Kampfar Pushes Black Metal Boundaries On “Til klovers takt” (Interview)
True Norwegian black metal veterans Kampfar are approaching 30 years of existence and are one of the most influential leaders of the genre as we know it today. It’s a lesson in perseverance, as the band has never swayed from its original blueprint while also expanding and experimenting with new realms of musical brilliance.
Featuring vocalist Dolk, guitarist Ole Hartvigsen, bassist Jon Bakker, and drummer Ask, Kampfar has forged a strong history. On its ninth full-length album Til klovers takt, the band has created another captivating musical journey that stands poignantly alongside their back catalog. Dolk and Ole spoke with us during a recent Zoom chat about the band’s history, the new album, how important nature plays a role in their music, and their legacy as the band approaches 30 years.
Til klovers takt consists of six distinct and expansive tracks. I’ve read that the songs were inspired by the surroundings of Norwegian towns Hemsedal and Hallingdall, the same places that helped shape albums such as Mellom Skogkledde Aaser, Kvass, and Mare. Can you explain the origins of the tracks and how important nature plays a role in your music and black metal in general?
Dolk: It's actually quite hard to explain it from the very beginning because Kampfar has been around for almost 30 years. It all started with Kampfar up in a region called Hemsedal, which is sort of in the middle of Norway. Through history, you have this main road from the town, a European continent that goes across. If you want to go to the western coast of Norway, you have to more or less go through this area. So it has always been an area where they have a lot of big influences from Europe and you can see traces from old Norwegian historical things, and also superstitions and beliefs that they used to believe in here up in the North. But you can still see the nature of it, sort of the new Europe. The new world came through that area. It's a very specific place, and this has been my home since I was six years old. Now, none of us are actually living there, but I have a cabin up there. So this is the main place for all of the members of Kampfar. Because the last 10 years or so, we have been using this sort of as an escape, and also because we feel so connected to that place. In one way or another, you cannot disappear from nature, because it's in our soul. It sounds like a cliche I know, but we're Norwegians and we are born into this.
The track “Fandens Trall” mentions the town Hallingdal in the lyrics. Since that's the town in the area that you live in — and you mentioned the cabin in the woods — I assume you did the writing process there for this album as well?
Dolk: When we did the previous albums — all the albums since 2014 at least — we have done the drums and have done some recordings in Sweden in Abyss Studio. But this time was really special because the pandemic hit the world, and it was the only place that we actually could get together was up there in Hemsedal and in Hallingdal. And it was actually crazy, because in some way or another, you went back in time again. Because there's always something that distracts your mind when you are in the band like us, there's always some contracts to discuss. There's always some offers to go on festivals or tours. And there's something to sign when it comes to agreements with record labels. But that always leads to conflict in a way. But now this time, it was the pandemic. And we felt so free that we could just focus on ourselves, to be there, and we could have days where we have done basically nothing creative. That's at least how we thought. It felt like we were back in practice again because there was all of a sudden we didn't care about all this stuff that you have to deal with all the time, this business stuff, technical stuff, or promotional stuff. All of a sudden it was just us four again up in the mountains and it felt really great. I think you can hear that actually when it comes to this album.
I read that you decided to do things a bit differently this time, in what manner? What were some of the ways that you experimented differently?
The different thing was like I said, we have no pressure whatsoever. We normally have no pressure because we have done Kampfar for so many years now that we have stopped caring in a way. Because when we were at this bigger record label called Napalm Records in Austria, there was so many rules that we had to adapt to all the time. But when we finally got back to Norway on the small record label that we are on now, Indie Recordings, we finally got our shit together again and we were able to just do what we want. But in one way or another, there's always something like I said, there’s some distraction. And it was different because we didn't have those distractions this time. We had no time limits to be done with an album. We didn't even know if it was going to be an album, we just went together like we did in the early days; that's maybe the biggest difference. But when we released Ofidians Manifest, the previous album, I was at the rock bottom of my life. Everything was so dark, so personally dark in that period. And in that period, Ole lost his father and we were also up there (in the cabin) back then when that happened. But we continued writing the previous album up there and it became so personally dark. So it was impossible to go further down that road now when we had to create new music. And you almost have to think that we had to rise again, like the bird phoenix, because we had to rise to find strength again. And in that sense, the pandemic was a really good thing for us. Because in that sense, we could be able to focus on ourselves again and on our own strength, not what the world expects of us in a way. It was a good period for us up there this time.
