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Norwegian Metal (This Owl Has Flown)

November 28, 2013

Although I’ve tried, I can’t seem to get over my general aversion to the guttural singing style employed by a wide array of latter-day metal bands.  I am not proud of this fact as I fully recognize that I am missing out on a lot of otherwise excellent music, and musicianship, as a result of my active avoidance of the deep-throated growls.  More often than not however, I find myself unable to successfully listen below the vocals and/or mentally meld the vocals into the broader sound in order to fully appreciate what I’m hearing.  Case in point, I recently gave up much of my library of Trivium tunes after years of attempting to listen through the growls.  Those in the know will recognize that if I am unable to tolerate even the relatively mild gruff vocalizations occasionally employed by Trivium, I am self-selecting away from a wide swath of today’s most acclaimed and beloved metal bands and metal subgenres.  As a result, I can often be found wallowing in self-doubt over my seeming less-than-fully-metal nature.

Occasionally, a gruff-voiced metal band will manage to slip magically through my taste defenses and garner repeat, delighted listens despite the harsh vocals.  When the miracle happens however, my tendency is to employ mental gymnastics to explain it away rather than embracing the breakthrough.  For example, I might convince myself that the vocals aren’t actually growls but are rather “shouts” in the manner of say, Pantera or Slayer.  It turns out I’m ok with shouting.  This scheme doesn’t get me very far though, allowing me to jump aboard with the mildest of growlers like Celtic Frost, Mastodon or High on Fire, but still holding me far removed from the extreme metal mainstream.  A second strategy is to view the gruff vocals as solely one hue on a broader pallete wielded in the production of a larger masterpiece.  This approach permits me to accept some harsher vocals without the need for protective re-categorization, but in practice only proves viable in cases in which a band employs an equal or lesser ratio of growls to clean singing.  This is how I sign on for Therion, My Dying Bride, Nightwish, and The Devin Townsend Project for example, all of which reap their intermittent growls from a much larger, near operatic harvest.

My shame has been in no way assuaged by these limited, weak successes.  No right-thinking extreme metaller would be tempted to front me entry based on my rationalized acceptance of the “safe” bands cited above.  To date, with no Carcass, Cannibal Corpse, or Morbid Angel love to offer as evidence, my verifiable claims of headbanging allegiance have been generally limited to the ranks of the firmly non-extreme “old school,” “power,” and “heavy” divisions of the metal spectrum.  To be honest I’ve even been tempted to begin self-characterizing as a “hard rock fan” and leave my metalhead aspirations behind forever.

But the times they may be a changin’…

Kvelertak (self-titled debut record)

I have discovered Kvelertak and they have shown me a new path.  These Norwegian wizards have somehow draped their cookie monster barks in a wardrobe of such silky-smooth riffs and party-hearty grooves that even I cannot resist.  I hear the growls and I embrace them like a teetotaler guzzling a Caipirinha, the sweetness of the fruity riffage overwhelming my aversion to its wicked companion.  Unlike other extreme bands that leave me fantasizing about a non-alcoholic “instrumental” version that will never come, there cannot and should not exist a “virgin” Kvelertak.  The band has succeeded in joining the harsh to the groove at a genetic level, creating a new species in the process.  Any attempt to separate the abrasive from the reassuring in Kvelertak’s perfectly-melded concoction would surely kill the beast.

High on Fire - Kvelertak

For you naysayers out there understandably unwilling to grant me credit for my previous toe-dipping, I respectfully suggest flirtation with a slight opening of mind.  As it turns out, High on Fire was my gateway drug to this first successful experiment with full-on throat-shredding junkiedom.  I first heard of Kvelertak just two weeks ago when I saw them open for High on Fire in the dank basement that is Washington DC’s Rock & Roll Hotel.  From my perspective they blew away the headliner, so much so that I find my state no longer sufficiently altered by HoF alone.  I’ll likely need to jump right into the hard Norwegian to get my buzz on from here on out.  Yep, I’m that extreme.

How ya like my metal cred now?


From → Music

  1. Have you ever tried ISIS? Oceanic & Panopticon are just incredible albums – I found the vocals really off putting at first, but stuck with it.

    Otherwise I’m with you all the way.

    • Just cued up the ISIS albums on Spotify and am enjoying them. The vocals are nicely folded into the larger dish. As we’re trading suggestions, I’ve also been listening on Spotify to the instrumental version of the new Pelagial album by The Ocean and it is both ISIS-like and excellent. The same songs with vocals intact do not fall within my circle however. I’m going to purchase a physical copy of Pelagial soonest as it represents a dream come true for me, i.e. a band with guttural vocals offering me up a voiceless option. Hopefully, The Ocean’s success in getting me onboard will convince other bands to make growl-free options available also. I dream of a world in which instrumental Carcass exists!!

      • I’m sure there’ll soon be Growling and Non-Growling sections on planes.

        Thank you for suggestion I will definitely give them a go, there’s a 10 minute instrumental track on Oceanic that just takes me to nirvana, every time I hear it.

  2. When I think of Norwegian metal, the first thought that pops into my head is the hair metal band TNT. Definitely no guttural vocals there. Then three years ago I was treated to Leaves Eyes. Lead sing Liv Christine has a very smooth operatic voice. Definitely worth checking out.

  3. Thanks for the lead, I’ll check it out.

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