Tempel originally caught my eye because I thought they were Tempel, the instrumental Arizona metal band whose sophomore album I reviewed back in 2015. But no, it turns out this Tempel is actually a new band formed by Kvelertak drummer Kjetil Gjermundrød, who recruited his brothers Epsen and Inge as well as longtime friend Andreas Johnson for the project. Tempel is the group’s debut album and it promises a melding of hard rock and metal in the vein of Mastodon, Kylesa, and Kvelertak themselves. Normally I’m not a big fan of this style, but the Kvelertak connection was enough to make me take up the torch and see just what this Tempel had in store. But does it harbor the hidden treasures we listeners always hope for?
Not quite, but there’s still some fun to be had. Like Kjetil’s main band, these Norwegians play hard rock with strong metallic and punky undercurrents. Opener “Vendetta” shows this from the start, with charging, headstrong verses leading into jaunty leads that carry the same playful air as Mastodon. The remaining eight tracks tread between everything from lighthearted rock riffs to rushing chords that are far from black metal but are certainly informed by it. While the songs are distinct from each other and harbor plenty of different tempos and riffs, Tempel are at their best when simply rocking the eff out. “Afterlife” is a prime example, with its stomping beat and lively, twirling guitars making for the album’s best track.
As with Kvelertak the vocals are the most extreme thing here, with Inge delivering a strained, raspy shout that adds an almost hardcore feel to things. Unfortunately Tempel‘s music is more laid back than Kvelertak‘s, resulting in a dichotomy between the raging vocals and the often mellow music. This becomes apparent with the light, cruising verses of “Wolves” and “Uninvited,” two early cuts that come right after one another and quickly deflate the album’s aggression. It doesn’t help that Inge’s shouts are pretty one-dimensional. The album’s back half has its own issues, with the three longest and slowest tracks grouped together at the end. None of these final tracks (and indeed, none of the songs on the album) are bad, but the effect of stacking them together results in an ending as drawn out as the final hour of Return of the King. As such Tempel feels like it drags well beyond its 40 minute runtime.
Fortunately the band keep things interesting by incorporating ample variety. Both “Confusion” and closer “Farewell” employ passages of smooth and airy clean singing, with the former reminding me of wistful desert rock and the latter sounding like a modern take on Black Sabbath‘s “Planet Caravan.” Andreas and Espen likewise keep it entertaining with their varied riffs, including a nifty Eastern lick in “Forest Cemetery” and a wondrous circling melody that dominates the second half of “Torches.” Guitar solos are plentiful and pop with both classic rock pizazz and even some Southern flair. The modern production allows the guitars to be heard crystal clear while also offering a particularly lively drum sound that makes it sound like Kjetil is literally playing right next to you.
Yet ultimately, Tempel is hard to love. Compared to Kvelertak, Tempel have less notable ideas and as such nothing here comes close to the shout-along chorus of “Mjød” or the terrific opening melodies of “Nattesferd.” It also bothers me how often the band rush past their more direct ideas and into their more reflective (and often less interesting) ones. This is still an inspired album with plenty of potential and neat guitar-work, and as a result I’m sure fans of punky metallic rock like Doomriders or Australia’s Pagan will enjoy it more. For the rest, Tempel is simply a cool little album that sits amongst hundreds of cool little albums released every year. While still an enjoyable and fairly unique listen, it just doesn’t do enough to overcome its shortfalls or stand above the swath of metal out there today.