As far as translation to English, does the title Til klovers takt mean “To the beat of clover?” What does that signify and how does it tie in to the album art and the theme and the concept of the tracks?
It's a really wide expression when it comes to this album, because it means so much. When you connect it to music, and when you connect it to all Norwegian folk tunes and folkloric music, there's always been kind of a link with religion. They always claim that these folk musicians who play hardanger fiddle, they were always beating their feet to the music and they connected that music to the devil. I have a lot of respect for all the old Norwegian folk musicians, and in that sense, we kind of are the new generation that keeps on lighting those torches in the name of this devilish music. So it's a typical Norwegian tradition. It’s also so much of this Nordic folkloric stories that comes from this area where we are surrounded by our cabin in Hemsedal and Hallingdall. There are so many roots connected to that devil thing, and the devil stories in Norway connected to that place. But you also see it in all these wooden stave churches that we have up here. You can see traces of a lot of animal characters, because the thing is when Norway finally got open up to the world and they got all these influences from Europe. They had this main road to the West Coast, and they had to pass through this valley of Hallingdal. So there are long traces and catalogued Christianity and all these religions. And you also have this pagan religion and those people back in those days, they didn't actually understand what to believe in because everything was so new. So they had to connect with everything. So you’ll see on these churches a lot of these carvings of old animals, claws and stuff, so it's really connected in that way. In another funny way, it’s also connected to us on a personal level, because this time we did something differently, we recorded almost everything out there in Hemsedal ourselves. Right next to our cabin there's a lot of animals in nature all the time; we have cows, we have sheep, goats, foxes, you name it. So we’re really connected to all these claws all the time that were passing where we were. And that connects the album too in a way.
That's so interesting that you mentioned that because on the track “Lausdans under stjernene,” you mention the dancing devils in the lyrics. During that melodic break I hear a faint violin paired with lower notes of the piano. These added instruments really push the boundaries of what I think Kampfar tries to achieve. Was this your intention and what other ways did you achieve this within the song structures?
Dolk: That's really cool to hear. You're the first journalist that actually said that diagnosis. You are right on track, because this is what we wanted to create. Another thing is, we brought in a really great folk musician that plays the hardanger fiddle for us. Two of those tracks that we use her, we went to Oslo with her in the studio. It was really fascinating, we wanted her to play some tunes that are actually impossible to play on the hardanger fiddle because it's too deep and it's too high. Because the scale on the hardanger fiddle doesn't go that far. But she in some way or another actually managed to create it. It’s not even us that push the boundaries, we push the boundaries of the folk musician that we also bring with us now. It was the plan to push the limits in everyone.
Ole: She did a very good job on the fiddle and she really understood what we were doing. Because she had done her homework and everything and to try it out. And when she came to those parts, she said, “This note is impossible to play on the fiddle. So I'm guessing you guys want me to play it?” And that's what she did. On that track especially the fiddle, you can hear that the notes are almost off. And that's the way they're supposed to be.
All the tracks are sung in your native tongue except for a few English parts. I know this isn't the first time that you've done things this way. But does your music just call for this type of authentic vocal inflection? To me, it's so fun to take the lyrics from Metal Archives and plug them into Google Translate and try to follow along. It makes you personally get into the songs. Is this the intention?
Dolk: Yeah, from the very beginning of Kampfar we maybe used a lot of these hard words that you couldn't go into Google and translate. But that's not the essence anymore; the music essence is like you said, to get kind of the perspective of where we want to go. With this album in particular, you go back to the valley in Hallingdalll and you go back to the main road into Norway where you have all these kind of impressions from Europe coming. And that is also a sense of this album now, because then you have these kind of prophets and stuff that came in into that area and tried to speak their way into the Norwegian culture. That is also a thing why we use some English and some Norwegian crossing each like a dialogue.
“Flammen fra Nord” (The flame from the North) tells a story through two voices, a story depicting the alchemic reaction that arises when the one true flame tries to replace nature’s ancient fire. Please explain the basis of this track.
Dolk: The track is like when we’re talking about the lyrics, we’re back in the valley again. You have all of a sudden, Europe is opening all this new influences coming from new religions and stuff. And this is actually based on the story in that valley, where there was this prophet coming from Italy, from Rome that tried to interoperate Christianity and Catholic beliefs. And then the people in the valley were actually not ready for that. So they became a complication and in the end, they burned the prophet on the stake on a big fire. So this song is actually the most historical event on the album.
