tone sounds like it chews tobacco on an Alabama porch and vocalist Knut Erik has a really listenable, gravelly set of pipes – perfect for this type of music. There is also a level of technical finesse that really clicks with me. The guitarwork is not overtly complicated nor needlessly simplistic. Instead, it manages to straddle the line between the two, appealing to the music nerd and casual listener alike.
There is a lot of variation beyond the initial blueprint as well. Tracks like “This Is where it Ends” and “Twentfourtwenty” gallop along at a steady pace before breaking into some really spaced out, Sabbathy riffs, while “Break My Bones” would not feel out of place on an Acid Bath album. In fact, if I heard Svölk without knowing their name or where they are from, I would assume the U.S. That is, until the doom-laden ballad, “Fallen”; and its jarring Norwegian pronounciation of “veins” in the chorus. It’s quite a contrast to the rest of the album and personally I feel it could have been left on the cutting room floor – but for the most part, that’s my only criticism.
There really isn’t much more I can say about Nights… It is a really great album that reels you in immediately and sticks in your head. I even caught myself singing along on my second and third listens. If you are a fan of Southern-tinged stoner rock then this will be a real treat. And if you’re not, it will prove that Norway is producing much more than black metal – or maybe the record companies are bored too and all of this crossover stuff is getting the exposure it deserves!