Keep Of Kalessin Begin a New Chapter With “Katharsis” (Interview)
Norwegian black metal band Keep Of Kalessin has done things a bit differently within the black metal genre since its 1995 formation. Enduring a few hiatus’ and several member changes —including their longtime lead vocalist—the band have forged ahead with their most ambitious album yet in Kartharsis.
On its eight expansive tracks, original member/vocalist/guitarist Obsidian Claw (Arnt Obsidian Grønbech), bassist Wizziac (Robin Isaksen), and new drummer Wanja “Nechtan” Gröger, weaves together their trademark melodies, intricate riffing, and aggressive vocals, while also adding a few new elements to their arsenal of sound, including the gorgeous ballad “Journey's End.”
Responding through email fresh off the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise, Obsidian Claw spoke about the long span between last album and Kartharsis, his ever-expanding role as the new lead vocalist, and future plans for his band.
Coming back recently from the 70,000 Tons of Metal Cruise, how did your sets go, and did you enjoy the trip?
Yes, the trip was amazing. We actually took some days in Orlando and Florida before the cruise, which is also nice. It’s been such a long time since we visited the U.S., so it was great to also enjoy it a little bit. As far as 70k goes, it was also great! Seeing so many old friends as well as doing two very special sets was amazing. We played a set to celebrate the 25 years where we focused on our catalog, and then we also presented some of the new songs from Kartharsis on the main stage of the festival.
What led to the band’s hiatus in 2000 and then the reformation in 2003?
Basically, it was personal disputes within the band, and in Trondheim, there was not many people driven by the same goals and ambitions as me. It wasn’t until I joined Satyricon that I came in contact with people who could help me move forward.
It’s been eight years since the last album Epistemology; what was the reason for taking so long?
Well, it was never my intention to let eight years go by. I actually started with the album back in 2017; I probably made the first riffs even before that. But then life just happens. After extensive touring and sole focus on the band for more than a decade, it came to a point where I needed more balance in my life. So as focus shifts, time flies really fast. I was also facing many challenges both in business, relationships, as well as physical and mental issues which were compounded by the pandemic, and suddenly it was not three or five years anymore, but eight. One lesson learned though, I will never let things slide as far as they did ever again.
Does Kartharsis mark a new era for a band? If so, in what ways?
Yes, it probably does. We have a new drummer who is simply amazing to work with! He is just so professional, and it really makes running the band much easier. Kartharsis is the starting point of a new era where we will focus more on being consistent in our releases. It also proves that the band musically still has something to offer and I think that the setup we have now is the best we’ve ever had.
With the departure of Thebon in 2013, this is the second album now with you on lead vocals, how do you think you have you settled in the lead vocal position?
I think that on Epistemology, which was the first album I did vocals myself, it was all very new to me, and it sounds OK, but not so professional. I think that the vocals on Kartharsis are much more mature, and you can hear that I have done some shows and had time to evolve the vocals on this album
Were there any adjustments you’ve had to make to accomplish both vocals and guitar?
I never do any adjustments to be able to play the guitar and sing at the same time. This is because first I do the riffs and the songs, and then after everything is done, then we do vocals. So I actually never think about the fact that I have to do both at the same time before we start rehearsing for the live shows. But yeah, when we started rehearsing for 70,000 Tons Of Metal, I thought to myself, “What have I done?!” Because doing both guitar and vocals on “The Omni,” for instance, was the biggest challenge I have done as a musician, I would say. It is so complex to do all those vocals and guitars at the same time. And it wasn’t 100% for the 70K cruise either, but with a little more rehearsals and live shows, I will probably get there… I hope so.
Many of the band's lyrics reference Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea Trilogy book series. Is the book’s theme still prominent in your songwriting? Are there songs on the new album directly related to this theme still?
The lyrics on the new album are not so much connected to this. We moved past this many years ago, but still you find some references probably. The new album has more personal lyrics and is more a continuation of Epistemology contemplating the big questions of life, universe, and at the same time keeping it epic and personal. I think Kartharsis is the most mature album we’ve done, and I think the lyrics also reflect that in a great way.
Lyrically, what were some of your other inspirations and impetus for the songs?
The lyrics on this album contain a lot of personal thoughts and emotions. It is my life’s journey in the past few years battling both inside and outside challenges. Most of the songs are linked to this in one way or another, but still with hope and aspirations for the future. Kartharsis is the purification process of leaving those negative thoughts and emotions behind and looking toward a better future. In this way, I guess the album is very in line with what many people are feeling in these crazy times of financial instability, wars and pandemics. Because in the end, how we feel and how we see things is what creates our reality. And this is the overall thematics of the album, and hopefully it will inspire people for such a cleansing of the mind so we can move forward.
“Journey's End” is such a lovely track, melancholic yet uplifting, with the use of clean vocals, piano, and glorious backing vocal harmonies. Are these new elements to Keep Of Kalessin’s sound? How did you go about constructing this track?
I’ve always been a sucker for power-ballads since I was a kid listening to all those ’80s ballads. And, I think that any metal band with respect for themselves should have at least one ballad on every album. So we created one. If you listen to Reptilian, we are also very close there with a song “Dark As Moonless Night.” However, we don’t go “all in,” maybe. Also, “Heaven of Sin '' is kind of a ballad in regards to the rest of Keep Of Kalessin tracks. So we have been doing this before. And for Kartharsis, I actually had three different ballads, but of course I would only choose one of them to be on the album.
And because “Journey’s End” was the first one fully finished with vocals and everything. The fact that it fits the overall album more than the other two, I decided that this should go on the album. Taking it all the way down to that level might surprise someone that is more used to our blast beats and screaming vocals, but still, the melodies and choirs are very much Keep Of Kalessin. Many of our songs could be arranged differently with slower drums and you would get this kind of epic ballad. The message in the song is very personal, and I decided just to put it on the album, and to my surprise, most of the people I talk to actually bring this out as a highlight of the album.
The production is epic and massive. Who was involved in it, and what were you wanting to create sound wise?
We record everything in our home studios. I record guitars; Robin records bass at his house; Wanja records drums in his place, and then we also got Jonny Maudling, known from Bal-Sagoth, to do the keyboards! I am such a huge fan of Bal-Sagoth, so it was a huge honor for me that Jonny was willing to help out with the keyboards. And he for sure brought another level to the epicness of the album. The mix was done by Linus Corneliussen, whom we met while touring with Soilwork. He is the monitor guy for Soilwork, but he also works with Jens Bogren in Fascination Street Studios, so we decided to try Linus for the mixing of the album, and we couldn’t be happier with our choice because he really did a great job! It is by far the best production we had on any album.
Explain the band camaraderie and musical chemistry between all the members.
Right now, the band is set up in a very good way. We also have a live guitarist who plays in a band called Nexorum together with Robin. So me, Robin, and Roger live in Trondheim, and Wanja lives in Germany. We work very well together, and I think everyone is very professional, so it is less work for me keeping everyone in line, and everyone is very well prepared for live shows. And there are no big egos in the band, so everything is working really well on tours as well.
What’s next, including touring plans?
We are doing some festivals this summer including MetalDays in Slovenia. Then we do Leyendas Del Rock in Spain and Cosmic Void in the U.K. Then we will be looking to do a tour or two toward the end of this year and many more festivals next year, hopefully. But this also depends a bit on the reception we get and that we can show some good numbers to the promoters out there.
Kartharsis released on March 24 via Back on Black. Get it here.