“Rekviem” is the longest track on the album and the most diverse. There’s a lot of peaks and valleys within the music. As I inquired about other instruments in my earlier question, there’s majestic keyboard/orchestral melodies or fiddle that add a new epic dimension to the track. How did this track come about?
Ole: This is a quite interesting track, I think. It's a good example of how we just threw away all the rules, and then basically just created something that we really enjoyed. From the title, you can see that this one is really inspired by the classical requiem. But it's not like we're trying to copy a requiem with just with black metal guitars, we're really trying to interpret what a Norwegian black metal requiem would be. It’s even divided into three parts. At some point, we were actually thinking about releasing it as three different songs. But in the end, we just decided to put it together and have it just one really long song that has a lot of things going on. Something that we really enjoy having a lot of contrasting things going on in the song. And like you said, again, the hardanger fiddle comes in and it's really big and majestic, but this hardanger fiddle is also so brittle, in a way. It makes a very interesting contrast, I think.
The whole album from front to back is just such a musical journey. Album closer “Dødens aperitiff” has a dramatic and cinematic vibe that seems like a movie.
Dolk: You got it, because it's almost like a movie. We don't think like that when we create, but in a way it's an album and in a way from A to Z. You start with a beginning and then you come to the end. It's like a peek into history, but also not just historical events. It's a peek into what connects the modern world up there still to the old world in a way. But of course, our culture or other roots is really connected all the time to this album. In the end, you have all these kind of stories, like you said, with this “Rekviem” thing, which is also musically some sort of requiem, but also lyrically, sort of a requiem. Because people used to believe that if the someone was tormented to death, during their lives, that’s what happens in the first part of “Rekviem.” And on the second part, it's actually a funeral because they torment him to death. And then when they come back, some people believe that they came back like furious demons. But I can actually decide if the demon was a good thing or a bad thing. That's sort of the end to the requiem too because there is no way back, because then you actually go so darker further down that actually death is sitting and watching you, laughing and drinking. So it's a historical thing. But it's still very closely connected to the roots of our Norwegian black metal views.
Dolk, you're also a drummer and you played on earlier Kampfar albums. How did you make the transition and do you still enjoy playing the kit?
Dolk: Yeah, I enjoy playing the kit, but I'm not good! (laughs) But the thing is, you can easily see that because when it comes to live shows that I'm really this old drummer. Because I'm always connected much more to the drums than I do to the bass and the guitar and stuff when it comes to live music; it's sort of a rhythm thing. So in that sense, you can say that I'm still a drummer. But when we started to do live shows, it was very easy because I didn't want to sit behind the drums and sing because it was impossible for me to let anyone else do the vocals. That's how the live band came to life. And after that it was even more easy to find our place.
Approaching 30 years of existence, Kampfar has become one of extreme music’s leaders. Is this still a creative outlet that you enjoy because I believe there was one point in time where you said that you felt like the band had become a “job.” How are you feeling now?
Ole: You’re right, we had a big break. I can't remember which year it was; 2017/18/19, something like that. We didn't speak to each other for a year, but it had already started before that. Once we played at Wacken and I remember, we didn't speak before the show. Me and the drummer, we even had a full day of work back home. We just jumped on the plane after work and went down there. We said hi on the way up to the stage, we played the show and then we said goodbye and took the first plane back. And that was how everything was, it wasn't fun. We had a lot of personal stuff going on as well and it was terrible. And when we came back together again to do the previous album, Ofidians Manifest, that was a very dark and personal thing that we just had to do. We had to place it somewhere in there and that was painful on a different level. But it was also a good thing, but this new album that we made was just a lot of fun. And I think it has to do with the pandemic because everything was shut down and it didn't matter. We could just be very introverted in what we do, the four of us together. And that was really a blessing I think for us.
Dolk: When it comes to Kampfar being around for 30 years, it makes me a bit sad actually to see how the music business has turned out. It's so easy for us now to do next year when we turn 30 years, we can say easily go to Wacken Open Air and say we will do a show where we will play the two debut albums and we would easily get twice as much of a fee and we would easily get much bigger spots. But the essence of Kampfar has always been about evolving as persons and also as musicians. So in that sense, you can say that it's impossible for us to just walk the path over and over again. I personally think I did that with Kampfar for 10 years. We actually took some big steps and went out of the comfort zone and tried to push ourselves in a way. And ever since that we have pushed ourselves every time when we create something new. Without that, I think the band would have been dead 10 years ago.
Til klovers takt was released on November 11th, 2022 via Indie Recordings.